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(BPT) - Holidays can be joyful, fun-filled celebrations — and they can also be full of pitfalls and setbacks for anyone in recovery from drug or alcohol misuse. While families gather for festivities, those struggling with these issues may find themselves in situations where emotional triggers make staying on the road to sobriety difficult.

According to the CDC, the most dangerous months of the year for drug-and-alcohol-related deaths are December, January and March, and nearly 91,000 deaths have been reported for the month of December since 1999. Beyond the ordinary holiday stresses, the COVID pandemic has made everything more challenging.

In a JAMA survey, about 1/3 of U.S. adults reported symptoms of anxiety or depression during the pandemic, and 15% reported new or increased substance use to cope with pandemic-related stress. These statistics represent a deadly threat: The CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics reported a record 100,306 drug overdose deaths between April 2020 and April 2021 — a 28.5% increase.

But there are things you can do. If a loved one is on their recovery journey, here are steps you can take to support them, and to remove triggers and temptations from their path.

1. Talk about it

Someone in recovery will be more open and honest with you if you begin a dialogue first. Tell them you’re proud of them for the steps they’ve taken and ask what you can do to support them over the holidays. Make it clear their presence is not required for any events they’re not comfortable attending.

“Creating a judgment-free space is imperative, and this begins with a conversation,” said Dr. Brandee Izquierdo, executive director of the nonprofit SAFE Project, who is in long-term recovery herself. “Engaging a person in recovery with compassion and empathy can lead to a deeper level of understanding of what does and doesn’t work for them.”

2. Get rid of substances that could be tempting

The presence of alcohol, drugs or medications can be triggering for someone in recovery, so consider removing substances from your home prior to the holidays.

  • Instead of alcohol, stock up on non-alcoholic beverages like punch, juice and sparkling water. If you want something celebratory, non-alcoholic sparkling cider is a great option.

  • Get rid of old, unused medications in the home. Leftover medication in your medicine cabinet can be a powerful temptation for a loved one struggling with substance misuse. Safely dispose of them by using the Deterra Drug Deactivation System, a drug disposal pouch that uses activated carbon to destroy a variety of medications — including pills, patches, liquids, creams and films — with the simple addition of tap water. Easily available via Amazon, Deterra destroys over-the-counter and prescription medications and renders them safe to throw away in household trash without harming the environment.

3. Prepare family members and guests

If you’re hosting a gathering at your home, give your other guests a head’s up that it will be a sober party to support your loved one in recovery. If you’re attending someone else’s event, let the hosts know how important it is not to offer alcohol to someone in recovery. Some people may be unaware that “one little toast” with an alcoholic drink can completely derail someone’s sobriety goals.

4. Plan events not centered on food and drinks

You can enjoy the holidays without overindulging in food or alcohol. Help set up activities such as:

  • Ice skating or sledding
  • Going on nature walks
  • Playing board games or charades
  • Making crafts

Planning smaller gatherings is also a good idea, as it allows you more control over the guest list and how the celebration will progress.

5. Actively show support for their recovery

Offer to attend meetings with your loved one (if that is their recovery path) and let them know they can call you when they need a listening ear or a ride to get away from a triggering situation. Reassure them that it’s OK to leave a holiday gathering if they’re uncomfortable, and let them know that it’s normal to have feelings of stress around family communication, comparisons with the past or expectations related to their recovery process — especially over the holidays.

“Showing support to those struggling with substance misuse means a lot, especially coming from family and friends,” said Admiral James Winnefeld, co-founder of SAFE Project. “While you’re not responsible for someone else’s recovery or sobriety, your continued love and support can help them find the strength to cope with everyday challenges and stressors.”

Get more tips from SAFE Project on how to be a recovery ally at safeproject.us.

(BPT) - Holiday shopping can be challenging, but it’s even harder when someone who’s hard to please is on your list, or when you feel like you’re out of ideas. To put a smile on the face of a friend or family member who may be hard to buy for, it helps to think outside the box — and imagine what could be fun, comfortable or practical presents to show how much you care.

(BPT) - Your vision plays an important role in your everyday experiences from the moment you wake up to going to work, playing with your children and caring for loved ones. Despite this vitalness, many people delay a visit to an optometrist or rely on online screenings, which seldom provide accurate, personalized evaluations, to maintain their eye health.

(BPT) - With the school year underway, this can be an exciting time for students and parents, but it can also be a source of financial stress. According to the National Retail Federation, the back-to-school season is the second-biggest shopping season of the year, and a recent study showed that the average parent’s spending per student is expected to be higher than ever this year.

(BPT) - It's a classic dilemma: Kids want breakfast foods that taste good to them, but their choices are often low in nutritional value. Parents want to give kids breakfast options that offer the nutrients they need to take on the day and that their kids will actually enjoy. According to registered dietitian nutritionist Lauren Manaker, having options on hand that are the best of both worlds is the ticket to a low-stress morning.

(BPT) - Sponsored by Alkermes, Inc.

By CC Sabathia, former professional baseball player

When I decided suddenly, during the professional baseball playoffs in 2015, to go to rehab — right in the moment — to get treatment for my alcohol dependence, many people were surprised. For years, I worked to hide my disease. Alcohol is a widely accepted part of our culture and was an ever-present part of my personal and professional life.

Book Review: The Amazing Brain Cells That Link Mind and Body

January 31, 2020 by Emily Anthes

Nearly two decades ago, Donna Jackson Nakazawa’s immune system launched a misguided attack on her own body. Her white blood cells — which typically fight off invading pathogens — went to war against her nerves, destroying the layer of fatty insulation that helps nerve cells transmit their signals. Nakazawa, a journalist and author, had Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare autoimmune condition that caused muscle spasms and left her temporarily unable to walk.

We Need to Study Weed

Cannabis is being used to treat a host of diseases, but laws left over from the war on drugs make it nearly impossible to study what works.

January 3, 2017 by Benson Daitz

“Guess what?” my patient asked as I walked into the exam room. She stood to greet me, a successful businesswoman in her 60s with a ready smile in spite of her disabling arthritis.

“Tell me,” I said.

“‘WD-40,’” she replied. “I slept through the night for the first time in years.” She explained that she’d been to a marijuana dispensary in Colorado and asked if they had anything for arthritis. “He told me, ‘WD-40 in an edible’” — not the lubricant spray, of course, but a cannabis strain named after it.

(BPT) - Since 2020, you've likely spent more time at home than ever before. As a result, you're more conscious of how you use your space and how design can impact your comfort and ease. To give you a bit more variety beyond your home's walls, consider redesigning your outdoor spaces to create a haven for recreation and relaxation. Best of all, outdoor spaces add value to your home if you plan to sell.

How adults can help the children in their lives become more resilient

(BPT) - While the past two years have been tough on everyone, they’ve been especially hard for children living with challenging family circumstances or in communities hit hardest by health and economic difficulties. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association recently declared children’s mental health a national emergency due to the serious toll COVID-19 has taken on families. According to the CDC, between March and October 2020, the percentage of emergency department visits for children with mental health emergencies grew by 24% for children ages 5-11. The pandemic also caused a decline in children receiving primary care and behavioral health services, which can negatively impact their well-being.