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Holiday hardships: Why Thanksgiving can be tough for those struggling with addiction

The holidays are a time where families and friends come together, but for some it’s the most stressful time of the year.

“Sometimes we have really high expectations of what the holidays are going to be like. And it's not always quite as rosy as we think it will be," said Joanne Hawes, Clinical Director for the Betty Ford Center.

Hawes tells us the holiday season can be especially tough for people in recovery from addiction, with peer pressure often being the biggest problem people face.

“Some people may be away from the support system that they built up going to visit family somewhere else, and that can leave them really vulnerable," Hawes explained, "Just being around it, the sights and the smells, seeing alcohol poured, or, you know, seeing other people drinking can lead to the brain just starting to think about it differently.”

Hawes is in long-term recovery herself, after struggling with addiction years ago. She tells us she knows firsthand how difficult the holidays can be.

“Just remember it being a time when it was really easy to slide out of control or not, you know, not have it be unusual to be offered a drink every day," Hawes said. "As you progress in recovery, and become used to managing abstinence and finding that you enjoy recovery, it's just not as stressful.”

For those recovering or in fear of relapsing, Hawes says it’s best if they’re surrounded by people who understand their goal.

“Plan ahead. You know, who is your support system? Who can you reach out to for help in an emergency? Who will you have?" Hawes added, "Or friends, you can go visit that you do know they're in recovery. They know you also support you in your quest to be abstinent.”

Even if you’re not at the center or attending meetings, Hawes says there’s ways you can reach out for help wherever you are.

“Virtual treatment groups that if patients aren't able to come in physically for any reason, if there are obstacles, child care or live in a remote location, then absolutely those are available."

Unsure if you or a loved one needs help?

The Better Ford Center says these are signs to look out for:

How to Tell if You or a Loved One Needs Help

Addiction to alcohol or other drugs leads to negative consequences in pretty much every area of life: social, emotional, financial, legal, physical health, employment, family, and school. Knowing the signs and symptoms of addiction can prompt earlier intervention and, ultimately, better outcomes. 

Behavioral Signs and Symptoms

  • Always uses substance to intoxication
  • Uses substance at inappropriate times such as before driving, at work, or at school
  • Misses work or school
  • Damages relationships
  • Poor performance at school or work
  • Steals or borrows money from work, home, or friends
  • Secretive, defensive behavior about activities and possessions
  • Unusual mood changes
  • Abrupt temper outbursts
  • Changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • Changes in peer group or social group
  • Loss of interest in usual activities, pastimes, and hobbies
  • Aggressive or physical behavior
  • Money or valuables missing from home
  • Traveling to locations outside of normal range

Physical Signs and Symptoms

  • Rapid weight gain or loss
  • Slow or staggering walk
  • Inability to sleep or awake at unusual times
  • Unexplained bruises or marks
  • Glazed or red eyes
  • Pupils larger or smaller than usual, blank stare
  • Cold, sweaty palms or shaking hands
  • Puffy face, blushing or paleness
  • Extreme hyperactivity; excessive talkativeness
  • Runny nose, hacking cough
  • Needle marks on lower arm, leg or bottom of feet
  • Nausea, vomiting, or excessive sweating
  • Unusual nose bleeds
  • Unexplained breakout of acne/rash
  • Unusual odors
  • Low or no energy
  • Depressed or anxious
  • Deterioration of personal appearance or hygiene

The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and other addiction treatment providers have professional staff who are able to effectively assess and screen for addiction. A professional assessment is the best way to clinically assess the problem, establish the facts, and determine what type of treatment or recovery services offer the best opportunity for living clean and sober.

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Samantha Lomibao

Samantha joined KESQ News Channel 3 in May 2021. Learn more about Samantha here here.

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