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Holidays can be a challenge for people in recovery; CDC sees spike in drug, alcohol deaths

Posted at 5:45 PM, Nov 27, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-27 17:45:15-05

The holidays isn’t always a happy time; this time of year can be an emotional trigger for some people in recovery.

The CDC says these next two months are where we typically see a spike in drug and alcohol-related deaths.

So, experts say families with loved ones in recovery need to be more aware of how the holiday can affect them.

But there is hope, and Cheryl Sinnott is living proof of that.

“So when you’re sitting here and you don’t have what used to numb you and all those feelings are coming in about missing family,” Sinnott said, her sobriety was tested.

“Heroin is where I ended up,” she said. Time and time again, she would try to get on her feet, but the shadow of relapse was hanging over her head. And she’s not alone, especially during the holidays.

“Relapse can be fatal, in these times with opioids on the street,” said Ray Isackila, Director for University Hospitals Addiction Recovery Services.

But that was Sinnot’s story a year ago.

“It’s pretty real, especially if you’ve done it before,” she said.

Today she’s flipped that that narrative, starting her recovery here at the Edna House in Cleveland. She’s been sober now since last December and knows how to better prepare herself for this season.

“If I do attend a holiday party where there is drinking and stuff I will for sure have an exit plan. I’ll be with other sober people, I surround myself with sober people,” she said.

That’s not the case for everyone. The CDC reports nearly 91,000 deaths related to drug and alcohol have occurred in December, January and March since 1999.

“There is a heightened risk for people who are early in recovery to relapse because of a number of factors,” Isackila said.

Those factors include seasonal depression, holiday parties and loneliness — all can be triggers leading to someone taking their own life or the life of someone else.

“We believe addiction is the number one health problem in our country because it impacts so many people, in so many different ways,” said Isackila.

For the person in recovery, doctors and counselors encourage them to keep perspective, not aiming too high or too low with how they will handle things.

“One of the things that we really try to teach our newly-recovering clients is keep your expectations for the holidays realistic,” Isackila explained.

For their support system, there are things you can do to help: think of alternative ways to hold holiday events, like having a party during the day, instead of at night, and limit alcohol and other substance use during those parties.

Sinnot said one thing that’s helped her is just having a listening ear.