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Support for substance abuse around the holidays

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Aaron Smith finds he’s more likely to “need” a drink around the holidays.  

Smith said he typically drinks a few times a month throughout most of the year. Around the holidays, however, he said he drinks a few times a week.  

“Family is definitely one reason,” Smith said. “And then, with winter, I’ve got seasonal depression.” 

According to the American Addiction Center, roughly 7.4% of Americans have a substance abuse disorder. However, roughly 29% of Americans say they drink more during the holiday season. This year, alcohol sales increased over 50% as lockdowns took place around the country.  

Melissa Cyders, associate professor of psychology at IUPUI, is part of a research team at the Regenstrief Institute studying the effects that the upcoming holidays and COVID-19 can have on those struggling with alcoholism and addiction. 

“There are many factors to relate to spikes in substance use around the holidays, many of which are worsened by this year,” Cyders said. “One, there are more parties and get-togethers with alcohol around the holidays, which normalizes such overindulgences. Two, holidays can be tough times for those who have lost loved ones or who are isolated. Third, holidays are stressful in general — lots to do, being around family may not be positive for some — all of which can increase substance use.” 

Despite an increase in overall alcohol sales as a result of the pandemic, Cyders thinks there may be fewer stressors that may lead people to drink 

“In the U.S., alcohol overindulgence is normalized and somewhat encouraged,” Cyders said. “In some ways this year it could be better, since there are fewer parties. However, there is such a normalization of alcohol use during the pandemic — like ‘quarantinis’ — and some evidence suggesting … alcohol consumption has increased.” 

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, roughly 7% of African Americans have an alcohol use disorder. While that’s lower than the national average, Black Americans are less likely to complete treatment, either due to a lack of resources or stigma surrounding addiction. However, Cyders said families can play a large role in helping loved ones in their recovery.  

“It’s important to not blame the person or judge them; rather provide support if you are able,” Cyders said. “It’s important to see the substance use behaviors as a symptom of the disease rather than something the person is doing to hurt you or others. However, it’s also important not to enable the behaviors, so sometimes it’s best to be open and clear about what you can and cannot do and to help the person connect with the right kind of help for their struggles.” 

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper. 

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