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Wellness Wednesday: Substance Use and the Holidays

Substance use recovery
Posted at 9:42 AM, Dec 22, 2021

IDAHO — For many, the holidays are centered around gathering with family and friends and creating long-lasting and happy memories. Unfortunately, the holidays can also come with stress or anxiety or even create new issues for people in recovery from a substance use disorder.

Jonathan Meldrum is a program director with Northpoint Recovery. He says there are plenty of reasons this time of year can be difficult.

"I think a big thing to realize, especially for people that are struggling with substance abuse, is it can cause a lot of mixed emotions. For people that are in early sobriety or even people that are in long-term sobriety, historically looking at what holidays are, it's a time we get together and sometimes substances are involved, sometimes there's disconnect between families so compounding those together can be difficult for those with substance abuse history," Meldrum explains.

One of the ways you can offer support for someone else or even start your journey to healing is by being able to recognize signs of substance abuse or a mental health issue.

"Isolating is usually a pretty big factor in someone struggling with substance abuse or mental health. If people are starting to seem withdrawn or agitated or extremely short and they have a history of struggling with substance abuse or mental health, those are pretty good indicators that something may not be right or they may just need a little extra support during this time."

This season is usually full of parties and various gathering invites, something that could be hard to navigate if you're already feeling depressed or anxious.

"It's unrealistic to think that people in sobriety aren't going to involve themselves in work parties or maybe family functions where people might be drinking alcohol or other things," Meldrum says. "If you see someone at a party or gathering, the biggest thing we always say is to ask if they're okay. A big thing that we hear from clients and patients a lot of times is, 'I just wish somebody would have asked me if I was okay.'"

For those with family members or friends in recovery this season, there are ways you can offer your support and encourage them.

"Just being mindful. A part of what we do here at Northpoint is trying to get the family of our patients and clients involved as much as possible, giving them the resources they need, giving them the education. We've seen a lot of great success with being able to get family members educated so they can give the support they need moving forward whether that's through programs like Al-Anon or getting their own counselor."

Meldrum says one of the biggest things you can do is simply be understanding and realize that this is a difficult time for people.

"I think sometimes we get wrapped up in ourselves and our emotions are most important and sometimes it's kind of hard to step out of our shoes and look at someone else and their perspective."

Meldrum adds those in recovery should look at having a sobriety plan or potentially having a support group ready if they're triggered. Julie Hardle, a Recovery and Resiliency Manager with Optum Idaho, also says staying in your current routine will help you maintain focus on your sobriety during the holidays.

There are several places to go for guidance or help this holiday season, including Northpoint Recovery or AA and NA support groups. Primary care physicians will also be able to help.