Thanksgiving tableIn the early stages of recovery, you’re learning new ways to cope with everyday situations. Developing healthy habits is a big task, especially during the holiday season. If this will be your first sober Thanksgiving, stay on the path to recovery with these 8 helpful tips.

1. Be Grateful.

Thanksgiving is all about counting your blessings and there’s no greater blessing than being in recovery. Writing down your blessings in a journal is an excellent way to remind yourself of your commitment to your sobriety while getting into the spirit of the Thanksgiving celebration. Sending personal notes to those who’ve helped with your recovery is another great way to show your gratitude. Even if you don’t consider yourself to be a natural born writer, you can’t go wrong with a heartfelt note of appreciation.

2. Start a New Tradition.

If drinking is normally a big part of your Thanksgiving celebration, consider this year an opportunity to start a new alcohol-free tradition. You could organize a team trivia contest, play a friendly game of flag football, create a silly photo booth complete with assorted costumes and props, or give back to your community by volunteering at a local homeless shelter. There’s no right or wrong way to celebrate Thanksgiving, as long as you’re making memories with the people who mean the most to you.

3. Make Plans for Self-Care.

If you’re struggling with depression or social anxiety, crowded holiday gatherings can be overwhelming. Even if you’re genuinely excited to see everyone, a packed room might be hard to handle.

Taking the time to meditate or engage in some relaxing yoga poses before the event begins is an excellent way to keep stress levels in check. Bringing items to help you calm down, such as headphones and relaxing music, calming essential oil spray, or a fun mini adult coloring book, can also be helpful.

4. Don’t Throw Good Nutrition Out the Window.

While Thanksgiving is a time to indulge, keep in mind that healthy eating habits help support your recovery. Start your meal with a salad packed with fiber rich veggies, choose moderate portions of your favorite entrees and side dishes, then finish with a special dessert. Make a point to eat slowly and give your full attention to your food so you can savor every last bite.

One common mistake that people make when planning their Thanksgiving holiday is coming to the feast on an empty stomach. If you let yourself get too hungry, you’ll be more likely to eat to excess. Being hungry can also make it harder to regulate your emotions and control your cravings for drugs or alcohol.

5. Bring Your Own Beverage.

Ideally, your host should provide a non-alcoholic beverage choice for guests who don’t drink. Unfortunately, this is a detail that not everyone remembers. Avoid a sticky situation by simply bringing your own non-alcoholic beverage option.

Sparkling cider, herbal tea, flavored water, or a fruity non-alcoholic punch are excellent beverage choices for a Thanksgiving meal. Bring enough to share and you may find yourself surprised by how many guests decide to spend the day sober with you.

6. Stay Busy.

Keeping yourself busy throughout the event will help calm your nerves and reduce the intensity of any cravings you might have. Volunteer to help set the table, put the finishing touches on a few side dishes, or entertain any impatient young children. Your helpfulness will be appreciated and you’ll make new memories in the process.

7. Go to a Meeting.

It’s common for 12 step programs to host multiple meetings throughout the holidays, so there’s probably one near wherever you are traveling. Connecting with others in recovery can help you stay on the right path. If desired, you could use this opportunity to invite a supportive friend or family member to attend an open meeting with you.

8. Plan an Escape Route.

Hopefully you won’t need to use it, but it’s always a good idea to come up with a graceful way to exit a situation that starts to feel like it’s just too much. Consider having a friend on standby who can send a text or call with an “emergency” that lets you leave the party early if needed.

Another easy way to exit a situation is to simply inform everyone ahead of time that you have another appointment later in the day and will need to leave early. This strategy works well for situations where you know that you won’t be feeling up to socializing for the entire event.

By Dana Hinders

If you or someone you love needs addiction treatment, please call St. Joseph Institute at 888-352-3297.


Staying Sober During the Holidays

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Talking to kids about a parent's addictionTalking to kids about a parent’s substance abuse problem isn’t easy, but this is a conversation you simply can’t ignore. Brushing the topic aside gives children the message that addiction is a shameful family secret. Instead, plan to discuss a parent’s decision to seek treatment in an age-appropriate manner—setting the stage for open and honest communication.

Teaching the 7 C’s of Addiction

According to the National Association for Children of Alcoholics, the 7 C’s of addiction can serve as a useful framework for helping children understand a parent’s substance abuse problem and how it affects their own lives.

I didn’t cause it.
I can’t cure it.
I can’t control it.
I can care for myself
By communicating my feelings,
Making healthy choices, and
By celebrating myself.

After you’ve talked to your child, consider sharing a copy of the 7 C’s of addiction. Your child may wish to display a copy of this information in his or her bedroom or to carry it in a wallet or backpack as a reminder of how to handle conflicting feelings surrounding a parent’s substance abuse treatment.

Explaining Addiction to Kids Under 10

At this age, children still live in a me-centered world. This means they’re likely to blame themselves for a parent’s addiction-related behavior. Your task is help your child understand that their mother or father’s addiction is not their fault and to reassure them of your family’s love and commitment to each other.

You can begin the conversation by bringing up an example of behavior that your child witnessed, such as an argument occurring after your spouse missed your child’s school play to go out drinking with friends. Explain that addiction is a disease that causes people to make bad choices, even when they know those bad choices hurt themselves or others. Stress that the parent in treatment is getting help for his or her illness, much like you would take your child to the doctor for a high fever or a bad cut.

Talking to Tweens

Tweens are at the stage of their lives where they’re attuned to rumors and gossip. When you talk to your tween about a parent’s addiction, your goal should be to make sure he or she has all the facts.

Plan to talk to your tween in a calm, quiet location that’s free of distractions. State the facts simply, saying that the parent is addicted to drugs or alcohol and is seeking treatment for this illness. Give your tween ample opportunity to ask questions, answering as truthfully as you are able to. Stress the importance of coming to together as family during this time and invite your tween to come to you whenever he or she is feeling sad or angry about the situation.

Talking to Teens

Teens often have a different perspective on addiction than younger children. They may be resentful for having to handle household chores and care for younger siblings when a parent is under the influence. They may also be jealous of friends who they view as having “perfect” families.

When you’re talking to your teen, express your appreciation for all your teen has done to help the family during this time and acknowledge the impact this experience has had on his or her life. You can point out that all families have their own struggles, but avoid taking a condescending or dismissive tone. Teens will often shut down if they feel they’re not being respected as part of the conversation.

After your teen has had a chance to process the initial discussion, you should broach the subject of what a family history of addiction means. While genetics aren’t destiny, studies have shown that having a parent or other close relative who suffers from addiction does increase a teen’s risk of developing a substance abuse problem. Stress your concern for your teen’s wellbeing and help him or her explore interests and hobbies that can will reduce the urge to experiment with drugs and alcohol.

Seeking Help for Your Child

The experience of living with a parent’s addiction can cause some children to act out. If you notice that your child is experiencing signs of depression or anxiety, such as changes in appetite, sleeping patterns, academic performance, and time spent with friends, he or she may be in need of counseling to help process the feelings associated with a parent in treatment. Your pediatrician can refer you to a qualified therapist in your area. Attending Ala-teen or a related support group for children in similar situations may also be beneficial.

By Dana Hinders

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A Look at Pennsylvania's Opioid EpidemicNationwide, the opioid epidemic killed more Americans in 2016 than the wars in Vietnam and Iraq combined. On October 26, 2017, President Donald Trump officially declared the opioid crisis a national public health emergency.

The Roots of a National Crisis
The term opioid is used to refer to substances that act on the opioid receptors in the brain to create morphine-like effects. The opioid epidemic refers to the abuse of prescription pain medications as well as illegal street drugs like heroin. Often, people begin their addiction with prescription pain medication and progress to illegal street drugs when it becomes too difficult to obtain their pills by doctor shopping or borrowing from friends and family members.

Prescription opioids play a vital role in managing chronic pain for people who suffer from serious medical conditions, but have a high potential for abuse when they are not taken precisely as prescribed. Many experts believe the opioid epidemic began in the late 1990s and early 2000s when doctors began shifting away from encouraging physical therapy, biofeedback, and exercise or meditation as the first response for pain management to writing prescriptions for opioids. Often, the patients who received these prescriptions were not fully aware of the risk for dependency and addiction until it was too late.

Opioid Addiction in Pennsylvania
To get a sense of the scale of the problem Pennsylvania is facing, consider the following statistics from 2016:

  • Prescription pain medications like Vicodin and OxyContin were responsible for 1,775 overdose admissions in the state of Pennsylvania, compared to the 1,524 admissions for heroin. However, hospital admissions for heroin overdose in Pennsylvania have quadrupled since 2010. Statistics for emergency room visits are not available, but these numbers are thought to be even higher.
  • Opioid pain medication overdoses are most common among people age 50 and over, with 60% of admissions falling in this age group. In comparison, about 70% of the admissions for heroin overdoses were patients between 20 and 39 years old.
  • Philadelphia admitted 47 per 100,000 residents, making it the center of the state’s opioid epidemic. However, rates in several other countries, including both rural Beaver and suburban Delaware, also topped 40 admissions per 100,000 residents.
  • Fatal overdoses in Pennsylvania rose 37% from 2015 to 2016, with 13 people dying of an overdose each day. In total, 4,632 Pennsylvania residents lost their lives as victims of drug overdoses in 2016. This is nearly four times the number of residents who died as the result of fatal traffic accidents, with about 85% of the overdoses attributed to opioids.
  • Fentanyl was found in about two-thirds of Pennsylvania drug fatalities in 2016, while heroin was found in about half. The overlap is due to the fact that many cases included victims who had taken both drugs. Fentanyl is often added to heroin, with or without the user’s knowledge.

What’s Been Done to Fight the Epidemic
Governor Tom Wolf has made fighting the opioid epidemic a top priority of his administration. In the 2016 to 2017 state budget, he secured an overall total of $20.4 million to fight opioid abuse. These funds allowed DHS to create 45 Opioid Use Disorder Centers of Excellence to provide care for approximately 10,100 people who are currently unable to access treatment through other means.

Expanded efforts have been made to provide access to naloxone, a medication designed to quickly reduce the effects of opioid overdose, for law enforcement, first responders, schools, and others who are likely to encounter overdose victims. Training for administering this vital medication is provided regularly at several locations throughout the state as well as in a convenient online course.

To reduce the availability of prescription medications for potential misuse, the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, in partnership with the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, the Office of the Attorney General, the National Guard, and the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, has implemented a prescription drug take-back box program with 580 take-back boxes across all 67 counties. In 2016, participation in the program allowed for the destruction of approximately 124,336 pounds of no longer needed prescription drugs.

How St. Joseph Institute Is Helping
As the leading treatment and detox center in Pennsylvania, St. Joseph Institute is committed to providing Pennsylvania residents with the care they need to overcome opioid addiction. Our personalized treatment programs focus on healing the mind, body, and spirit–offering counseling, opportunities for spiritual development, and a chance to address co-occurring conditions like anxiety and depression as you prepare to take the first step towards a brighter future.

By Dana Hinders

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