Addiction relapse compounded by COVID-19

Published: December 11, 2020 5:45 PM EST
Updated: February 12, 2021 10:58 AM EST

‘Chris’ was doing well on his road to recovery. He’d gotten a job and an apartment and was living a much more healthy lifestyle.

But everything changed in March 2020. The isolation and social distancing prescribed to help curb the COVID-19 pandemic gave Chris a reason to turn back to drugs.

His is just one story that the counselors at St. Matthew’s House have seen in the past several months.

Because he is at a delicate stage of his recovery, they did not want WINK News to identify “Chris” by his real name.

The Naples-based charity provides shelters and programs for people struggling with substance abuse, in addition to its programs aimed at fighting homelessness and hunger.

Graduates of St. Matthew’s House addiction programs have an 85 percent success rate and staying clean and sober. But in the past year, they are seeing program graduates like Chris’ relapse.

Kevin Sisti, an intake manager for one of the charities’ residential programs, said the isolation and social distancing prescribed to curb the pandemic gave people struggling with addiction the ability to stay at home and drink or use drugs.

“You throw money at it, as far as unemployment and government funds, and that sort and [they’re] going to take advantage of that,” said Sisti, a recovering alcoholic who just celebrated two years of sobriety.

He said he saw people come in for help and then leave once they had their stimulus funds.

Last year in Florida nearly 6,000 people died from drugs or alcohol according to an annual report released by the Medical Examiner’s Commission.

Nationwide, there were 160,000 deaths related to substance abuse according to St. Matthew’s House CEO Vann Ellison. He said he worries that next year could be worse.

‘I did two funerals last week—young men that I knew; the oldest of them was 34, lives cut short way too early,” said Ellison.

Anyone struggling with addiction can contact St. Matthew’s House to be connected with a case manager at 239-774-0500 or heading to the “Get Help” tab at

You can find treatment and help nationwide by calling 1-800-662-4357.