Is it safe to go to alcohol rehab during coronavirus?

Going to Alcohol Rehab during the Novel Coronavirus (Covid-19) Pandemic – Is It Safe?

The Covid-19 pandemic is sweeping the world as we speak. More than 770,000 Americans have been diagnosed with the disease, with more than 41,000 succumbing to its many complications.

Because of the communicable nature of Covid-19, many are concerned with checking into facilities.  After all, centers such as nursing homes have become ‘death pits‘ according to the New York Times. While the old age of patients is a big factor, some areas have cramped spaces where it is virtually impossible to do social distancing. Because of these variables, nursing homes have contributed to 7,000 of the country’s death toll.

Although nursing homes are highly different from alcohol rehab centers, a lot of people are still concerned. Many wonder if it’s safe to go to alcohol rehab during the Novel Coronavirus pandemic. If you feel the need to check into rehab, here are some pointers that can help you decide.

Alcoholics are at Risk

Alcoholics (and other substance users) are at great risk of contracting Covid-19, according to Dr. Lipi Roy. In her Forbes article, she expressed that some of them are nestled in facilities such as rehab centers, hospitals, even jails. The crowded nature of these places makes it hard, if not impossible, to maintain social distancing.

Add to that, many alcoholics are suffering from a variety of chronic conditions. Excessive alcohol consumption has led them to develop heart and liver diseases, to name a few. To make matters worse, some live below the poverty line. As such, they are not able to receive the treatment that they need. As established by the World Health Organization, those with co-existing disorders (such as that of alcoholics) are more likely to have severe complications (if not die) from Covid-19.

Then again, there’s the issue of hospitals and clinics being at maximum capacity. Being swamped with Covid-19 cases, they are no longer able to serve patients with other concerns. This is especially detrimental to alcoholics, whose conditions might not be deemed as a ‘priority’ by healthcare providers.

Alcoholics Need Special Services Too

According to the Washington Post, about 1 in every 8 Americans is an alcoholic. This corresponds to 12.7% of the general population. Such translates to more than 41,000 alcoholics. While their situations can range from mild to moderate, some suffer from severe alcoholism. For the latter, checking in to rehab can be a matter of life and death.

With that being said, the physician should recommend admission based on a variety of factors:

  • Can the problem be treated at home?The fact of the matter is those suffering from severe withdrawal symptoms need professional help. Hospital detox is not an option since it is usually swamped with Covid-19 patients. The patient might not survive the process at home. As such, rehab treatment is warranted.
  • Do the benefits outweigh the risks? The risk of contracting Covid-19 is always present. The alcoholic might not get it from the institution, but he/she can get it along the way. Indeed, it’s a matter of life and death. As with patients suffering from withdrawal, treatment could outweigh the potential of Covid-19 transmission.

Treatment Centers Will Remain Open

The Covid-19 pandemic may worsen alcoholism and substance abuse disorders. Social isolation may prod previously-well alcoholics to drink once again. With that being said, the American Society of Addiction Medicine recommends that centers still be open for patients. The Novel Coronavirus might revamp some of the usual practices. Although that is the case, centers should continue providing medications, peer support, counseling, and case management to their clients.

How Rehab Facilities Try to Reduce Covid-19 Transmission

Should the doctor decide to admit the alcoholic in a rehab facility, additional screening and sanitation methods will surely be practiced. Here are practices that will help reduce the chances of Covid-19 transmission inside rehab facilities:

1. Screen thoroughly.

The healthcare provider should assess the patient before he reaches the rehab facility. He/she will be asked about the following:

    • The presence of symptoms such as cough, shortness of breath, or fever
    • Travel history
    • Possible exposure to Covid-19 patients

The presence of any of these will help the doctor determine where to place the patient. This can help greatly, especially if the rehab center is crowded at the moment.

2. Maintain social distancing everywhere.

If the alcoholic does not have any risk factors, then he/she should be reminded to practice social distancing upon arrival in rehab.

3. Check healthcare providers routinely.

Doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals are at a higher risk of contracting Covid-19. After all, it’s part of their work. With that being said, rehab staff should be checked routinely for the virus. Effective screening can help prevent the transmission from workers to patients.

4. Go for individual therapy.

While small group sessions are highly effective in alcoholism treatment, it’s not recommended during this pandemic. As such, the therapist may opt for one-on-one sessions to prevent the possibility of Covid-19 transmission.

5. Spacing is key.

If the lack of personnel makes individual therapies impossible, small group therapies can be done. Granted, of course, that the members observe the recommended 6-foot distancing. Hand sanitizers and alcohol should be available in the room so that counselors and patients can disinfect their hands regularly.

6. Telehealth may be favorable.

Telehealth is the use of technological devices, such as computers and mobile gadgets, in healthcare delivery. It proves to be favorable in this pandemic, as social distancing and isolation are highly recommended for now. If the therapist is unable to attend the session physically, he/she could continue it with the use of telehealth services.

7. Better disinfection practices.

Rehab facilities are cleaned regularly. Covid-19, however, dictates disinfection practices to be strengthened even more. As such, items such as doorknobs, desk, stairwell handles, and elevator buttons will be sanitized as well. Alcohol or hand sanitizers should be widely available, so patients and staff can disinfect their hands regularly.

The Takeaway

The Covid-19 pandemic might make you think twice about attending rehab for now. It is completely understandable, given the communicability of the virus. Although this is the case, you should make it a point to continue with your treatment regimens. Counseling sessions and peer support groups can be accessed online. With that being said, you can continue with your path to recovery – despite the pandemic.

Latest posts by Raychel Ria Agramon, BSN, RN, MPM (see all)

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