By Kate Olsen, Communications Officer
For many, the holiday season is time of joy and celebration. For those struggling with addiction, the holiday season can be a time of stress, fear and relapse. With one in 10 Coloradans suffering from substance-use disorders, Arapahoe House, Colorado’s leading nonprofit provider of drug and alcohol treatment, recommends considering extra precautions to guard against holiday relapse.
“The holidays are a time when it’s culturally accepted and sometimes expected to celebrate the season with appropriate alcohol use,” said Art Schut, Arapahoe House’s interim CEO. “For those without substance-use illnesses, celebrating with moderate alcohol use is a possibility. For those in recovery from drugs or alcohol, holidays can be very tough. This time of year may be filled with triggers that can lead to a relapse.”
Seventy-four percent of Coloradans in treatment for chemical dependency identify alcohol as their primary substance of abuse. Alcohol is the number three actual cause of death in the US, far outweighing motor vehicle crashes and homicide.
Alcohol is often the central focus of holiday celebrations. Substance use increases and drinking is promoted as a way to socialize and celebrate with loved ones. It can be difficult to find places where people are not drinking, making those in recovery feel isolated. If you are hosting a holiday party, it is important to provide diverse beverage options, including non-alcohol drink choices.
“It’s important for people in recovery to have a plan in place for how they’ll handle someone who pressures them about using,” continued Schut. “Thinking ahead of time about the difficult aspects of the holidays and planning for those possibilities is key. Developing plans and having resources to refer to when things get tough can make the difference between relapse and recovery.”
Having alcohol-free places to go is also important. Attending extra support meetings, supplemental therapy, volunteering and spending time with non-using friends are all beneficial.
Increased focus on family ties and family activity may also make the holidays more difficult for people in recovery. This time of year highlights any issues people might have with their loved ones in addition to emotional issues such as depression, loneliness, guilt, loss, or anger.
“Often, family issues can be triggers for people to use,” said Angela Bornemann, residential program services manager at Arapahoe House. “Part of what we talk about in treatment is recognizing this and helping our clients redefine the holidays for themselves. Whether the holidays were times where families would use substances together or when conflict, or traumatic events occurred, we help give our clients permission to make new memories for the future.”
Maintaining recovery is a serious issue for those in recovery, their families and the community.
Medication can help with strong cravings that lead to relapse. Medication Assisted Treatments are a helpful resource for those in early recovery in tandem with treatment or mutual assistance groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. One commonly used medication, Antabuse, makes an individual ill with just a sip of alcohol. Newer medications, such as Vivitrol, have shown the ability to reduce cravings and decrease the pleasurable effects of alcohol. Other medications that can be of assistance are Campral and Naltrexone. Opiate replacement therapies for drug addiction, such as Methadone or Buprenorphine allow addicted persons to function normally without withdrawal symptoms and cravings.