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Striving for sobriety during the holidays

by CAROLYN BOSTICK
Staff Writer | November 28, 2023 1:09 AM

COEUR d'ALENE — For many, the days between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve can be bright and merry, but there’s also the possibility of stress taking root and disrupting people’s battles to achieve or maintain sobriety.

Dr. Magdelena Greene is the medical director of the detox unit at the North Idaho Crisis Center and said that people often seek stress relief through alcohol or other substances while navigating conflicts or personal/societal pressures. 

During this time of year, the crisis center often sees an increase in calls, partly stemming from a hike in drug or alcohol issues, but also because high-stress gatherings can make family members aware that substance use has developed into a problem.

“People may only see their family members around the holidays. They’re not realizing that someone in their family has such a problem with alcoholism or another addiction until it’s Thanksgiving and everyone is together,” Greene said.

A 2021 survey by the National Alliance on Mental Illness indicated that 3 in 5 Americans feel their mental health is negatively impacted by the holidays.

“The holidays can be such a joyful time but it’s also a very stressful time, a lonely time for a lot of people. It can be a time when a lot of people are vulnerable to relapsing and ultimately we do see a fairly large number of people coming in who say they need help,” Greene said.

As medical director of the Kootenai Health detox unit, Greene said that it’s been a relief in recent weeks to have the detox program increase inpatient programming.

“When we first created this unit, it was oriented towards getting this out there and helping the community, but we didn’t have the means yet to create a lot of those resources so that people going through their detox and those initial days of withdrawal can get all of these resources. That’s been our biggest push recently to add those programs so that people can stay and get further treatment when they’re in the hospital and help prevent that relapse,” Greene said. 

Inpatient sobriety programming added in early November includes morning community groups, chemical dependency education, relapse prevention strategy, and walking through ways for individuals to build up their community-based supports to keep their sobriety stable.

“I think it’s interesting we have people coming in from all walks of life and there’s definitely fractured trust, fractured relationships and that rebuilding phase is a  huge part of that process. It’s really hard to develop those relationships again and find that support again. Managing crisis situations will give them tools to manage crisis situations when they’re out,” Greene said.

Greene said that allocating staff to cover these inpatient programs was harder when the program was in its earlier iteration on top of fighting the nationwide nursing shortages, but having more to offer those struggling with addiction and relapse can only benefit the community heading into the winter holidays.

“The nurses who are there are the ones who said I want to be there I want to be in addiction recovery and that was pretty amazing to see. Now we’re reallocating social work resources to bolster up those programs,” Greene said.

The general discomfort that can accompany getting sober as the body goes through withdrawal can be daunting and looking to the future of how to maintain sobriety can be even more overwhelming. That’s why Greene is so pleased with the strides that this addition to the North Idaho Crisis Center and the detox unit has to make in terms of local impact.

“The biggest thing is knowing we’re here, knowing we can help and we’re here to take care of people without judgment. We want people to reach out and seek out these resources,” Greene said.

Crisis care for sobriety struggles and beyond

As the supervisor of adult recovery services, Kerry Green said the North Idaho Crisis Center has seen an increase in community members coming in needing help and access to detox and rehab.

“Around the holidays, we get increased calls from family members saying, ‘Hey, what do we do?’ We have a family member here who is in withdrawal or is having difficulties, what resources are there?” Green said.

She cites both the rapid growth of Kootenai County over the last five-10 years and the number of mental health providers not having kept in lockstep as the population has expanded.

“Addiction and mental health issues are just as much medical needs. Anything we can do to decrease stigma, it also helps our patients feel more comfortable reaching out for help. If we start to look at them the same way that we look at other diseases and ailments, it becomes a little bit easier to provide treatment,” Green said. 

Her goal is to have these issues hold the same weight as someone’s lung disease diagnoses or cancer treatments. 

Northern Idaho Crisis Center 

What: The crisis center is a community-based support that’s open all hours, 365 days of the year with both medical and mental health professionals on hand to help people through whatever type of crisis they’re experiencing.

Where: 2195 Ironwood Court, Suite D Coeur d’Alene

The crisis center is available by phone 24 hours a day at 208-625-4884.

Learn more about addiction recovery services at www.kh.org/detox.