The road to recovering from addiction now includes a new challenge: COVID-19.
Local chapters of organizations, like Alcoholics Anonymous, have canceled regular in-person meetings to comply with temporary statewide restrictions on large indoor gatherings.
Area support groups have long relied on face-to-face meetings. They are now moving to online meetings, like Zoom, as a short-term option.
High Watch Recovery Center, based in Kent, is now holding two such meetings a day. The first is at noon. The second is at 7:30 p.m. Hundreds of individuals have logged in, High Watch leaders said.
High Watch convened its first meeting last Sunday night, with 60 virtual attendees, according to the center. The next night's meeting attracted another 190 participants. The center is planning to schedule more meetings as the demand increases.
A meeting Wednesday night attracted 300 virtual participants, said Jason Perillo, director of communications for High Watch.
Perillo described the meetings as “a really important support network” for individuals recovering from addiction.
“The need for addiction treatment doesn't end because there's a virus,” Perillo said. “In stressful situations like this, history shows us that many people turn to drinking. They relapse at a great rate.”
High Watch is among the centers that is balancing the need to keep guests and staff safe and healthy while also ensuring those in need still have access to treatment, Perillo said.
High Watch Chief Executive Order Jerry Schwab, in a statement, said the center's leadership realized they had to offer an alternative to the traditional in-person meetings.
"Stress is among the most frequent causes of relapse and the outbreak of COVID-19 is similar to the days and weeks following the 9/11 terrorist attacks," Schwab said, adding, “people in recovery need meetings.”
Michelle Piccerillo, director of human services in Cheshire, recommends anyone receiving support for addiction recovery stay connected to those services during what she called “a really anxiety provoking time.”
“There is a variety of ways to do that,” Piccerillo said.
AA members described face-to-face contact as critical to addiction recovery. Just ask Jerry S., a long-time participant in such meetings at the Renaissance Club on Quinnipiac Street in Wallingford.
The Record-Journal, recognizing AA's longstanding tradition of ensuring the anonymity of its members, agreed to identify Jerry only by his first name and last initial. Jerry said the decision to shutdown in-person meetings temporarily had local chapters like his conflicted.
“On the flip side, we have addicts and alcoholics who need our help,” Jerry said. “We feel a responsibility to the community. That's why we're very supportive to Zoom, what people want to use for meetings. Besides, just about everybody has a phone these days. So there's no reason not to call another person. Just about everybody has each others' phone numbers.”
High Watch's online meetings utilize the Zoom meeting platform. The center said its meetings are open to all and can be accessed through its website, www.highwatchrecovery.org.