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For Those Who Struggle With Sobriety During The Holidays, There’s Hope

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

The holiday season includes family get-togethers and, often, alcohol. For those in recovery from addiction, that can be a challenge.

Karen McGinnis, outreach coordinator for American Addiction Centers in Tampa, says there are ways people can participate in festivities and stay sober.

"There may be a lot of anxiety about seeing certain family members that really haven't forgiven you yet," McGinnis said. "So we want to be mindful to take good care of ourselves during the holidays and make sure that we're eating healthy and sleeping well."

McGinnis warns to be on guard for relapses, especially with the abundance of food and drink buffets, and alcohol. She hears from people who say their relapses seemed to hit them from nowhere and says there are often warning signs.

"If you look back in hindsight, that last month, they were sleeping too much or they were eating too much or they've been not going and staying involved with other people that are in recovery," McGinnis said. "There's slow progression of not taking care of yourself that ultimately leads to that decision to drink."

Some in recovery may feel the only way they can cope with the holidays is to completely disconnect and not go to family functions or parties. McGinnis said that's "a scary place to be."

She adds it's very common for people to isolate because they don't want to deal with socializing, but "what we need to be mindful of as a person in recovery is the value of positive social influence."

She says the answer is to do the opposite of isolating.

"I think it's really important to surround yourself with people who are in recovery and have that strong network," McGinnis said. That way, when a trigger or something does come up, "you can pick up the phone right away and you have a handful of people that you can call and say, 'Hey, this is what's going on. This is how I feel.' "

McGinnis believes complete avoidance is also dangerous because it can lead to relapse.

"I'm probably going to be in my head, and ultimately think that hey, you know what, no one's watching. It might be OK for me to go get some eggnog and celebrate tonight," McGinnis said.

McGinnis recommends a tool called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

"Playing the tape all the way through like in your mind, if there is a drink sitting next to me and I'm at a bar, and I think to myself, 'Gosh, I would really like to have that drink,' Stopping right there and playing the tape all the way through and thinking about your consequences," McGinnis said.

She draws it out further,

"Well, if I take that drink, I know as an addict, one is too many and 1000 is never enough, this drink will set off a craving and I will be off to the races," McGinnis said. "And in two days, DCF will be called and I'll lose my child again."

And it gets worse: " I might get into the car and drink and have a vehicular homicide case. I might go to jail, because those are the things that happen when alcoholics and addicts use."

Friends, family or co-workers can help a loved one battling with substance abuse by learning more about addiction. For those who may not feel they have the time for the education piece, McGinnis says a good rule of thumb is to keep it simple: "Just have sympathy and empathize and understand that your loved one is sober."

But McGinnis also cautions against radical changes, and to "go on as you normally would, don't change anything."

Finally, she offers encouragement.

"I think it's very important for individuals in our community to know that there is hope," McGinnis said. "If you have a loved one or a family member or an employee or co-worker, there are resources out there in the community for you to tap into to help these individuals, guide them into recovery and go on to live a very productive life."


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Lisa Peakes is the local host of NPR's All Things Considered on WUSF 89.7.