Each AA group is independent, so a regional governing body advises on best practices and offers information — like keeping a running list of the already hundreds of canceled meetings out of about 5,000 scheduled to be held regularly in the New York area — but each group decides for itself whether to continue holding meetings in person. Reagan Reed, executive director of New York’s Intergroup Association of AA, the central hub of AA information for New York, hopes groups holding meetings will decide to cancel in-person get-togethers. “I’m trying to provide up-to-date information as well as alternative ways for alcoholics to stay in touch with other alcoholics and stay sober,” she says. “We’re recommending that people keep a close phone network with one another, text each other, and switch over to holding their meetings via Zoom or Google hangouts.” The AA call line remains open, even though the office, otherwise open 365 days a year, closed down Friday night. They’re running the answering service remotely through volunteers.
For some members, the transition to virtual support groups has been relatively smooth. Alexandra, who asked to be identified by only her first name, attends meetings one to three times a week. She’s already moved to a Zoom meeting with her biggest weekly get-together, and canceled a monthly visit with another group to a rehab facility in Brooklyn, for the safety of the residents. She’s also leaning on phone calls with friends, and a secret Facebook group of New York women in recovery. Sober for the first time eight years ago, and a year-and-a-half now, she acknowledged that the risks of relapse grow with isolation, especially for people in the early stages of recovery. “One woman [in the Facebook group] said she’d bought Everclear because the store was out of hand sanitizer and rubbing alcohol and now she’s thinking about drinking it,” Alexandra says. “Things like that are concerning.”
The circumstances remind her of when Hurricane Sandy left close to two million New Yorkers without power for weeks or longer in 2012. “For people who have drug or alcohol problems, it’ll be a lot worse if they’re isolated and hoarding alcohol or drugs, afraid they’ll run out,” she says. “I know during Sandy I had a lot of wine in my home and it wasn’t great.”