For someone struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, the holidays can be an especially difficult time to maintain sobriety.

Your Health | one month ago

Understanding Substance Use Around the Holidays

The surge in drug and alcohol addiction is at an all-time high – especially around the holidays. Addiction is a disease, just like heart disease. Both disrupt the normal, healthy functioning of the human body, resulting in harmful consequences if left untreated.

Addiction is more common than many people realize. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 20.8 million American adults battled a substance use disorder in 2015, including 15.7 million people who had an alcohol use disorder and 7.7 million people who had an illicit drug use disorder. Of these, an estimated 2.7 million people aged 12 or older had both an alcohol use disorder and an illicit drug use disorder.

Substance use uptick during the holiday season

“For many, the holidays are joyous times, but for others it can be painful reminders and a sad time,” says William Wright, MD, addiction psychiatrist at Carolinas HealthCare System. Whether it be family conflict or financial strain, studies have shown an increased number of people rely on drugs and alcohol to cope with various problems they feel are amplified during the holiday season. According to the CDC, the most dangerous times of the year for drug-and-alcohol-related deaths are December and January. Nearly 91,000 deaths have been reported for the month of December alone since 1999.

“Don’t be afraid to turn down invitations if you know it will only cause more stress or you know the environment is not safe for your continued recovery as you know alcohol or other things will be available,” says Dr. Wright.

How to recognize addiction

When it comes to common social behaviors like drinking or smoking, it might be difficult to determine if you or a loved one has a problem. The fact is, you may not be able to recognize an addict by looking at him or her. You may not even be able to recognize addiction in yourself. “Having a substance use problem can be very deceptive in its progression,” says Dr. Wright. “It can quickly become the all-consuming part of your day, your life, your existence.”

General signs that there may be a problem include:

  • Lack of control or inability to stay away from substance
  • Shift in mood, attitude and socialization
  • Secretive behavior
  • Financial struggles
  • Loss of interest in activities unrelated to substance use
  • Physical effects, such as withdrawal symptoms or needing increased amounts for effect 

Treating addiction

Dr. Wright explains that effectively treating addiction is a very complex, multi-phased process. “Detox is a small window working on the symptoms of the body, but even more importantly is what happens after the substance has stopped entering the body,” he says. “The real work then really begins and is most effective when addressed on multiple fronts – therapy, exercise, healthy eating, and medications just to name a few.”

Dr. Wright says that Carolinas HealthCare System is doing its part to decrease substance abuse issues. First, Carolinas HealthCare System is educating its patients and the community on the dangers of these substances, what it looks like, what the warning signs are, how to reach out for help and from whom. Additionally, Carolinas HealthCare System is offering services to those in need from inpatient medically assisted withdrawal to outpatient services. And finally, Carolinas HealthCare System is training other physicians to continue to be advocates, assessing and treating those with substance abuse issues.

“These and so much more are being done in our community with Carolinas HealthCare System being an integral part,” says Dr. Wright. “It will always take a community to help those into recovery.”

For someone struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, the holidays can be an especially difficult time to maintain sobriety.

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