12/22/2014 04:31 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Grateful Musings on the Holidays and Hope for Addicts and Their Families


The holiday season is a special time of year. Families, friends and even strangers share memories of their past along with expectations and dreams for the future. We certainly should be grateful for being able to live in this day and age. There are so many advances in areas like medical treatment, particularly in the realm of addiction.

The holidays are a great time for bonding with kids, siblings, aging parents and perhaps grandparents. Connecting and reconnecting are common family activities, especially during traditional celebrations. Whether remembering Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or another event, we all do our best to have happy thoughts and ideas about the ideal family get together. Each year we try to improve upon the last one somehow. This year doesn't have to be marred by the outrageous behaviors or absences of those who suffer from addiction.

Some of us have other memories of not so wonderful times that were perhaps even embarrassing for ourselves or for others. Living in the clutches of substance abuse and addiction can definitely cause family members stress and negatively affect their lives. I recall too many holidays that, when looking back, were honestly not good at all. Those times have slipped away and are lost forever, but the future holds promise of new beginnings and unknown possibilities, at least for those of us in recovery from addiction. You or your loved one can use this time to begin recovery too.

Data shows excessive drinking is responsible for 88,000 deaths in the U.S. each year, but an alcohol dependency problem was linked to only 3,700 of those deaths. This is important because 9 out of 10 excessive alcohol abusers are not alcoholics, and 1 out of 3 adults binge drink. Deaths in this group are largely from accidents. With alcohol so prevalent during most family get-togethers, it is important to watch out for over-consumption that could lead to tragedy.

I hope that friends or family members will notice warning signs of substance abuse and speak up when they see the evidence at family gatherings. I'm not suggesting you call out Uncle Joe as an alcoholic over the turkey dinner, but a frank discussion with him, if he's not too sauced to notice, or other family members could get your loved one on the road to recovery. Family time should not be marred or twisted by substance abuse. Make this your last holiday that it is.

There is also an idea that suicides occur more frequently during the holiday season. Fortunately, this is a long perpetuated myth. The CDC's National Center for Health Statistics reports that the suicide rate is, in fact, the lowest in December. Suicide does remain a major public health problem, one that occurs throughout the year and is the 10th leading cause of death for all Americans. While not as common during the holidays as the rest of the year, suicides do occur. Look out for loved ones who show signs of depression and get them help. Suicide attempts take an upswing again around the new year.

Recently, I was watching some kids running and playing outside. It got me thinking how grateful I am to be able to experience the family I have, beating my addiction and gaining the clarity that recovery eventually brings. The hard work was well worth the effort. My hope is to prevent the next generation from repeating my mistakes and offer a firm foundation for a full life to these children, without the need to self-medicate.

Freedom from addiction can belong to you and your loved ones too, right now, starting today. Believe it or not, research shows family gatherings do more than just give you that warm fuzzy feeling; bonding with your family can actually make you mentally healthier. Use your time together to create an opportunity for health for everyone you love.

Utilizing these moments of togetherness is integral to your health and your family's wellbeing. Finding fun, easy ways of bonding, such as setting aside time to watch home videos or unplugging and playing board or card games, can intrinsically boost the connection family members have to one another. Holidays are times of family bonding, healing and maybe even miracles. Recovery is always possible and help is available for everyone.

Have a wonderful, sober and safe holiday season!


Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.