Emma Smith is a third-year PhD student and associate lecturer at the University of Worcester. Originally from the United States, Emma received a BA in Anthropology in 2014 from the University of Georgia and a Masters of Public Health in 2018 from the University of Dundee. Her current research concerns understanding the experiences of individuals in recovery from substance use using digital Photovoice. Emma’s research interests include recovery pathways, healthcare inequalities, social action, visual research methods, ethical research practices, and participatory action research.
Investigating the experiences of individuals in recovery from problem substance use and their perceptions of the COVID-19 pandemic
Aims: This research explores how enforced forms of social isolation arising from the first COVID-19 lockdown influenced experiences of problem substance use, relapse, and coping strategies for recovery in individuals engaging with harm reduction recovery services.
Method: A qualitative semi-structured interview design was adopted for this research. Seven participants were recruited from a harm reduction recovery organisation. During their initial interview, participants volunteered information regarding their experience of the first lockdown due to emerging concerns of the COVID-19 pandemic. Participants completed a second semi-structured interview at the end of the first lockdown regarding their experience of enforced isolation during this time.
Results: Three themes identified from the analysis were (1) Isolation resulting in hindered Human Capabilities, (2) Adjusting to a new normal: an individual experience, and (3) Unexpected benefits to recovery resulting from isolation.
Conclusion: While some participants reported boredom, loneliness, and relapse events, others reported that the national response to the virus did not adversely affect them as they had already adjusted to living in a state of anxiety, isolation, and uncertainty. Participants reported differences in how they were affected by the pandemic, leading to theoretical implications for the effect of social isolation on recovery. For this reason, individuals with a history of dependency should be considered potentially vulnerable to the effects of enforced isolation and should be supported accordingly. Findings from this study have been shared in a journal article as well as part of the lead researcher’s PhD thesis.