Tipsy Turkey Day: How Thanksgiving Can Take a Turn for the Worse
The focus may be on the food and fun, but alcohol often flows quite freely over the Thanksgiving holiday, as well, with many people choosing to imbibe in celebration. While a glass of wine with your turkey dinner may not be harmful in most cases, drinking and driving is a major problem over the holiday weekend.
In 2017, the Pennsylvania State Police investigated 981 crashes during the five-day Thanksgiving holiday driving period from November 22 through November 26. That total represented an increase of 5.4 percent compared to the 931 crashes investigated during the Thanksgiving holiday driving period in 2016.
Of the 981 crashes investigated, 85 were alcohol-related, 209 people were injured, and four people were killed. One of the four fatal crashes involved alcohol.
Vernon Hilyer, better known as “Brandon’s Dad” of Brandon’s Dad DUI Awareness Program, noted that Thanksgiving is often referred to as the “turkey binge” because of the serious issues with alcohol and driving under the influence around the holiday.
“Some people start drinking as early as Wednesday night and don’t have to go back to work until Tuesday,” Hilyer said.
“There’s a tendency to just drink and not think about it over the holiday weekend. This season, with the low gas prices, they’re expecting more people to be out traveling. You mix in drugs or alcohol with all the people traveling and the chance of killing someone gets a lot higher.”
While alcohol and driving under the influence are one pitfall of the holiday weekend, many people don’t realize that the holiday can be an especially difficult time for those who are dealing with or recovering from substance abuse issues, from alcoholism to drug addiction, as well.
“A lot of people in our area base their festivities around drinking, which can make it a harder time for those struggling with addiction, plus the added stress of things like not being able, economically, to do what you want to for the holidays, it can make for a difficult time for some people,” said Susan Huffman, who is a senior program specialist for Venango County Substance Abuse.
Huffman also noted that their programs tend to see an uptick in referrals following the first of the year, just after the holiday season.
“A lot of times it is someone who might have a problem because of depression or because the holidays kicked up triggers they might have.”
Susan Ford, Executive director of Clearfield Jefferson Drug and Alcohol Commission, also said the difficulties the holiday season can raise in terms of substance abuse.
“Many times people think celebration, holidays, alcohol, and potentially drugs, all go hand in hand, but it can also create really terrible unintended consequences,” Ford noted.
“DUIs and domestic violence are both outcomes of substance abuse we see during this time. Also, people feeling loss or emotional pain sometimes treat that by sedating themselves during holidays so they don’t have to focus on the feelings they don’t want to feel, and that can get people into trouble.”
Ford also said that while the Clearfield Jefferson Drug and Alcohol Commission doesn’t push for total abstinence from alcohol for the general population, they do promote the concept of “mocktails,” non-alcoholic drinks created to have a festive air, in place of alcoholic cocktails.
“You can still feel like you’re celebrating without having to have alcohol as a part of it,” Ford said.
While the abuse of other substances have been on the rise in the region over the last few years, according to Ford, Huffman, and Carrie Bence, Deputy Director of Armstrong-Indiana-Clarion Drug and Alcohol Commission, alcohol is still the number one substance abused in our region, putting more people in treatment than any other substance, and also leading to more DUIs.
“The recovery community tries to have more meetings and events around the holidays so that people in recovery can access substance-free events with no alcohol,” said Bence.
“Holidays are definitely a time that we want to be able to provide more support for loved ones who have a substance abuse disorder.”
Hilyer, who lost his son Brandon to a DUI crash, noted that holidays are never the same after a loss like the one his family suffered.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned about the loss at Thanksgiving over the years is the loss creates an emptiness,” Hilyer said.
“You change and live your life differently. Some people don’t even celebrate anymore after a loss because feel they have nothing to be thankful for. We chose to go on and try to make a change.”
In the spirit of the change Hilyer and so many others are seeking to make, here are some tips from Addiction Campuses for those who are choosing to stay sober over the holiday weekend:
- Avoid high-risk situations. Know your triggers. Stay away from old friends who might be using. Recognize certain family members may set you off. Have a backup plan. Talk with your sponsor or recovery coach before you get there and commit to checking in with your support system on a daily basis.
- Surround yourself with like-minded people. Bring a buddy. Families are less likely to recreate unhealthy dynamics with a stranger in the house. If you can’t find someone to go with you, phone a friend or go to a support meeting. Have someone you can share your honest thoughts with. This will help relieve any stress you might feel.
- Take a time out. Go for a walk and clear your head. Remind yourself of the reasons you quit using. Focus on the scenery around you. Get up early to watch the sunset or workout.
- Help out the host. Make yourself useful. Do the dishes, sweep the floor and notice things that need to be done. Don’t tell people you’ve changed. Show them!
- Hang out at the kids’ table. Hanging out at the kids’ table protects you from seeing and smelling the alcohol being consumed at the grown-up table. The children will love you, but more than that’s it’s a great way to engage and feel like a kid again.
- Play the tape all the way. Being in a celebratory atmosphere, it’s easy to forget how bad your addiction really is. You might think having a glass of wine isn’t such a bad thing; after all. Don’t kid yourself. No matter what your DOC having a glass of wine is probably a bad idea. Cravings are normal but they often pass in a few minutes. Relapse doesn’t just happen. It’s a gradual build up of unvoiced resentments and self-pity. Find the courage to be honest about the way you feel and if that doesn’t’ work you can always leave.
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