If we can say anything about the past two years, we can say this: they’ve been stressful for almost everyone.
In December 2019, most of us were looking forward to the winter holidays. The biggest stories in the news were the upcoming elections, impeachment hearings, and the young Swedish climate activist Greta Thurnberg speaking at the U.N. Across the globe, pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong were at their peak.
Remember all that?
We hardly do either, because shortly after a fairly typical Christmas, New Year, and January – COVID arrived.
Since then, life has changed.
The cumulative stress of the pandemic resulted in a widespread increase in the prevalence of mental health symptoms related to depression and anxiety. The isolation associated with stay-at-home orders has exacerbated these symptoms for many. And for others, the combination of isolation, stress, income insecurity, and various other ancillary effects of the pandemic led to an increase in alcohol and drug use.
In some cases, this increased alcohol and drug use crossed the threshold from typical use to problem use. And in still others, problem use became disordered use.
If you’re one of those people who increased your alcohol or drug intake over the past two years – because of the various factors we mention above – and this increase has not leveled off or decreased, but rather plateaued at levels that concern you or your loved ones, you may have developed an alcohol use disorder (AUD), also known as alcoholism, or substance use disorder (SUD), aka drug addiction.
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How to Handle Alcohol or Drug Addiction: Rehab Offers Hope, Support, and a Path Forward
The best way to approach an alcohol or substance use disorder is to seek professional treatment and support.
And in this atypical time, we have an atypical suggestion.
Our suggestion may be particularly relevant if you’re one of those people who started drinking or using drugs more during the pandemic – most likely to self-medicate and mitigate the effects of all the stress – and you haven’t backed off with the arrival of vaccines or the easing of the various pandemic-related public health rules and regulations
If that’s you, here’s what we suggest:
Why not go to rehab over the holidays?
Think about that, then take a moment to look over the alcohol use disorder (AUD) screening tool below. If you suspect you have a drinking problem, the following questionnaire can help you decide if you need to seek a full assessment from a mental health or addiction professional.
Identifying Problem Drinking: Eleven Quick Questions
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA) define three categories of alcohol use disorder (AUD): mild, moderate, and severe. To determine whether you meet diagnostic criteria for mild, moderate, or severe AUD, answer the following questions about your alcohol use over the past year:
[Note: This questionnaire is not the same thing as a full evaluation performed by a mental health or addiction expert. Only a licensed professional can make a clinical AUD diagnosis]
To determine whether you meet diagnostic criteria for mild, moderate, or severe AUD, consider the following questions about your alcohol use over the past year:
- Were there times when you drank more than you planned to?
- Have you tried unsuccessfully to cut back or quit drinking?
- Have you spent a lot of time dealing with hangovers or the negative effects of overdrinking?
- Do you have intense cravings for alcohol?
- Does drinking impair your ability to fulfill you your home, work, or school responsibilities?
- Do you keep drinking, even if you answer “yes” to question (5)?
- Have you chosen to drink over things you used to love? Like a hobby or spending time with friends or family?
- Has drinking caused you to take unnecessary risks, like driving while intoxicated?
- Do you keep drinking even though you know it damaging your health, your social life, and your primary relationships?
- Do you have to drink more and more to feel the same relaxing/euphoric effect?
- Do you drink to help with insomnia, anxiety, irritability, or depression?
How to score yourself. If you answer “yes” to:
- 2-3 of these questions you may meet the criteria for mild AUD.
- 4-5 of these questions you may meet the criteria for moderate AUD.
- 6 or more of these questions you may meet the criteria for severe AUD.
It’s worth repeating that this questionnaire is neither an evaluation nor a diagnosis. We present it so you can decide for yourself whether you should pursue a professional evaluation and consider the idea of entering rehab over the holidays. Also, while this questionnaire is not typically used to assess substance use disorder, you can use it as a prescreening tool if you like. If you substitute “using drugs” for “drinking” in the questions above, you can get an idea about whether you should pursue a professional evaluation for SUD, rather than AUD.
Keep in mind, however, that this questionnaire was not designed to assess problem drug use – there are factors that SUD screening tools address that do not appear in the AUD screening tool above. To access an online SUD evaluation tool (all disclaimers above apply), click here.
Rehab Over the Holidays: Five Good Reasons
If you’ve read the information above and determined that you need to seek professional support for your drinking, then please take the time to read our article “How Residential Treatment for Substance Abuse Works.” It will answer any initial questions you have about residential treatment for AUD – a.k.a. alcohol rehab – and allay any initial fears you may have regarding the rehab process, stigma around rehab, or what happens in rehab once you initiate residential treatment.
We’ll now offer five reasons to consider rehab during the holidays.
Holiday Rehab? Why Not? Five Good Reasons
- A Planned Break.There’s a good chance you already have time off work for the holidays. You can plan rehab strategically and ask for additional time off before the holiday and additional time off after the holiday. If you’re in a job where you’ve accumulated vacation time, you may not even need to ask for any extra: you can claim the time already earned.
- Travel is Still Not-so-Easy.Although travel is back to, if not exceeding, pre-pandemic levels, the rules and regulations around vaccines, testing, and to mask or not to mask are still a headache. I you’re in rehab, none of that is an issue. And if you come to a place where you understand your drinking is a problem for you, then there’s a good chance it’s already a problem for your family. Which means they want what’s best for you – and if that means going to rehab instead of a big family gathering, they’ll understand.
- The Reason for the Season.The holidays are all about gratitude. This is a time when we gather with loved ones to eat good food, reminisce, and appreciate what we have. So why do we encourage you to leave the home for this homiest of holidays? We encourage it so that you may rekindle your understand the true meaning of gratitude. In rehab, practicing gratitude is a major focus. We can assure you that over the holidays in a treatment center, the staff and your recovery peers will foreground gratitude and gratefulness. You’ll learn to be grateful for sobriety, for recovery, for your recovery peers, for the therapists and counselors who help you rediscovery for yourself, and above all, for the family members – chosen or otherwise – who bring joy and love to your life.
- Set Yourself Up for a Good Run at 2022.If 2020 and 2021 were a total bust – the pandemic, a stressful social and political climate, you name it – then you can get a head start on 2022 by taking the first steps on your recovery journey. If you start rehab in December, by the end of January, there’s a good chance you’ll be learning and growing in recovery – and looking forward to 2022 as a year you truly thrive.
- The Best Christmas Gift Ever.When you develop an addiction such as AUD or SUD, you often lose touch with yourself. You get off track. You lose sight of your priorities. Work suffers, relationships suffer, and self-esteem suffers. You make yourself promises to quit drinking or doing drugs and break them. Over time, you may not recognize yourself. When you start your recovery journey, you restore the person you were – with the added knowledge and experience of addiction and recovery – and become a new, improved version of you. Therefore, when you enter rehab in December, by the time Christmas comes around, you may be poised to rediscover something you may have thought was lost: the real you.
Finding Treatment: Integrated Treatment for Total Recovery
Evidence shows that the most effective treatment for alcohol use disorder and/or substance use disorder (AUD/SUD) follows an integrated treatment model that addresses all areas of an individual’s life. Clinicians at a treatment center that follow an integrated treatment model create customized plans that treat the whole person, rather than only the disorder. Addiction professionals examine and evaluate all biological, psychological, emotional, family, and social factors that may have contributed to your disordered use of alcohol and/or substances, and how they may either support or impede your progress in recovery.
An integrated, holistic treatment plan typically includes:
- Individual counseling and therapy
- Group counseling and therapy
- Family counseling and therapy
- Educational workshops on addiction, relapse prevention, coping skills, healthy relationships, and trigger management (this list is not comprehensive)
- Experiential activities such as mindfulness, exercise, and outdoor recreation
- Expressive therapies/activities such as writing, music, or visual art
- Medication, if needed and as necessary
- A solid and realistic aftercare plan
The last thing we want to tell you about treatment and recovery is perhaps the most important: it’s possible to attain long-term sobriety and live a life free from the cycles of alcohol and drug addiction. Millions of people have entered treatment, sought the support of professionals and recovery peers, and rebuilt their lives after months, years, and sometimes decades of addiction. If you don’t believe it’s possible for you, we encourage you to seek support. Your recovery peers and counselors already believe you can do it, and they haven’t even met you. They’ll listen to your story with compassion, wisdom, and understanding, and help you create a full and vibrant life in recovery.