The stakes for relapse during this Holiday Season have never been greater with the advent of high potency THC dabs, Fentanyl and Methamphetamine poly-substance addiction with Opioids. According to a joint letter released this month by ONDCP (Office Of National Drug Control Policy) HHS (Health and Human Services) and HUD (Housing and Urban Development), more than 107,000 lives were lost to drug overdose deaths in the past year driven by illicit fentanyl and other opioids. And millions more struggle with substance use disorders. The topline quote of this letter was “This crisis reaches every corner of our country and requires that entire communities work together for effective solutions.”
On the brighter side, there are meaningful things that can be done by you and me to help, the most immediate and tangible of which is expanding the availability of Naloxone and other opioid overdose reversal medications. Naloxone and other opioid reversal medications are now FDA approved for over the counter use and can reverse the life-threatening effects of opioids, including prescription opioids and illicit opioids like heroin and illicit fentanyl. Carrying these medications is no different than carrying an “EpiPen” out of concern for someone with life-threatening allergies. Now that naloxone is available over the counter at most drug stores according to the California Department of Health, everyone who thinks they may come into contact with someone who has a risk of overdose should have this life saving medication with them, especially through the Holidays when illicit drug use spikes. Naloxone is safe and easy to administer and is not mind altering.
World events, the breakdown of the family unit over the past decades and increased societal tendencies towards isolation and polarization have exacerbated substance addiction for those that struggle with it, especially during the Holidays when past family and relationship traumas are more potent. Love, compassion, support, accountability and setting healthy boundaries both for people with substance addiction and those that love them are good practices to employ through the Holidays to minimize the impact of relapse and promote sustained recovery and healing.
In addition to having Naloxone on hand in case of an overdose, the following are some guidance on how to navigate the Holidays safely and sober both for yourself if you are in recovery or if you are a loved one of someone in recovery and want to support them:
- Plan Ahead:
- For the Person In Recovery: Seek out activities and events that are alcohol and drug free or ensure there are options and areas at events are available that are alcohol and drug free. Plan to arrive late and leave early if you are concerned about others consumption of alcohol and drugs to stay in your safe zone. Let the friend or family member who invited you know that you are sober and want to remain sober in the context of their activity or event and that you would like their support in that and if they can’t give you that support then you should consider not going to put your recovery first.
- For Friends & Family Of The Person In Recovery: If you have someone in recovery coming to your event or activity seek to be sensitive to their recovery by having an alcohol and drug free environment or offering options that are and areas that are without stigmatizing them. If you are concerned that the person in recovery might not be sober or could relapse prior to attending, set a boundary with them ahead of time that they can’t attend your event or activity if they are not sober when they attend. Have resources available to you to reach out if you need to make an emergency intervention at the event or activity to keep everyone safe. I have listed resources below for reference. Hope for the best and prepare for the worst is usually a good motto.
- Have A Contingency Plan:
- For the Person In Recovery: If you can, bring a member of our sober support community with you to any Holiday events or activities to support you in your sustained recovery. Don’t let your pride or ego get in the way of asking for help as you will find they are more than happy to help you through what they already know is a challenging Holiday Season for anyone in recovery. Have a Plan B if you at the last minute you decide attending the event or activity is making you anxious or uncomfortable like going to a 12-Step meeting or other sober support group. Bookending these events can be helpful with your sober support group with something to do with them prior put you in the right frame of mind and after to help you decompress and keep the focus on your recovery.
- For Friends & Family Of The Person In Recovery: Those in recovery, especially in their first year may or may not end up showing up for your Holiday event or activity. This doesn’t mean they relapsed, it could just mean they are engaging in self-care. Try to find compassion and don’t overcommit or pressure them to attend. Their recovery should come first even if it is inconvenient for you and seeking to find compassion and acceptance is usually the best route for all involved.
- You Don’t Have To Go Through It Alone:
- For the Person In Recovery: Substance addiction is a disease of isolation. Ensure that you are actively engaged with your sober support group and include them in your decision making process of what Holiday activities and events are in your best interest to attend. Try to limit the amount of unplanned time you have in your day during the Holidays to ensure you are actively pursuing sober connection and community.
- For Friends & Family Of The Person In Recovery: There are great support groups like Alanon to support friends and family of those in recovery. They can be a vital resource for helping you walk through challenges or to get tips ahead of time on how to anticipate challenges and take care of yourself in the process. Approaching your interactions with the person in recovery with consistency, honesty, compassion and acceptance while balancing your own needs and those of your family will help each of you remain in a supportive place during the Holidays.
- Health Boundaries are Vital to Healthy Sober Relationships:
- For the Person In Recovery: It is vital that those you care about that aren’t in recovery understand that your recovery comes first. Most will honor and respect that and support you in those efforts as long as you don’t have unrealistic expectations of yourself or them. Compassion, forgiveness and humility should be the watchwords as you set and maintain healthy boundaries around your activities and events during the Holidays.
- For Friends & Family Of The Person In Recovery: Even in early recovery, those in recovery can have the tendency to see things very black and white and struggle with living in the grey. Setting healthy boundaries clearly and with compassion will help on both sides to create a framework for success as you both navigate their early sobriety. Setting boundaries without stigmatizing is also key to not create hurt feelings. They have a disease and are trying treat it while still engaging in social activities during the Holidays, which can be a challenge but also an opportunity to create a new experience around the Holidays in recovery.
- Be Gentle With Yourself:
- For the Person In Recovery: No is a complete sentence. Don’t feel pressured into attending activities or events that are not in your best interest of that of your recovery. Better to bruise feelings that trigger a relapse. Each situation is different, but if you include your sober support group as you go along you can start to build a new sober experience for yourself for the Holidays that is empowering and positive. If you make mistakes or others do, forgiveness in both directions is vital and can help bridge gaps that are challenging. This is all new in recovery and no one other than you thinks you need to move through it perfectly.
- For Friends & Family Of The Person In Recovery: This is as new for you as it is for the person in recovery. Allow for awkwardness and mistakes to be made on both sides that each of you can use to build new bridges and new experiences in recovery. If you don’t think it’s a good idea to include the person in early recovery at your activity or event, that’s ok, just be compassionate about it and honest in how you communicate and there’s always next year. Trust your intuition. People in early recovery sometimes want to take on more than they should to make up for lost time, so you may need to be the adult in the room to keep both sides safe and in recovery. Mutual respect is a good perspective.
Most importantly, practice an attitude of gratitude for your or their recovery. No matter the situation that comes up during the Holidays, nothing is worth losing your or their recovery over and if you use your coping skills, connect to those who can help you walk through it from their own lived experience, and focus on connection and community you can not only survive but thrive during the Holidays.
Lastly, here are some drug and alcohol abuse hotlines and other national resources for people who are experiencing a mental health crisis or other emergency:
- 911: If you’re experiencing a medical or mental health emergency, call 911 for immediate assistance in your local area.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call 1-800-273-8255 (toll-free)
- Crisis Text Line: Text “MHA” to 741741
- SAMHSA National Helpline: Call 1-800-662-HELP (4357) and TTY 1-800-487-4889
- National Domestic Violence Hotline: Call 1-800-799-7233 or text “LOVEIS” to 22522
- Veterans Crisis Line (National): 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text: 8388255
- Teen Line: 1-800-852-8336 or text “TEEN” to 839863