Monday, May 4, 2020

AA and COVID

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Due to closed courts and referral services, real impact unknown

Despite social media memes and punditry, it doesn't appear that the months-long virus attack on the ArkLaTex has driven more people to adopt problem drinking habits.

"Maurice" is chair of the Central Steering Committee of Alcoholics Anonymous locally. He told 318 Forum that they have not seen an increase in referrals for several reasons. "We haven’t had any face-to-face meetings. We’ve done everything we can to abide by the governor’s and the president’s edicts,” he said. Some members have established Zoom accounts to replace the regular meetings AA holds to make up for the lack of contact.

“We get a lot of people referred through the court system and drug court,” Maurice noted. “That can’t happen now because those systems have also been shut down. We get quite a few from the treatment centers, but the treatment centers are pretty much holding steady with the people that they had already. They haven’t gotten a big influx because who wants to go to an enclosed environment with other people? That’s a difficult decision to make anyway, made more difficult by the present circumstances.”

Being unable to attend a local meeting is not something that AA members haven’t seen before, Maurice explained.

Founded in 1935 by two men who understood the struggle of alcohol addiction, AA was a response to the perception of alcoholism as a character or moral flaw. Many believed, at the time, the condition was hopeless and incurable. Persons of means could seek psychiatric help, while Depression Era sufferers might be treated with chemical cocktails to purge their systems or clapped into asylums for long-term stays.

It was long after its founding and the availability for sufferers to gather in a safe and anonymous environment of people with the same addiction that those comforts were torn away by a national crisis, World War II. Members were denied the camaraderie and support of their peers. When members went to war in World War II, or Korea, or Vietnam, up to today, Maurice said they were trained to cope through the tenets of the organization.

“One thing that an alcoholic in recovery acquires is a true belief in a power greater than themselves,” according to Maurice. “Some even call it the power of God.” He said that when deprived of their normal fellowship and support mechanism, AA members rely on the power they find in believing in that higher power. Having the support mechanisms in place just makes it easier to keep in touch. Through phone calls, camaraderie and fellowship, AA members have been able to surmount the crises that have befallen society since its inception.

Not to be deterred, AA members have turned to technology to continue their recovery efforts. “Various members have set up Zoom accounts, and there have been ongoing meetings. Instead of meeting at various clubhouses, now those meetings have been moved online. It's not the same as that physical presence, but it has proven to be a good alternative.”

Whether there has been any quantitative increase in people seeking AA assistance is hard, if not impossible, to assess for a variety of reasons. “It’s very hard to judge with Zoom meetings, because people can come into a Zoom meeting and remain completely anonymous, not even show their face and not even say a word. We don’t really know if they are new or not,” Maurice said.

Before the onset of the virus, Maurice said treatment centers were also a source of referrals. “The treatment centers are pretty much holding steady with the people that they had already. They haven't gotten a big influx because who wants to go to an enclosed environment with other people?” He explained that making the decision to go to a meeting is a big decision in “normal” times, given the need to accept and acknowledge an addiction problem. “That’s a difficult decision to make anyway, made more difficult by the present circumstances.”

He said it won’t be until things return to that longed for “normal” that we can determine if one of the other unfortunate impacts of novel coronavirus was alcohol abuse.

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