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Health Watch: Holidays bring challenges to those recovering from addiction

Published: Dec. 23, 2020 at 4:12 PM AKST
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - While usually a time for celebration, the holidays can offer challenges to those recovering from addiction to substances.

Not only the December holiday season, but many holidays can be a challenge to recovering addicts.

“Basically any holiday is a difficult time -be it Christmas or Hanukkah or New Year’s or Mother’s Day even - because a lot of our clients, or a lot of people who suffer from substance abuse disorder are estranged from those people that they love and that are in their families, or they have difficult or fractured relationships. So the holidays tend to be a little bit overwhelming and a little tricky sometimes to navigate,” said Dolores Vanbourgondien, Nurse Practitioner with Ideal Option.

The holidays can bring back memories or triggering thoughts for those recovering. Even just returning home to visit can cause problems.

“Part of the problem is that sometimes individuals, when they were using any form of a substance, they were using it at home in their family setting or they grew up in an area. So for example, somebody may be working and living in Seattle and then fly home to Juneau. They got into sobriety in Seattle or were seeing a provider in Seattle, and then they’re coming home for the holidays to an area that’s very triggering for substance use,” said Vanbourgondien.

One of the challenges Alaskans face is the added difficulty due to lack of sunlight which can compound feelings of sadness or depression. Because of COVID-19 there has been a rise in alcohol use, and part of the problem is due to the social aspect associated with alcohol.

“Of course, alcohol being legal is one of those drugs that individuals have open access to. I remember being told one time alcohol is the only drug out there that people will say, ‘Oh come on why aren’t you having a drink?’ You’d never say to somebody ‘Oh come on, why are you not using meth?’ It’s just not acceptable. But, here we are with a perfectly acceptable, socially acceptable drug - alcohol - which has a very, very high potential for abuse, and what we also see with alcohol is that same kind of spiraling down that you see with other substances,” said Vanbourgondien.

There are a few methods those recovering from substance addiction can do to make the holidays easier. Vanbourgondien told us, “I always say to my patients, control the controllable, you know? You can’t control who’s going to be at the family dinner table but you can control the topics that you talk about - and if there are things that are difficult for you to talk about, let’s say politics even at this time of year, don’t talk about politics. Just don’t go there, get up and walk away. You can control what you drink. So if you know that there’s going to be alcohol there, bring your own beverage with you. Bring a soda, or whatever it is that you’ve now been drinking - iced tea for example.”

Individuals can also reach out to those who can help such as AA or trusted family members.

“There is help out there. There are people like Ideal Options, there is NA and AA, you could always go to a meeting. Also, reach out to family members that you have a rapport with. Make sure that you say to them ‘Hey listen this is a difficult situation for me - last time I was here, I was using and very happy.’ Celebrate your sobriety and make sure you surround yourself with people who genuinely do care about you and want to see you succeed,” said Vanbourgondien.

For those in need of help with substance abuse and addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration at 1-800-662-4357. Individuals can also visit the Fairbanks Alcoholics Anonymous website.

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