Holidays, addiction, and support

How to help friends and loved ones get through stress

BELLOWS FALLS — The holiday season can be a fantastic, festive time. It can be a time for us to slow down, reconnect with the people we care about, and reflect on the year gone by.

The holidays can also be overwhelming. Stress caused by work, school, strained relationships, or finances can certainly take a toll.

Some might turn toward drugs or alcohol to cope, or some might already be quietly struggling with a substance addiction. More than 22 million Americans over the age of 12 are dealing with substance dependence, according to the latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

What follows are some tips we can all use during the holidays to alleviate the collective stress, decrease substance use, and support those coping with an addiction.

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Knowing the triggers: It's helpful to know the particular event, circumstance, situation or feeling that might trigger the use of substances. Crisis, anxiety, isolation or stress are but a few of the most severe.

The stress, or anticipation of stress, during the holidays might be heightened by fear of confrontation, fear of financial challenges, or fear of how to hide substance use.

Knowing these triggers can help to avoid situations, or to prepare ahead of time. Additionally, understanding the triggers and reducing the level of stress during the holidays can dramatically improve our mental well-being and prevent substance use and abuse.

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Signs of use: It can be awfully tricky for parents, friends, and relatives to know if a loved one or friend is using or abusing alcohol or other drugs.

If you are concerned that someone you know might be using or abusing drugs, here are a few things to be aware of:

• sharp or sudden change in mood.

• defensiveness;

• withdrawal;

• smell of substances such as alcohol or marijuana, or strong fragrances to cover up the odor.

While use does not necessarily mean that one is abusing a substance, sudden shifts in behavior might be cause for concern.

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• Be that solid friend or relative: How can we help prevent the use of substances or support someone struggling with addiction during the holidays? There are numerous ways to be there for your family and friends.

Above all, use open, honest communication. Listen and be free of judgment. Be comforting and compassionate. Make a few calls and compile a few websites or blogs for him or her.

Be sure to lock or secure all your prescription medications. It helps to count your prescriptions, especially if you are having guests over to your home.

During the holidays, plan meals and activities with no or limited alcohol. In general, limit availability during the holidays, and always provide non-alcoholic options.

On that note, come up with physical activities to keep people moving and active. Go for walks, snowshoe, or build snow forts. (With recent weather, tossing the football around or going for a bike ride might be more realistic.)

Play games or watch movies together. (Try a raging game of charades, or make some popcorn and turn on A Christmas Story.)

Finally, make sure everyone eats well and gets plenty of sleep.

Laugh, listen, converse and connect. Happy holidays!

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