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Addiction treatment at Priory during COVID-19

Dr William Shanahan, Clinical Director of Priory’s Addiction Services and Medical Director at Priory Hospital Roehampton

We are already starting to see research publications looking into the impact COVID-19 is having on those with substance abuse issues. Not only are some in this group considered ‘high risk’ due to underlying respiratory issues associated with smoking or inhaling substances and the impact that alcohol and drug use can have on the immune system, but the impact of loneliness during isolation can be profound for people with addiction issues [1].

Fear, combined with feelings of loneliness and isolation can be compounding factors for people struggling with addictions and may be a negative catalyst for unhealthy behaviours such as problem gaming and gambling, and substance misuse. The spread of misinformation, such as the idea that drinking alcohol can kill COVID-19, is not only untrue, but has the potential to be very harmful.

While it may be tempting and possible for some people to attempt to stop their behaviours at home, for many, this is simply not a safe or feasible option – even now when so much of our lives is restricted to the home. Despite COVID-19, or perhaps amplified by it, people will still require inpatient support to safely detox and undergo intensive addiction treatment.

Our addiction treatment team at Priory have been working hard to quickly and effectively adapt our operational, clinical and therapeutic practices to ensure we are safely able to provide addiction support to as many people as possible.

It is important that individuals, their families and GPs know that support is still available. Our free assessment programme is still running, and we have adapted that, along with much of our addiction programme to enable us to support people during this time.


Being an inpatient during lockdown

As the everyday lives of millions of Britons have been altered and we are all practising self-isolation, some of our teams are finding that people are using this time of national lockdown as an opportune period for self-improvement and to undergo private addiction rehab.

Feeling isolated is something people with addiction may experience. While necessary, enforced isolation has the potential to exacerbate someone with addiction’s feelings of isolation further. Connection to others is key in recovery. While this connection may need to look different currently, it continues to be a key element of our addiction treatment.

For patients in residential treatment, we are ensuring social distancing measures are adhered to and infection control measures, such as regular hand washing, are in place. Additionally, all patients on our addiction treatment programme will have their own rooms.

Going digital

Where possible, much like the rest of the world impacted by COVID-19, we have been busy digitalising much of our addiction services.

We are able to offer free assessments for new inpatients either via telephone or using online communication platforms such as Skype so that patients are able to stay at home safely, while they are being assessed. Prior to admission all new patients are required to have a video Skype assessment.

Once assessment is done and a patient is ready to be admitted, we have measurements in place to ensure we are conducting appropriate health checks on new patients.

In addition to social distancing, many of our services have also put the following digital measures in place at their hospitals:

  • Telephone counselling for patients requiring one-to-one support
  • Peer-supporters continue to work with current patients through one-to-one telephone calls
  • Aftercare sessions for past patients are being run using Zoom video calling or done individually over the phone
  • Using video calling to link in with local Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings
  • When patients discharge they are aware of local AA meeting they are able to continue to access via video calling platforms or through online resources

Ensuring safety

While we have tried to maintain continuity as much as possible, we are not able to offer some in-person groups sessions. Limiting visitors is essential in ensuring that we are ‘doing our bit’ in reducing the spread of COVID-19. Patients are able to stay connected to their families through calling or online video technology.

What if a patient isn’t ready to go home into self-isolation?

Patients who are about to complete their 28-day stay for addiction treatment, may find our secondary addiction care centre, The Elphis, particularly valuable at this time. The Elphis is still able to assess and admit people safely and effectively, helping patients who don’t quite feel ready to go home into self-isolation to access continued support and maintain connectedness to the recovery community. Many day care services around the country have had to close and with the restriction on overseas travel, being in a recovery-focused, therapeutic environment may be very beneficial for those who feel they need additional support to maintain their sobriety.

Priory Connect

We launched Priory Connect last month; this new platform brings our therapists into people’s homes, virtually. Allowing us to be flexible and meet the needs of our patients, Priory is offering people access to expert specialists from the comfort of their home with our online therapy service.

If patients access our online therapy, they will benefit from the same high regulatory standards that you would expect across all of our Priory services, and will be treated by highly trained therapists who are experts in their field. Tips on how to make the most of online therapy.

Hear from a patient currently at Priory

We spoke to a patient from Priory Hospital Chelmsford about their experiences of treatment during the COVID-19 outbreak.

“It got so bad sometimes that I’d forgotten where I’d hidden the bottle.

“I knew deep down that I would die if I carried on like that. I looked at my children’s faces and they were pleading with me – the hurt in their eyes.

“Since being at Priory, I’ve been speaking to them every day on FaceTime. They have all noticed a massive difference in me.

“I’ve been sober now for 26 days. That’s the longest I’ve been sober in years and I feel so much better.

“I made the phone call to come to Priory and it was the best phone call I ever made. I just feel like a different person.”

Continuing care

While the global situation is evolving daily, our teams are still looking into new and creative ways we can support people with addiction issues during this time.



[1] Volkow ND. Collision of the COVID-19 and Addiction Epidemics. Ann Intern Med. 2020; [Epub ahead of print 2 April 2020]. doi:

Blog reviewed by Dr William Shanahan, Medical Director (Private) and Clinical Director of Addictions (BAO, BCh, DCH, D'OBS, FRCPsych, MB), Priory Hospital Roehampton  

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