The number of people who seek admission and treatment for alcohol and drug use disorders spikes after New Year’s Day, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The combination of multiple holiday celebrations, family gatherings, office and other parties can bring previously hidden substance use issues out into the open.
Shalu Gugnani, M.D., assistant medical director, Northwest Community Healthcare (NCH) Behavioral Health Services says, “Each year we prepare for an influx of inpatients from early January through the period after the Super Bowl in February.”
NCH is a leading provider of outpatient and inpatient behavioral health programs in the northwest suburbs. NCH provides services for a range of psychiatric, emotional, substance abuse and other behavioral or mental health issues.
Dr. Gugnani says part of the reason for the increase in need for services is the result of families and loved ones coming together for Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and other celebrations. Culturally, alcohol plays a significant role in many seasonal celebrations.
Dr. Gugnani adds that some of the subtle signs of alcohol abuse can include:
- Depression or other mood changes
- Changes in sleep patterns
Other warning signs are easier to spot. “One red flag is noticing a loved one whose drinking has increased to the point they lose control or blackout, or perhaps they are drinking more and it doesn’t appear to have much of an impact. This is a red flag because it could be a sign the person has been drinking enough to develop a tolerance to alcohol,” says Dr. Gugnani.
The time to approach a loved one with concerns about alcohol abuse or dependence is not in the middle of a crowded gathering. Instead, Dr. Gugnani advises to wait for a more private moment when the person is not under the influence and to express your concern and offer your support.
Avoid statements such as “if only you…” and “why don’t you?” These can be heard as blaming words that create a defensive state of mind. Instead, be honest about what you see and support your loved one’s efforts to seek help, she says.
Safety, however, is always the first priority. If you are concerned the person is having medical complications from their intoxication or withdrawal, get medical attention immediately.
Dr. Gugnani also encourages loved ones to take care of their own needs. Whether it is Al-Anon, talk therapy or getting rest and exercise, “recognize that this is a stressful and possibly traumatic time for all involved. Give yourself the opportunity to get the support you need.”
NCH offers a free online assessment for depression, anxiety or addiction.