Rehab for Thanksgiving? Why Not?

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If you can say anything about 2020, you can say this: so far, it’s been about the most non-traditional year imaginable.

Last year at this time, everyone was looking forward to Thanksgiving and the winter holidays. In the news, the lead-up to the Democratic Party primaries was in full swing, with debates happening regularly. The U.S. House of Representatives was holding impeachment hearings about events involving Ukraine. Greta Thunberg, the teenage climate activist from Sweden, achieved worldwide recognition for her speech before the U.N. in New York, advocating sweeping, immediate action on global warming. On the other side of the planet, pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong were at their peak, with police and protestors clashing regularly.

Remember all that?

We hardly do either, because shortly after a fairly typical Christmas, New Year, and January – COVID arrived, and since then nothing has been the same.

The stress of the pandemic has resulted in a widespread increase in the prevalence of mental health symptoms related to depression and anxiety. The isolation associated with stay-at-home orders has exacerbated these symptoms for many. And for others, the combination of isolation, stress, income insecurity, and various other ancillary effects of the pandemic has led to an increase in alcohol and drug use.

In some cases, this increased alcohol and drug use may have crossed the threshold from typical use to problem use. And in still others, problem use may have become disordered use. If you’re one of those people who increased their alcohol or drug intake early this year, and – because of the various factors we mention above – this increase has not leveled off or decreased, but rather increased to levels that concern you or your loved ones, you may have developed an alcohol or substance use disorder (AUD/SUD).

How to Handle AUD or SUD: Rehab Works

The best way to approach an alcohol or substance use disorder is to seek professional treatment and support.

And in this most non-typical of years, we have a non-typical suggestion.

It’s logical – and fits with the public health advice we’re all receiving from the experts right now. For example, public health officials are urging us all to take the following steps this Thanksgiving:

  1. Avoid indoor family gatherings with extended family, unless they’re in your bubble.
  2. Avoid gatherings with friends, acquaintances, and work peers – unless those people are in your bubble.
  3. Skip the holiday travel this year: winter flu season is upon us, and we’re all better off circling the wagons and not putting ourselves in cramped indoor spaces for hours with strangers – i.e. sitting in airplanes.

So, given all the factors that point toward an already atypical Thanksgiving, why not try something completely different this year?

Especially if you’re one of those people who started drinking or using drugs more during the pandemic – most likely to self-medicate and mitigate the effects of all this stress – and your use has escalated, rather than abated in recent months.

If that’s you, why not try going to rehab over Thanksgiving?

Think about that, then take a moment to look over the AUD screening tool below – or navigate to our Alcohol Use Disorder Page and read it there. If you suspect you have a drinking problem, the questionnaire we offer in the next section can help you decide if you need to seek a full assessment from a mental health or addiction professional.

Identifying Problem Drinking: Eleven Quick Questions

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA) define three categories of AUD: mild, moderate, and severe. To determine whether you meet diagnostic criteria for mild, moderate, or severe AUD, answer the following questions about your alcohol use over the past year:

[Note: This questionnaire does not take the place of a full evaluation performed by a mental health professional. Only a licensed professional can offer an official AUD diagnosis]

To determine whether you meet diagnostic criteria for mild, moderate, or severe AUD, consider the following questions about your alcohol use over the past year:

  1. Were there times when you drank more than you planned to?
  2. Have you tried unsuccessfully to cut back or quit drinking?
  3. Have you spent a lot of time dealing with hangovers or the negative effects of overdrinking?
  4. Do you have intense cravings for alcohol?
  5. Does drinking impair your ability to fulfill your home, work, or school responsibilities?
  6. Do you keep drinking, even if you answer “yes” to question (5)?
  7. Have you chosen drinking over things you used to love? Like a hobby or spending time with friends or family?
  8. Has drinking caused you to take unnecessary risks, like driving while intoxicated?
  9. Have you kept drinking even though you know it damages your health, your social life, and your primary relationships?
  10. Do you have to drink more and more to feel the same relaxing/euphoric effect?
  11. Do you drink to help with insomnia, anxiety, irritability, or depression?

A “yes” to 2-3 of these questions means you may meet the criteria for mild AUD, a “yes” to 4-5 questions means you may meet the criteria for moderate AUD, and a “yes” to 6 or more means you may meet the criteria for severe AUD.

Professional Advice is Best

It’s worth repeating that the questionnaire above is neither an evaluation nor a diagnosis. We present it so that you can decide for yourself whether you should pursue a professional evaluation, and begin considering the idea of going to rehab over the Thanksgiving holiday. Also, while this questionnaire is not typically used to assess substance use disorder, you can use it as a prescreening tool if you like. If you substitute “using drugs” for “drinking” in the questions above, you can get an idea as to whether you should pursue a professional evaluation for SUD, rather than AUD. Keep in mind, however, that this questionnaire was not designed to assess problem drug use – there are factors that SUD screening tools address that do not appear in the AUD screening tool above. To access an online SUD evaluation tool (all disclaimers above apply), click here.

Thanksgiving Rehab: Five Good Reasons

If you’ve read the information above and determined that you need to seek professional support for your drinking, then please take the time to read our article “How Residential Treatment for Substance Abuse Works.” It will answer any initial questions you have about residential treatment for AUD – a.k.a. alcohol rehab – and allay any initial fears you may have regarding the rehab process, stigma around rehab, or what happens in rehab once you get there.

We’ll now offer five reasons to consider rehab over Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving Rehab? Why Not? Five Good Reasons

1. A Planned Break

There’s a good chance you already have time off work for Thanksgiving. You can time your rehab strategically. You can ask for additional time off before the holiday, and additional time off after the holiday. If you’re in a job where you’ve accumulated vacation time, you may not even need to ask for any extra: you can claim the time you’ve already earned.

2. Family Plans Are Off

In most cases, anyway. It’s unlikely you’re planning to travel to a big family gathering filled with aunts, uncles, cousins, and extended family. And if you’re at home during shelter-in-place orders and drinking too much, there’s another thing to consider. Your immediate family – partner, spouse, kids – might completely support this decision. If you come to a place where you understand your drinking is a problem for you, then there’s a good chance it’s already a problem for them.

3. The Meaning of Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is all about gratitude. It’s when we gather with loved ones to eat good food, reminisce, and appreciate what we have. So why do we encourage you to leave the home for this homiest of holidays? We encourage it so that you may rekindle your understanding of the true meaning of gratitude. In rehab, practicing gratitude is a major focus – read our article “The Attitude of Gratitude” to understand what we mean. We can assure you that on Thanksgiving Day in a treatment center, the staff and your recovery peers will foreground being grateful above all else. You’ll learn to be grateful for sobriety, for recovery, and your recovery peers. You’ll be grateful for the therapists and counselors who help you rediscover yourself, and above all, for the family members – chosen or otherwise – who bring joy and love to your life.

4. Set Yourself Up for 2021

If 2020 was a total bust – pandemics, stressful social and political climate, you name it – then you can get a head start on 2021 by taking the first steps on your recovery journey. If you start rehab in November, by the time January arrives, there’s a good chance you’ll be learning and growing in recovery – and looking forward to 2021 as the year you truly thrive.

5. The Best Christmas Gift Ever

When we develop an addiction such as AUD or SUD, we often lose touch with ourselves. We get off track. We lose sight of our priorities. Our work suffers, our relationships suffer, and our self-esteem suffers. We make ourselves promises to quit drinking or doing drugs, and break them. Over time – and even over a relatively short time like the seven months of pandemic stress – we may not recognize ourselves. When you start your recovery journey, you restore the person you were – with the added knowledge and experience of addiction and recovery – and become a new, improved version of you. Therefore, when you enter rehab around Thanksgiving, by the time Christmas comes around, you may be in a position to give yourself something you may have thought you lost. You can give yourself the gift of the real you – and that really is the best gift ever.

Finding Rehab: Integrated Treatment for Total Recovery

Evidence shows that the most effective treatment for alcohol use disorder and/or substance use disorder (AUD/SUD) follows an integrated treatment model that addresses all areas of an individual’s life. Clinicians at a treatment center that uses an integrated treatment model create a customized plan that treats the whole person, rather than only the disorder. All biological, psychological, emotional, family, and social factors that may relate to addiction are examined and evaluated for how they may have contributed to the development of the addiction, and how they may either support or impede progress in recovery.

An integrated treatment plan typically includes:

  • Individual counseling and therapy
  • Group counseling and therapy
  • Family counseling and therapy
  • Educational workshops on addiction, relapse prevention, coping skills, healthy relationships, and trigger management (this list is not comprehensive)
  • Experiential activities such as mindfulness, exercise, and outdoor recreation
  • Expressive therapies/activities such as writing, music, or visual art
  • Medication, if needed and as necessary

The last thing we want to tell you about treatment and recovery is perhaps the most important. If you think you have a drinking or drug problem, understand that it’s possible to attain long-term sobriety. You can live a life free from the cycles of alcohol and drug addiction. Millions of people have entered treatment, sought the support of professionals and recovery peers, and rebuilt their lives. Some do it after months, but others do it after years and sometimes decades of addiction. If you don’t believe it’s possible for you, we encourage you to seek support. Your recovery peers and counselors already believe you can do it, and they haven’t even met you. They’ll listen to your story with compassion, wisdom, and understanding, and help you live a full and vibrant life in recovery.