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Combatting substance abuse during the holidays

Posted at 11:25 PM, Dec 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-23 23:26:29-05

COLLIER COUNTY, Fla. — From getting the right gift to planning who's invited to dinner, the holidays can be a stressful time, especially for people in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction.

“When you add to that a substance use disorder, it just exasperates what people without those disorders are experiencing,” said Teresa Gerlach.

Teresa Gerlach is an addiction counselor at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation in Naples.

The drug and alcohol addiction center offers multiple addiction rehab programs and services, including inpatient and outpatient programs.

Gerlach says oftentimes, people with a substance abuse disorder also struggle with a co-occurring mental health condition.

“So, whether that’s depression or anxiety, the isolation and stress of the holidays coming up is just extremely stressful for them,” said Gerlach.

"Painful memories of past holiday experiences also come into play."

Gerlach says that stress and anxiety can oftentimes lead to people relapsing.

“People in early recovery, we’ve taken away their primary coping skill, which was using substances to cope with mental health concerns or just everyday stressors,” said Gerlach.

"So in high-risk situations, it's a challenge to use those skills that they are just beginning to learn effectively."

Gerlach says they do tend to see an uptick in relapses during the holidays, and this year the pandemic is bringing on additional stressors.

“We know that addiction is a disease of isolation and disconnection,” said Gerlach.

“They have oftentimes been asked to work from home, so they’re losing not only the structure and accountably of going to work every day, but they’re missing that human connection.”

But Gerlach says the pandemic has brought a silver lining, with many resources going virtual, like 12-step programs.

“You can access a meeting virtually 24-hours a day, we have some clients that may have a craving or feel like they need support at 2 a.m., and they’ve logged onto a meeting in Australia,” said Gerlach.

When it comes to attending holiday gatherings, Gerlach says the key is to have a plan.

“If you are in a 12-step program, make sure to call your sponsor beforehand, maybe go to a meeting afterward, limit the amount of time you’re around people who are actively using,” said Gerlach.

And for other loved ones, Gerlach says it's important to be mindful.

“If other people want to drink, just using a little bit of discretion so that it’s not as visually evident to the person that is trying to stay sober,” said Gerlach.

Gerlach says the most important message is hope — it doesn't matter how many times someone has been through treatment. It's about giving them the hope this time they'll be successful.

For more tips on protecting your sobriety during the holidays, click here.

To learn more about the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation in Naples, click here.