Addictions don’t take a Holiday Break

© 2014 Dr. Sharon Norling

Are you looking forward to the festive holiday season filled with love and laughter? Or are you concerned the best plans may be compromised by drugs or alcohol? In addition to Santa Clause, is there an elephant in the room?

Holidays can be the best of times or the worst of times. If you, a family member or a friend have an alcohol or drug problem these special occasions can be unpredictable. Holidays are a stressful time for anybody, but they are particularly stressful for those in recovery and for families of addicts still using.

During the holidays, other factors can compound problems associated with substance abuse and addiction. For many, the season can be one of great joy and happiness. For others, the holidays bring high stress or feelings of loss or depression. They also can trigger memories of past events that lead to feelings of shame and blame. Many recovering people associate the holidays with memories of overindulgence, perhaps, of big benders that resulted in relationships problems or great personal losses. Family gatherings can exacerbate difficult or unhealthy relationships adding to the anxiety. Drugs and alcohol are often used to escape these feelings.

Doing too much or too little over the holidays can be overwhelming. Being separated from loved ones at this special time can lead to sadness.

The celebrations of the season may include opportunities or pressure to join others drinking or using. There are many opportunities to celebrate in excess which creates tremendous challenges for those with addictions or those trying to hold it together.

The time has come to recognize that addiction is no longer to be pushed into the dark corners and stigmatize the people that suffer from the disease.

Addiction has many faces: sex, gambling, drugs, and alcohol, to name a few. Sexual addiction is like any other addiction – it is destructive and painful to the addicts’ partner, the addict, as well as to their friends and family.

We have all been impacted at one time or another by addiction either personally or professionally. Maybe it is someone you know, a co-worker, a loved one, or … you. Addiction is an equal-opportunity affliction, affecting people without regard to their economic circumstance, education, race, geography, IQ or any other psycho-social factor. Many of today’s addicts are educated, well-respected individuals such as executives, CEOs, doctors, lawyers, business people, housewives and their beloved family members.

No single factor determines whether or not a person will become addicted to drugs.
Scientists estimate that genetic factors account for 40 to 60 percent of a person’s vulnerability to addiction, including the effects of environment on gene expression and function. Just because an individual has a family history of substance abuse does not mean that the gene needs to be expressed (activated). Genes are like light switches – they can be turned on and they can be turned off. However, the vulnerability increases with the environmental, social and biochemical, or neurotransmitter imbalances. Alcohol and drugs are just a quick and easy way to change ordinary, everyday reality from unbearable to bearable. The holidays are no different.

We joke about our addiction to chocolate and to shopping, but addiction is an intensely private, personal and confronting affliction that is as difficult to explain as it is to treat. This is a complex issue, but we know it is much more complicated than just drawing on willpower.

Despite the research, stubborn myths around addiction prevail and are a major factor in keeping people sick by promoting the belief that this is a disease of choice or will. My book, Your Doctor is Wrong, includes a chapter on addictions which is very helpful for the addict and their families.

Robert Proznanovich, Hazelton Foundation, points out five of the most common myths about addictions:

1. Addicts and alcoholics need to reach rock bottom before they can accept help.
2. Addiction is a willpower problem. People can stop, if they put their mind to it.
3. People don’t need treatment. They can stop using if they are motivated.
4. Treatment just doesn’t work.
5. People must want treatment in order for it to be effective.

Addiction is a chronic illness that can and must be treated.

“Homes that play host to active addiction are not filled with joy and happiness during the holidays: they are decked out with dysfunction, stress, fear, and shame. For families besieged by addiction, the greatest gift they could give their addicted loved one —-and themselves—is the gift of recovery.”

The good news is planning ahead can be the key to a joyous sober holiday season.
• Good self-care is vital. Be sure to get enough rest. Remember to slow down. Relax your standards and reduce overwhelming demands and responsibilities.

• Don’t overindulge. Go easy on the holiday sweets and follow a balanced diet. Monitor your intake of caffeine, nicotine and sugar. Exercise regularly to help maintain your energy level amid a busier schedule. Don’t try to do too much.

• Be selective about what invitations you accept. What’s in your glass only matters to you. – If there is any doubt in your mind about the “safety” of an event or party, say “no”.

• Go late and leave early. When everyone around you is having a good time, drinking cocktails or champagne or beer, do you really think it matters what you have the bartender pour in your glass? Chances are it only matters to you. Ask for a tonic and lime, it’s your business and no one else’s. Your time is your own. You don’t owe it to anyone else.

• Have back-up plans ready. If you’re prepared with a reasonable response when you’re at a party and getting ready to leave and someone asks you to stay, you’ve got an easy out, no one’s feelings are hurt, and you’ve been true to your sobriety.

• Enhance your support system. Holidays are a good time to reach out more frequently to your support systems and fellow recovering people.

• Find new ways to celebrate. Avoid isolation and spend time with people who are not substance users. Return the holidays to a spiritual base, and stress the power of unselfish giving.

Holiday tips for Families

1. Communicate. To avoid any awkwardness, have a direct conversation with the family member or a friend in recovery before the holidays. Share how proud you are of them and ask if there is anything you can do to make them feel more comfortable and supported.

2. Prepare as a family. Understand that families cannot cure addiction and they cannot control it. It is up to the recovering person to be responsible for their own recovery. But families need to be supportive of the addict or alcoholic.

3. Plan celebrations not involving activities that may trigger the cravings for drugs or alcohol or any addictive behaviors.

Be well. Be happy. Be simple. Be helpful. Be rested.

All year be aware of the options and support you can give to the addict.

• Find a team of professionals that the addict and their family will resonate with that treats the whole person.
• Make sure the addict and their family receives support from certified therapists and counselors.
• See an integrative physician for accurate nutrient based testing and treatment.
• Have your neurotransmitters, general chemistry and red cell fatty acid tested from a university based laboratory.
• Balance neurotransmitters, chemistry and essential fatty acids using specific targeted nutrient therapy.
• Consider IV therapies to add nutrients, detoxify the body, and support brain function, (including intravenous phosphatidylcholine as Essentiale). IV therapy has 100 percent absorption with higher doses and is faster acting.
• Eat the right foods; No more sugar.
• Relax with meditation and yoga.
• Hypnotherapy to support recovery.
• Make time to address your spiritual needs.
• Enjoy the right exercise.
• Always stay educated about new ways of staying in recovery.

Never, ever give up hope for recovery — it can and does happen every day.

Have a Healthy Happy Holiday.