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People in recovery need support over the holidays

People recovering from drug addiction have to be careful not to relapse during the holidays, according to drug abuse prevention experts. 

Families often come together during the holidays to eat and socialize and bond, but family connections can be strained for people recovering from substance abuse problems. Dani LaPlante, community representative for the Oxford branch of Bradford Health Services, said it can be hard for recovering addicts to settle back into family life in the stretch from Thanksgiving to New Year’s. 

“The families look at them like, ‘I don’t know if I want them around,’” LaPlante said. 

The feeling is informed by a lack of trust; big arguments and unsafe behaviors, unsurprisingly, put distance between people. That distance can remain even after someone enters treatment and recovery. The holidays put pressure on everyone to reconcile, for better or worse.  

“They may be doing outpatient treatment, attending meetings, doing what they’re supposed to do, and here come the holidays,” LaPlante continued. 

But people in recovery do best when they’re surrounded with positive influences during the holidays, she explained, like sober family members, or other people in recovery at meetings and get-togethers. Isolation invites temptation to relapse — “A lot of people don’t know how to celebrate the holidays without getting high,” LaPlante said — so togetherness, uncomfortable as it could be, is the better choice. 

But family time isn’t a sure bet, either. LaPlante offered some tips for those easing back into the holidays with family, all centered on what she said is the primary goal: staying sober. 


Have an escape plan

Families around the dinner table are part Norman Rockwell painting, part time-bomb. An explosion, if it happens, often comes down to politics, or religion, but if it’s centered on the person in recovery, it’s time to leave.

“You don’t have to answer questions, but some people are going to ask,” LaPlante said. “The best thing they could say, if they wanted to, is ‘I’m working on it.’” 

Those without transportation should have a plan to ride home with a friend or a trusted relative, she explained, especially if someone breaks out alcohol. 


Keep up with meetings

A good way to prepare for the holiday get-together is to attend a group meeting with other people in recovery beforehand to prepare, LaPlante said, and visit another after it’s over, to debrief. 

There’s also likely to be group events like meals and hangouts to attend rather than spend time alone, she said. 

“Twelve-step groups in any area are always having dinners and things like that,” LaPlante said. 


Help someone else

“Sometimes the best way to feel better about the holidays is to be of service to someone else, and that works for anybody, in recovery or not,” LaPlante said. 

Opportunities to volunteer are varied at this time of year; 2nd Chance, an outreach for victims of domestic violence in Anniston, has a volunteer gift wrapping service that lasts through Dec. 24, for example, and Toys for Tots is in need of help packing bags of toys for kids to distribute later this month. Soup kitchens are often in need of volunteers, too. 


‘Find somebody’ 

“Above all else, do what you’ve got to do to maintain your sobriety,” LaPlante said. 

That might mean recognizing when temptation to relapse could be reaching the point of turning into action. People in need of help holding back those urges should call someone, LaPlante said. Bradford has free counseling and assessment around the clock at 256-365-2965, she said. The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration helpline is also always available at 800-662-4357

“If you have a sponsor or sober friend you can talk to, do it, and if you don’t have that, you can call us,” she said. “We’ll talk to you. This is what we do. But find somebody.” 

Closing the gap and reintegrating someone in recovery into a family might be nerve-wracking, but according to LaPlante, when they really mean it, they ought to get an opportunity. 

“They might have stolen from you before and burned all the bridges so you say ‘never again,’ but give them a chance,” LaPlante said. “They’re just as nervous about being there again for the first time.” 

Assistant Metro Editor Ben Nunnally: 256-235-3560.