Spirits of the season can challenge efforts at sobriety

For many people, the holidays are a chance to celebrate with friends, family and co-workers. But it can also be a precarious time for anyone recovering from alcohol and drug abuse.

“Any celebratory event may raise the risk of relapse or pose a challenge to those recovering,” said Jody Brook, a social work professor at Kansas University. “We just happen to have an intense frequency of celebrations over the next six weeks.”

Add in potentially stressful interactions with family, and the holidays are the “perfect storm” of challenges for people struggling with substance abuse, Brook said.

Anyone in the early stages of recovery — less than a year — are particularly vulnerable, said Kendall Heiman, program director for Professional Treatment Services, 3205 Clinton Parkway Court.

Heiman said her agency always sees an influx of new and returning clients during the holidays and immediately following them.

Richard, a Lawrence man and recovering alcoholic who asked not to use his real name, said he tries to take a different view during the upcoming holiday season. Instead of fearing relapse into addiction, Richard, sober for more than two years, celebrates the freedom from substance abuse.

“When I was drunk, I wasn’t there,” Richard said of past holidays. “Or when I was there, I wasn’t there.”

But free from alcohol, “I get to be present for activities,” he said. “It’s really a time for me to make restitution.”

However, Richard, who assists other alcoholics by responding to a 24-hour hot-line, said he recognizes that for many people, the chances for relapse during this time of year are increased.

“We get a lot of calls all during the holidays,” he said.

It comes down to keeping up with recovery and the daily routines that have helped people stay sober, Heiman said.

With their clients, counselors help those in recovery create a relapse-prevention plan specific to this time of year, including exit strategies and other coping mechanisms for when relapse triggers occur.

Simply put, the holiday season is no time to take a holiday from recovery, Heiman said, and pointed out the daily Alcoholic Anonymous meetings that run consistently during this time of year.

“Lawrence is rich in recovery,” she said.

Tips to keep recovery on track

Jody Brook, social work professor at Kansas University, provided these holiday tips for family and friends of those in recovery:

  • Just as you plan meals around those with specific dietary needs, plan for individuals who do not drink and have alternatives available
  • Create a celebratory culture where it’s OK not to drink.
  • Privately ask the person in recovery if there’s anything you can do to help.
  • Be respectful of a person’s need to limit interactions in certain situations.

Resources for people in recovery

  • The local Alcoholics Anonymous, or AA: Hotline number is 842-0110 and is answered 24 hours a day.
  • A calendar for local AA meetings can be found at aa-ksdist23.org.
  • The local Narcotics Anonymous, or NA: Hotline number is 749-6631.
  • A calendar for local NA meetings can be found at marscna.net.
  • Headquarters Counseling Center operates a crisis hotline, which can be reached at 841-2345.

Tagged: alcohol, substance abuse


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