People trying to recover from drug and alcohol addiction are struggling in Japan as the coronavirus outbreak has reduced their opportunities to connect with others — a crucial aspect of rehabilitation.

As close interpersonal contact needs to be avoided in the fight to contain COVID-19, some support groups have started using online platforms for interactions as a way to support rehabilitation from addiction, often called a disease of isolation.

“Meetings are the starting point for recovery,” says Tomoyoshi Inoue, a staff member at Drug Addiction Rehabilitation Center, a Tokyo-based support group for addicts.

Despite the pandemic, some 30 DARC facility residents are holding meetings twice a day while taking precautionary measures against the virus.

“We won’t be able to continue our meetings if any infection happens among us,” said Inoue, himself a former addict.

Narcotics Anonymous, an international self-help group for drug addicts, said the number of rehabilitation meetings started declining gradually in Japan in March.

Most planned gatherings were canceled after the government declared a state of emergency over the coronavirus in early April, which led to the closure of public halls and other facilities used for meetings.

To overcome such difficulties, assistance groups are going online.

Narcotics Anonymous and nonprofit organization ASK have released schedules of online meetings. Todokeru Project, a website offering information for those hit particularly hard by the coronavirus crisis, has posted advice on how to manage online rehabilitation meetings.

“It was great that I was able to see others even if it was online,” said a man trying to recover from drug addiction who participated in an online session. “I had some hesitation in starting a new thing, but it helped me.”

“Meetings are important toward efforts to keep away from drugs and alcohol,” said Toshihiko Matsumoto, head of the Department of Drug Dependence Research at the National Center of Neurology and Psychiatry. “I hope whoever can join will keep connected online.”

Still, online platforms cannot solve all problems and participants may not be able to speak frankly in online meetings if their families are around.

“Self-help groups should be allowed to resume their activities in stages,” Matsumoto said.

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