How Has COVID-19 Affected Drug Treatment

Authored By: Joe Gilmore

Table of Contents

If you need to seek treatment for a substance use disorder, you shouldn’t let the pandemic discourage you.

 Be aware, though, that recovery facilities have implemented social distancing measures, so treatment is different with restrictions in place.

 As you may know, medication-assisted treatment has the highest rates of success. This type of treatment combines prescription medicine with a range of modalities including:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Individual therapy
  • Peer-support groups
  • Dialectical behavior therapy

 Typically, people attend drug rehab centers in Orange County as an outpatient, although some receive treatment as a residential inpatient.

 Those who are struggling with a severe substance use disorder may need to attend an ASAM (American Society of Addiction Medicine) Level 3 inpatient treatment program. This type of program can effectively shield a person from environmental triggers likely to trigger relapse.

 Treatment centers have made huge efforts to ensure that quality drug and alcohol treatment programs can continue uninterrupted by rolling out telehealth services.

 An important element of any successful recovery is social connection. The shift to communicating by teleconferencing software makes it much more difficult to achieve the connectedness between peers in recovery support groups.

 The virus may have you somewhat anxious about attending a treatment center, but you shouldn’t let this deter you. To protect patients, treatment centers now follow strict hygiene and social distancing protocols keeping the health of their patients uppermost. So, whether you’re attending a treatment program as an outpatient or a residential inpatient, you’ll need to be aware of these measures.

COVID Clinical Guidelines

To protect patients and staff from the virus, the American Society for Addiction Medicine created the ASAM Caring for Patients During the COVID-19 (CPDC) Task Force.  Top infection control and medical professionals have created a system of guidelines designed to keep everyone safe.

There are three phases that are anticipated by the task force:

  • The early phase
  • Peak transmission
  • Post-pandemic

Each phase will require varying safety protocols according to the severity of the pandemic. These protocols will also differ from state to state.

The clinical guidelines that apply to your state will depend on the rates of infection.

Clinical Guidelines for The Early Phase and Post Pandemic

While infection rates are low, treatment centers will follow these guidelines:

  • Follow specific COVID screening procedures
  • Implement social distancing in all areas
  • Sharpen up hygiene standards
  • Communicate via telemedicine whenever possible
  • Provide a quarantine area for patients who test positive for COVID
  • Mandatory Personal Protective Equipment for all staff

Clinical Guidelines for the Peak Transmission Phase

It’s natural to be concerned about getting treatment when infection rates are high. You should have no reason to worry since the task force has created policies and procedures to ensure your safety. 

During the peak transmission phase, the task force recommends that all treatment centers work in tandem. This means that in the case that you test positive for COVID you may be placed in a facility with other infectious patients.

If you test negative, however, you’ll be in a center with other patients who have tested negative.

So, what will treatment be like during the peak transmission phase?

Communication by Video Call

To limit social contact, communication will take place using teleconferencing software on tablets and mobile phones. All consultations will be conducted in this manner, aside from physical examinations and screening.

You may prefer face-to-face contact, but there are benefits to this new mode of delivering healthcare. With telemedicine, staff will be more accessible than ever. Also, people often find receiving cognitive behavioral therapy remotely feels safer and more comfortable.


The task force has ruled that all efforts must be made to reduce transmission rates.

So, if you are homeless, you will be provided accommodation regardless of whether you are a residential inpatient or outpatient. If you stay at a treatment facility, it’s vital to adhere to all hygiene and social distancing measures.

The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control insist that anyone attending a treatment center must wear a mask, whether presenting symptoms of coronavirus or not.

On arrival, you’ll be screened for symptoms including:

  • Sore throat
  • High temperature
  • Shortness of breath
  • Diarrhea
  • Headaches
  • Muscle soreness
  • Fever
  • Fatigue

If you display any of these symptoms, you’ll be requested to wait in a separate examination room with the door closed. If transmission rates are particularly high in the area, you could be moved to another facility for infectious patients.

When waiting for an examination, you’ll be in a room at a minimum distance of 6 feet from others. Any staff who come into contact with you will be fully gowned in PPE.

During your stay, you’ll be closely monitored for any symptoms.

What If You Test Positive For COVID?

If tests are available, you may be tested for COVID-19. This involves a swab test in the nasal passage or throat. If this test shows positive, you’ll be treated in quarantine in a private room with an ensuite bathroom. You’ll need to remain here for the duration of your stay.

It may be a daunting prospect to be socially isolated during a detox, but support will be available around the clock remotely.

Staff at the treatment center are fully aware of how social isolation will affect you, and they are specially trained to manage your emotional and physical wellbeing during this challenging time.

Hygiene in The Environment

Staying safe means staying impeccably clean.

For your reassurance, the cleaning standards in treatment facilities have been significantly tightened. Cleanliness standards were already high, but the CDC has introduced some additional transmission-based precautions.

  • Used disposable PPE is immediately discarded and incinerated
  • Any medical equipment is sterilized immediately after use
  • Extra sterilization of eating utensils after use is mandated
  • All surfaces are pre-cleaned with water and cleaners, then cleaned again with disinfectant

Staying Connected

Getting clean and staying clean means staying connected with others who are experiencing similar struggles. Sitting shoulder to shoulder with others in support groups can be powerful therapy and can help to strengthen resolve.

Unfortunately, the new norm prevailing right now forbids this, and so patients and staff must resolve to find new ways of seeking emotional support.

The Benefits of Virtual Addiction Treatment

Virtual meetings and therapy sessions are just as effective as face-to-face meetings. Also, you can attend therapy sessions from the comfort of home.

Virtual therapy helps you to balance your life with treatment and helps you to more easily maintain a positive mindset. Often, people are unable to ttend in-person sessions due to family and work obligations. The flexibility of online recovery programs makes consistent attendance easier to achieve.

You’ll mix with staff and other patients on telehealth platforms. These sessions are fully interactive and a range of modalities can be effectively delivered in this manner. It may not be the same as in-person therapy, but an atmosphere of intimacy and confidence can still be achieved.

If you suffer from a pre-existing condition, virtual therapy is a great way to keep you away from risk.

As virtual therapy is considerably less expensive than in-person therapy, it’s covered by insurance. This makes it more accessible for more people.

Staying Clean After Treatment

You will already have experienced considerable adjustment during treatment. Transitioning to a socially distanced life can have its benefits, though. 

If you leave a residential inpatient program, you’ll have a renewed sense of independence and strengthened resolve. Not only will you have learned vital strategies to manage cravings, but you’ll have adapted to coping in socially isolated situations.

Learning to cope effectively with independence. Is a valuable skill. You’ll be better able to avoid those relationships you previously turned to that would be liable to trigger a relapse.

You’ll also be accustomed to accessing peer-support groups remotely. Peer-support is central to staying on track. You will have met new people also in recovery, and you can continue those relationships once treatment has finished.  


A quality treatment center like Renaissance Recovery has a committed aftercare strategy that can be implemented virtually. 

The staff at Renaissance Recovery understand the importance of follow-up care. The rehab alumni program is a continuation of this high-quality care. After treatment you can expect virtual rehab alumni community events, continued virtual peer-support from other patients, help with housing, and support with co-occurring mental health disorders two days a month 

Final Thoughts

Everyone has been affected by the pandemic to varying degrees, so it’s important to maintain some perspective and to understand you are absolutely not alone.

Staying positive is the key to staying sober. Treatment modalities are still just as effective via telemedicine as in-person treatment.

Many people are succeeding in their recovery despite the social distancing measures, which means you can, too. For some, telemedicine is a blessing as they find the flexibility of receiving treatment virtually allows them to stay safe and comfortable at home. 

No matter how you undertake this journey, whether it’s in-person or virtual, your higher power is there to serve you and assist you to lead a healthy and productive life.

If you need help right now, call us right now at 866.330.9449. Alternatively, fill in this online contact form, and you can get your recovery underway even if the pandemic is still not beaten.866.330.9449

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Pat C

“I owe my life and my happiness to these people. October 8th, 2019 marked two years of sobriety for me, and prior to finding Renaissance I hadn’t had 24 hours sober in nearly 20 years.”

Paige R

“Renaissance Recovery truly changed my life.”

Courtney S

” I’m grateful for my experience at Renaissance, the staff are very experienced, they gave me the hope I needed in early sobriety, and a variety of coping mechanisms that I can use on a daily basis.”

Diana Vo, LMFT

Diana is an addiction expert and licensed marriage and family therapist who has been in the field of mental health for over 10 years.

Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country