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I-TEAM: Social distancing leads to increased struggles for recovering alcoholics

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – An unintended consequence of social distancing is recovering alcoholics are shut off from the AA meetings that millions rely on to help them stay sober.

Meanwhile, the News4Jax I-TEAM found, alcohol sales are skyrocketing across the country, up 55% from this time last year as more Americans turn to alcohol to cope with increasing stressors from job loss, to homeschooling and working from home, to fear over the pandemic and the mass disruption to our daily lives.

“It’s a coping mechanism. Some people can pour a drink and make it last for hours. Other people can’t make it last a minute,” said Mike M., who is staying anonymous but told the I-TEAM he has been working his sobriety for more than 30 years.

Mike also works part-time for the Northeast Florida chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous.

“What we found is when people stop going to meetings, that’s when they’re more vulnerable because they are losing that contact of one day at a time in recovery,” he said.

So, on a dime, AA chapters across the country and the world are turning to apps like Zoom to help alcoholics stay connected.

The I-TEAM found data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that shows one in six U.S. adults binge drink at least once a week – and that was before the coronavirus pandemic.

On average, the CDC reports, 17% of all Floridians drink to excess, compared to nearly 16% of adults in Georgia.

Mike says the pandemic makes this an especially hard time to cope for people struggling with addictions.

“Our Big Book also tells us we have to live life on life’s terms, but our lives have changed so much. Now, with this new isolation, it adds to that thought in the back of my mind – a drink would certainly – but, of course, it wouldn’t.”

Mike relays older adults seem to be struggling to adapt to the online format more so than younger alcoholics but, overall, he says meeting participation has increased with Zoom because help is even more available.

He says it's a change that may be here to stay even when in-person meetings open back up.

“I think it’s going to become part of our AA legacy because some people that work different, funny hours and things, this is a wonderful opportunity for them to attend a meeting," he said.

There are more than 650 meetings happening every week in Northeast Florida. You can go to the chapter’s website to join a virtual meeting as soon as possible.

There is also a 24-hour AA hotline in Jacksonville to call: 904-399-8535.


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