The countdown begins. The ball in Times Square is about to drop. People will kiss, give a champagne toast and reflect on their new resolutions.
For many, it’s an exciting time. A new beginning.
For alcoholics in recovery, it’s the end of a stressful season filled with temptations and uncomfortable situations.
With the free-flowing alcohol from holiday parties and family gatherings, it is hard for those struggling with addiction to avoid a drink. Adding to that is the difficult household dynamics and tense work relationships.
Tim Myers, 34, knows this well. He took his first sip of booze when he was 15 and struggled to regain sobriety for 10 years.
“When I was first getting sober I would go home for Christmas,” said Myers, originally from upstate New York. He moved to South Florida to get treatment at Caron Renaissance in Boca Raton.
“I would find that the struggle was not always with the alcohol. That was a big part of it, but the struggle was with family members and old friends. That can be hard to rush back into.”
According to a survey done by Caron, nearly 9 out of 10 adults feel that it’s appropriate to drink alcohol during holiday parties.
“It really shows the correlation between the holidays and the increase in alcohol use,” said Brad Sorte, executive director of Caron Renaissance and Caron Ocean Drive in Florida.
“In that same survey, we also found that over half the adults who do drink alcohol experience at least one negative consequence.”
That could include waking up with a hangover or doing something embarrassing.
Today, Myers has been sober for more than five years and attributes his success to preparation.
The TV and radio commercial writer attends extra 12-step meetings during the holiday season. He constantly checks in with his support system and ensures he has a getaway vehicle when he goes to New York for the holidays.
If you are trying to stay sober this New Year’s Eve, here are some tips.
1. Stay connected
Don’t go through tough times alone. Lean on friends, sponsors, therapists, spiritual advisers or pastors.
“If you know the holidays are going to be tough, plan on talking to your sponsor at least once a day,” said David Vittoria, assistant vice president of South Miami Hospital Addiction Treatment and Recovery Center.
“Staying connected is really, really key.”
2. Take care of yourself
Self-care is imperative during stressful times. Activities like exercise and meditation will help avoid buildup of negative emotions. Dr. Indra Cidambi, an addiction expert and medical director of the Center for Network Therapy in New Jersey, encourages working out, even if it’s just walking 10 minutes a day. She also recommends anything that will help lift spirits, such as getting a massage or going to extra Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and therapy sessions.
“Treat yourself right,” Cidambi said. “If someone is having a lot of interfamily conflicts, then they can visit their therapist, sit down with them and get their dirty laundry out.”
Cidambi also wants people to avoid HALT, her acronym for hunger, anger, loneliness and tiredness. It is much easier to avoid temptations when people are at their best.
4. Carry a non-alcoholic beverage
Many experts advise recovering alcoholics to hold a non-alcoholic beverage.
“Hold the beverage in your hand, so that nobody will come and ask you ‘what would you like to drink’ or ‘can I get you a drink?’” Cidambi said.
5. Rehearse saying no
Practice saying no, so that it comes naturally. Don’t feel pressured to give an explanation. Just be graceful and firm, so that other people understand that not everyone may want to drink during the holidays.
6. Have an exit plan
“People who expect they’re going to have a difficult time at a party where there is a lot of alcohol should plan ahead,” Vittoria said.
“If you have to communicate ahead of time that you have to leave early, apologize in advance. Sometimes giving word of an early exit might help, especially new folks in recovery.”
7. Have a conversation
Some situations are made easier when everything is out in the open.
“Families entering the holiday when they have a loved one who has been struggling with alcohol, deal with their own set of challenges,” Sorte said.
“It’s very important for both the individual with the alcohol issues and the family to have open communication.”
Supporting each other and talking about different strategies to stay sober will help.
8. Attend an alcathon
Most communities have around-the-clock AA meetings during the holidays called alcathons.
People who don’t feel comfortable at a New Year’s Eve party don’t have to sit at home or be alone.
“You just have to walk in and introduce yourself,” Myers said. “It’s the most welcoming organization in the planet.”
9. Get help after a relapse
Some people who are trying to stay sober may have a slip.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is estimated that about 16.6 million adults have an alcohol-use disorder, and alcohol-related death is the third-leading cause of preventable death in the United States, with approximately 88,000 patients dying annually.
Dr. Ihsan Salloum, the chief of substance and alcohol abuse at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine, believes that relapsing may cause a catastrophic reaction.
“They say ‘well I slipped, so what is the use? I’m going to drink more and enjoy it,’ and they continue drinking,” Salloum said.
“But for somebody with an alcohol problem, the best thing to do is to stop drinking, get themselves out of the situation and seek help.”
FOR MORE HELP
To find a local AA meeting, visit http://www.aa.org.
Caron Treatment Centers: 7789 N.W. Beacon Square Blvd. Boca Raton, 800-221-6500, http://www.caron.org.
South Miami Hospital Addiction Treatment and Recovery Center: 6900 S.W. 80th St., 786-662-8118, www.baptisthealth.net.
University of Miami Hospital: 1400 NW.12th Ave., Miami, 305-243-6400, http://www.umiamihospital.com/specialties/psychiatry.