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Holidays a dangerous time for those with substance abuse

The Advocate - 12/10/2018

Dec. 10--Nobody loves to celebrate and party like south Louisianians, and during the holiday season, there can be multiple parties on a single night. It makes for a festive season with family and friends.

But what about those with substance abuse issues? For them, holiday celebrations are dangerous territory. It's a time when many "fall off the wagon."

Alcohol remains the most abused substance, with more than 15 million Americans suffering from alcohol use disorder. But quickly gaining ground are opioids. Officials have declared an opioid epidemic, a statement backed up by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. According to CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield, it's the "public health crisis of our time."

"There are two problems for the alcoholic," says Todd Hamilton, executive director of O'Brien House, a substance abuse treatment facility in Baton Rouge.

"No. 1 is internal. There are a lot of things that happen during the holidays that bring up the past -- both good and bad. Those become triggers."

The second problem is external and social.

"In south Louisiana, we're hospitable to a fault," says Hamilton. "We want our guests to enjoy themselves. Sometimes we overdo encouraging them to imbibe.

"All you (the alcoholic) need is a glass in your hand," he continues. "Nobody cares if it's not alcohol. ... That relieves the pressure for you and the host."

For those whose poison is illicit drugs, the waters are a bit rougher. Hamilton suggests leaning on sober friends and family to help keep you on the path of sobriety. And to those friends and family, the main thing you can do is not pretend there is no addiction.

"Don't create a false narrative," he says. "You need to be quick to give them an out if things become too stressful. Give them permission to do something else or even leave. Family and friends might need to tone down their own consumption when the addict is around."

Unlike the scenario with alcoholics, there is no gray area for drug slip-ups. While one holiday drink likely won't kill an alcoholic, the same can't be said for those battling drug addiction.

"There is no safe dose for heroin," says Hamilton. "For the drug addict, it's safer to get away if you're around someone using. The risk of relapse for opioid users is too much of a life-and-death situation to not emphatically separate yourself from the temptation."

If you or a loved one finds themselves in crisis, the Alcoholics Anonymous local hotline, (225) 930-0026, is staffed 24 hours every day of the year. For those battling drug addiction, the number to call is the area 211 crisis center hotline.

"And never not seek help," adds Hamilton. "Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room if needed."


Tips for staying sober over the holidays

* Skip any drinking occasions you are nervous about.

* Leave the party early, planning in advance to tell the host and guests that you only stopped by briefly and have somewhere else to go.

* Go with a sober friend. There's safety in numbers.

* Carry around a soft drink. It makes it less likely that someone will ask if you want a drink.

* Avoid known risks. If a family member or friend is a heavy drinker or drug abuser, stay away from them, even if it means skipping the party.

* Create new traditions, including hosting a nonalcoholic party for your sober friends.

Source: Experts with Alcoholics Anonymous and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation


(c)2018 The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.

Visit The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La. at www.theadvocate.com

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