Summertime is a season for warm weather, maybe a family vacation, and definitely summer barbeques and celebrations.
The get togethers and celebrations often include food — and alcohol. Which is why it can also be a particularly challenging time for people struggling with addiction, said Rhonda Roper, vice president of clinical services at Brightview, an outpatient drug and alcohol treatment center with locations throughout Northern Kentucky.
“Summer can be a little more challenging, simply because of all the common social gatherings and routines that might happen with family or friends,” Roper said. “It’s not uncommon for those events to be soaked with alcohol and maybe even other substances, depending on what’s happening with friends or family that someone’s associating with.”
Even if someone is not seeking treatment for alcohol abuse or does not have a historical problem with alcohol, Roper said this time of year can be triggering for anyone.
“This is a good time of year for individuals to really have a plan in place on how to deal with these social gatherings when they occur,” Roper said. “Having a plan really can help individuals protect their recovery and protect their sobriety.”
One method taught in Brightview treatment facilities is “HALT,” which stands for hungry, angry, lonely, tired. Four things Roper said someone in recovery should never be before going to a party or social gathering.
Hungry: Roper said hunger might make people more susceptible to drinking to curve their appetite and makes people more vulnerable to stress, making it harder to say no.
Angry: Make sure not to attend an event with intense emotions like anger, especially if there will be a person attending who may cause problems. Roper said it is not healthy to participate in an event knowing there is a person or situation to deal with that might cause someone to act out of emotion.
Lonely: If someone in recovery hasn’t been engaging in any social outings, going into a party-like situation can be overwhelming, making it more likely for someone to take risks, according to Roper.
“You wouldn’t want to go out to an event after not going for many months,” Roper said. “Gradually ease into it. We typically would suggest getting together with a couple of your sober friends. Or making sure you’re not around unfamiliar people that you’re not sure what they’re going to do or what they’re going to ask you to do.”
Tired: Running on little sleep causes people to be looser with decisions and act more impulsively. Having a clear head to make the best decisions is important before attending any celebrations that may have temptations. Being in a good place with your body is just as important as being mentally prepared.
Roper also suggests a general plan for holiday events, summer celebrations, etc., to keep people from being caught off guard or pushed out of their comfort zone.
The first thing to create a plan around is what to do if someone approaches with a drink or other substance.
“We typically will tell our patients to have a kind of rehearsed dialogue,” Roper said. “It may just be ‘No, thanks, I’m not partaking this year.’ Another tip that we found to be really helpful for individuals is for them to go into these events with a drink in hand. Bottled water or soda. If someone is drinking water or soda, it is less likely that someone will ask them if they want a substance.”
Another tip Roper offered is to have an “escape plan.”
She said this could again be a rehearsed phrase like, “time has run away from me; I’ve got some things I need to take care of.” She also said it is crucial to identify a healthy source of transportation to get to and from the event. One, to be able to leave if need be, and two, so whoever is responsible for driving doesn’t partake in drinking or substances and can no longer offer safe transportation.
“It may be that you go into an event, and it doesn’t play out the way you hoped. You may have some people that are questioning why you’re not drinking. They’re questioning your recovery. Maybe downplaying it,” Roper said. “And so, just preparing yourself with those things that could occur and having some strategies to deal with that if you are disappointed, or you expect something to go well, and it doesn’t. You need to have some follow-up plans and things that you can do to help yourself move forward in a negative situation.”
Roper said Brightview practices relapse prevention planning with their patients regularly to help them understand what they’re more prone to, what can trigger more than something else, and identify times they may be more likely to partake in substances.
Family and friends can support their loved ones by setting up a plan with them before an event to see what can be most helpful.
“If you know that you have family members in recovery, it’s best to avoid those things altogether, to make sure it’s a healthy environment for them,” Roper said. “Just not having anything that can be a trigger or can be damaging. So, if you’re able to offer that, that’s always the best strategy.”
Roper said not rehashing the past is also essential. Recovery involves moving forward, not dwelling on past mistakes, and focusing on moving ahead.