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How to overcome the urge to return to addiction during the holidays

“You have to give them an opportunity to manage their own recovery. And you have to give them an opportunity to succeed or fail," said Brian Sullivan.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The holidays can be a time of joy and unity, but it can also be a challenge especially for those struggling with addiction. Our Brittani Moncrease spoke with Prevention Alliance of Tennessee helping residents cope with substance abuse.

It doesn’t matter your age, color, ethnicity or if your are rich or poor. Addiction impacts  everyone in some way. “I've worked in several different recovery organizations. And I have several family members personally, who have battled addiction,” said Brian Sullivan, Prevention Alliance of Tennessee Executive Board member.

The organization helps those who struggle with substance abuse and advocates for public health policies. “You have to give them an opportunity to manage their own recovery. And you have to give them an opportunity to succeed or fail. And it's so hard. It's so hard,” said Sullivan.

That struggle can be especially hard during the holidays. “One of the things that many people struggle with are being isolated during this time. There's a lot of people who maybe don't feel like they can go home, especially in the LGBTQ community, maybe they feel like their parents don't accept them, their family doesn't accept them,” said Sullivan.

That can lead to more substance abuse. “There was a recent study from the recovery research institute that cited that 23 million people are in long-term recovery. Now, that's about 9% of US adults. And we did lose over 100,000 people to overdoses last year,” said Sullivan. “Remember the person who's in recovery knows 10 times more than you do that they are in recovery.”

That is why Sullivan said it is important to keep the line of communication open. “The most important thing you can do is if you're having a holiday gathering that's going to have alcohol is to talk to them and say, Hey, there's going to be alcohol there,” said Sullivan. “In my personal experience, consequences don't work. That person does not want to use drugs anyway. Most of the time, they're doing it so they don't get sick. Dope sick by withdrawals and things like that…Reward systems, in my experience work very well.”

Also, it helps to simply listen and pay attention to behavioral changes. “The most important line of defense, when it comes to drugs is prevention. You can only pull so many people out of the river at one time. And that's why it's so important that we go down and find out why they're falling in the river, why they're drowning in the first place,” said Sullivan.

He said the state of Tennessee has stepped up in providing more funding for prevention. As a result, some areas such as Nashville has seen a decrease in overdose deaths, and there has been more access to resources for rural communities.

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