As the holidays rapidly approach, I feel it is my duty as a substance abuse mental health counselor, to make sure that my clients are as fully aware of the dangers lurking in every corner as they possibly can. On my way home from work the other night, I was passing a sea of electronic billboards, brightly colored, beaconing freeway drivers to “purchase this car insurance so you’ll be ‘cool’” to the beer commercials enticing passersby to “enjoy the game in right way”. It occurred to me that our society fairly pushes us to use alcohol especially during this season. I thought of all my recovering friends who have to drive by these gigantic signs day in and day out. I reasoned that it must be difficult to have it so “in the face”. At home, it was no different: Television advertisements for this alcoholic beverage or that one. Magazines, flyers, grocery store inserts do the same – entice one to buy one or the other. What about the mega-booze stores that sell thousands of wines, liquors, beer every day? A new one every day for over 20 years? Do we need that much wine? The sobering fact is, every day alcoholics come face-to-face with their drug of choice whether at the gas station, the corner grocery store, the neighborhood restaurant, or well-meaning, unthoughtful friends who give gifts of alcohol, or who fail to provide something special for the non-alcohol drinking guests at a holiday gathering.
Everywhere we go in the United States, alcohol is available. It is a legal drug. Never mind the destructive nature of the substance or the accidents and domestic violence caused when drinking it. And I was also thinking of my opiate clients who can barely talk about it in group without being triggered. I wondered if they had to be exposed to a 50’ brightly lit sign showing someone shooting up enjoying a party, how long recovery would last. I didn’t think it would go very well or last long. Because alcohol is legal, many people addicted to other substances think they can drink because it’s “not my drug of choice” or “I’ve never had a problem with alcohol”. It doesn’t take long – or much.
When navigating through the next few weeks, it is important to remember that this is a very tough time for many people, especially those in recovery. Those who have been homeless or who have abused family for so long they are no longer welcome at the holidays, need to be safe. Don’t give gifts of alcohol or drugs. Take time out to talk to your recovering friends and be supportive of them and what they are trying to do. Invite them for dinner and make sure you include them in toasts with sparkling cider or soda water. Treat them as adults and don’t put them at the “kid’s table”. And finally, don’t just “assume” they have a soft place to land because that may not be the case. If you have clients who struggle with addiction, most 12-step programs have holiday round-the-clock meetings and an abundance of food available. Many recovery places also offer holiday cheer and a place to be. Take a few extra minutes of your time to make sure that all your clients are safe for the holidays. This is the true spirit of the season.
Linda Magnelli is a counselor who works in Phoenix as a substance abuse and mental health counselor specializing in difficult cases.