‘Substance abuse a big deal’ during pandemic, could worsen under new restrictions

CEO of Arbor Circle suggests telemedicine, physical activity, developing new healthy habits for people who struggle with substance abuse
Posted at 8:34 PM, Nov 16, 2020

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The pandemic has been an isolating and difficult time for people who struggle with substance abuse and addiction, said Kristin Geitzen. She’s the CEO of Arbor Circle, an organization that provides a variety of mental health, substance abuse, and family supported services, and she and her team are worried for their patients.

“You’re sitting around your house and people are drinking, drinking more than they had before or trying to self-medicate, or a variety of issues and concerns,” Gietzen said during a Zoom interview with Fox 17 last week. “Substance abuse is a big deal and we’ve had overdoses during this time.”

Geitzen said people have entered treatment for the first time after recognizing that they had a problem during the pandemic. Sobriety has been hard to maintain for some. Now, with more restrictions set to take place on Wednesday, the team at Arbor Circle fear that it could get worse for their patients and they're concerned about the impact it may have others, especially children.

“We’re seeing in the child welfare system, we’re seeing a decline in reports of child abuse and neglect, and a decline in removals into foster care, which on the one hand is a good thing because we want children to stay in their families but we also know that abuse and neglect is often reported through school,” Gietzen said. “Where people are stressed, sometimes bad things can happen.”

Accountability is key, she said. Typically, at Arbor Circle, they’d meet with their patients in person and check in on how things are going. However, with the pandemic going on it’s been hard to do.

“People are also afraid to come into social settings or into treatment settings for good reasons. Many folks that have substance abuse disorders also have compromised health. They’re living with some of the risk factors that make COVID that much more risky,” Gietzen said. “So, it’s really a dance to try to figure out how to navigate this time for everyone.”

However, the team and therapists at Arbor Circle are determined to help their patients endure, she said. They, like Alcoholics Anonymous and other mental health services, have shifted their work and appointments online. They encourage people who struggle with substance abuse to pay attention to their bodies and to respond to it positively by creating new habits.

“With winter coming, you know we can all get very physically complacent,” Geitzen said. “We can do a lot to help our mood and help our circulation and all of the things that positively impact the way that we think by doing some physical activity. It’s critical.”

Gietzen said she understands how hard it can be to stay motivated. She practices yoga and said it’s been difficult doing it on her own. However, she encourages others to find ways to stay motivated. She said the pandemic is like a marathon that's going to require endurance for everyone to get through.

“We’re all in this situation together, as a community, as a nation, the whole world,” Gietzen said. “We are learning and experiencing something totally new. And, some of the tools and the tricks and treatment methods that we used in the past are not as effective right now. So, we have to all sharpen our tools.”