With many meeting sites for Narcotics Anonymous and similar Austin-area groups temporarily closed, remote options emerge

A photo of a group of people sitting in a circle and speaking to each other
Members of substance abuse recovery groups including Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are using remote options to bridge the gap of in-person meetings during the novel coronavirus pandemic. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)

Members of substance abuse recovery groups including Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are using remote options to bridge the gap of in-person meetings during the novel coronavirus pandemic. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)

As social distancing measures continue in the Austin area, many recovering alcoholics and individuals with histories of substance abuse are seeking alternatives to their regularly scheduled meetings with peers in the recovery community.

Throughout Austin, many Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings have been temporarily suspended, either as a social distancing measure decided upon by the group or due to the closure of the facility where the meeting is normally held, including many area churches.

In light of the suspensions, a new phone and online Narcotics Anonymous group called Never Alone in Austin formed, and holds meetings weekdays at 5:30 p.m. via phone and Zoom video. Organized by local Narcotics Anonymous member Lisa M., the virtual meeting can be accessed from anywhere.

“I have a close friend in the fellowship with an autoimmune disorder, so before it was being even widely talked about in Austin, she and I were talking about a COVID-19 outbreak and how it would affect our lives and her getting to meetings,” she said.

Lisa began advertising the online meeting on Friday, March 13, sharing a flyer with information on how to access the meeting with in-person groups, Facebook networks, text and on the website for the Central Texas Area of Narcotics Anonymous. Never Alone in Austin held its first meeting Monday, March 16, and by the second meeting, attendance numbered around 35, Lisa said.

With tensions high, Lisa said it is more important than ever to stay connected with peers in the recovery community.

“It’s a time of heightened stress for everybody, and in my experience, I am at a higher risk of using drugs or acting out when I’m under a lot of stress,” she said. “Even when I’m legally forced to isolate, I don’t need to feel isolated.”

However, Narcotics Anonymous and similar organizations emphasize phone and online meetings are not a replacement for face-to-face meetings, especially for newly recovering addicts seeking support.

“In the beginning, it’s really important that people make a lot of meetings,” said Teddy S., Narcotics Anonymous public relations chair for the Central Texas Area.

Some smaller groups are still meeting in person, and finding innovative ways to do so if their usual locations have closed, gathering in parks or parking lots of churches, with permission, and still adhering to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s current guidelines for gatherings of less than 10 people, he said.

However, some individuals do not have the option to venture outside or connect online. CTANA’s outreach to hospitals and institutions, such as prisons and recovery centers, has been limited of late. In some cases, Teddy said group leaders are no longer allowed to visit such facilities, or are limited to one or two visitors to lead meetings.

To Lisa, this unprecedented difficulty reaching vulnerable individuals, especially those seeking help with substance abuse for the first time, is worrying. Having a safe space for addicts to seek non-judgmental support is vital, she said.

“There’s not a lot of places in the world that are like that, where you are welcome no matter what,” she said.

The following is a list of online, phone and remote meeting options for substance abuse recovery groups in the Austin area, including 12-step groups and other options:

Alcoholics Anonymous, a 12-step recovery fellowship for people struggling with alcohol dependence, has an online meeting directory, including meetings in a number of different languages and meetings that cater to differently abled and minority groups. For locals, a complete list of official local Alcoholics Anonymous groups is available online, with information about temporary suspensions and relocations for each. A 24/7 hotline is also available at 512-444-0071.

LifeRing Secular Recovery, a network focused on maintaining abstinence from drugs and alcohol, hosts several voice and video Zoom meetings daily.

Moderation Management, a group that favors behavior moderation over abstinence, has an online forum.

Narcotics Anonymous, a 12-step recovery fellowship for people struggling with drug and substance abuse, has a landing page listing altered Central Texas locations and meeting closures while coronavirus concerns persist. A Central Texas online meeting, Never Alone in Austin, occurs weekday evening at 5:30 p.m.

Women for Sobriety, an “abstinence-based self-help program for women facing issues of alcohol or drug addiction,” offers member access to an online support forum 24/7, including pre-scheduled chat meetings. Women for Sobriety CEO Adrienne Miller also announced in a March 13 blog post that she was “working with our online volunteers to expedite the implementation of online video meetings in light of recent events.”

Disclaimer: This is an evolving story. Community Impact Newspaper will continue to update this post with relevant information about meetings and resources for substance abuse and mental health therapy as events develop. Please contact [email protected] with any relevant information.
By Olivia Aldridge

Multi-Platform Journalist

Olivia hosts and produces Community Impact Newspaper's podcasts, The Austin Breakdown, The Houston Breakdown and The DFW Breakdown. She launched the podcasts after nearly three years as a reporter for the newspaper, covering public health, business, development and Travis County government for the Central Austin edition. Olivia worked as a reporter and producer for South Carolina Public Radio before moving to Texas.