Waterloo Region addiction therapists have advice for people battling alcohol, drug addiction during holidays

By: Genelle Levy, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Cambridge Times
Although the holidays are often synonymous with joy and cheer, it can be an isolating time for many.
The pressures of family, which could include strained relationships and trauma, grief, and financial stress, already add difficulty to a time of year where the expectations are high.
Experts and mental health specialists say for addicts and drug users, this time of year could lead to increased drug usage. A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that young people are eight times more likely to turn to drugs and alcohol during the pandemic.
Violet Umanetz, director of harm reduction and overdose prevention services at Kitchener’s Consumption and Treatment Services (CTS) centre, says there are multiple factors that can lead to increased drug use around this time of year.
“We are all familiar with the pressures of socializing with family members with whom relations may be strained, the financial stress associated with a season where many feel obligated to purchase gifts even when money is tight and the feelings of grief and sadness when we think of those we won’t see during the holidays … these are just some of the many reasons there can be an increase in substance abuse during the holidays,” says Umanetz.
Umanetz says there’s also the factor of social gatherings and having more spare time, noting that even people who don’t experience addiction could drink more and engage in drug usage when they have more spare time.
Kitchener and Cambridge-based therapist and addictions counsellor Janine Fischer says it’s important to recognize triggers in terms of alcohol and drugs, and then to set appropriate boundaries.
“What are the triggers in terms of a particular family member setting you off? Could there be a family event that you’re still involved in with minimizing having to see that particular person? How could you set boundaries with that … often addiction comes from a place of pain and trauma due to strained relationships, pressures, and boundaries that haven’t been set in those relationships.”
The most important thing to remember is to not use alone, says Umanetz, who encourages people to keep a naloxone kit on hand.
The Kitchener CTS site at 150 Duke St. W. is also open during the holidays, and people can come to use drugs under the supervision of trained staff.
This is particularly important with the first dose of a new batch, says Umanetz, who says it’s important to have people around you who can respond to adverse reactions.
“The holidays are hard; it’s OK to not feel great about them, but we can practise self-compassion and self-care and connect with people who are good for our mental health.”
If you or a loved one is experiencing mental health crisis or need immediate support, call the Here 24-7 hotline at 1-844-437-3247 (HERE247) or their local line at 519-821-3582.
STORY BEHIND THE STORY: After reading a CDC statistic that said young people are eight times more likely to turn to alcohol and drugs during the pandemic, reporter Genelle Levy sought to explore how the holidays can affect drug usage.