The greeting “Happy Holidays” is meant to spread good cheer. However, for some, those words elicit dread, along with feelings of anxiety and depression.
Addiction changes everything especially for recovering substance abusers. And this time of year can make it harder for abusers to stay sober.
Kellen Hicks is a clinical director at Adams Recovery Center in Cincinnati. He said this time of the year presents the highest likelihood for relapse for individuals trying to stay sober.
“We use statistics like DUIs, overdoses, and drug-related accidents to recognize that there is a spike in (relapses) during Thanksgiving weekend and the period between Christmas and New Year’s,” Hicks said.
“One of the biggest things we find is social/familial acceptance,” Hicks said. “During the holidays, people want to conform with their friends and family who are having a Christmas party and are drinking alcohol.”
Dr. Clifford Q. Cabansag is an addiction specialist at the Lindner Center of HOPE in Mason. He said the idea that relapses are more prevalent during the holidays is more anecdotal than fact.
“What limited research there is on this question suggests that this is not necessarily the case,” Cabansag said. “Substance use disorders are chronic diseases that require management like any other chronic disease, like diabetes and asthma, which is, of course, a year-round undertaking.”
So, is one answer simply to avoid social gatherings around the holidays?
“I don't think so,” Hicks said. “First-of-all, for many people, it’s just not realistic to avoid certain gatherings — much less all of them.”
Cabansag said family and friends can make a difference.
“As far as social gatherings go, try to decrease triggers. It does not say anywhere that alcohol absolutely must be served,” he said.
“And in a patient in early recovery, the absence of alcohol (or other substances with addictive potential) could make a difference between relapsing that day or not.”
But, Cabansag adds, the family must be careful and not continue to dwell on the obvious.
“As far as family and friends go, please refrain from criticizing your loved one’s substance use disorder,” he said. “There is nothing you can point out of which they are not already painfully aware.”
This fall the Adams Recovery Center released the book: “Addiction, Recovery, Change: A How-To Manual for Successful Navigating Sobriety.”
Hicks said many addicts cannot face the idea of being alone this time of year so they resort to alcohol or drugs. The book, Hicks said, is designed for those individuals in treatment as a guide for dealing with the “real world.”
Cabansag said simply getting treatment is a problem for some.
“The most common issue patients report, in general, are limited funds for treatment,” he said. “During the holidays, this can be problematic. It is an unforgiving system that demands that people choose between essential lifesaving treatment or presents for the family.”