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Holiday season may worsen feelings of despair for those battling addiction

Posted December 15, 2019 11:20 p.m. EST
Updated December 15, 2019 11:29 p.m. EST

— For most people, the holidays are a joyful time of year to celebrate with loved ones and see family and friends.

But experts say those dealing with substance abuse or mental health issues can have problems coping during the celebrations.

Phillip Johnson, 54, is in recovery from alcohol addiction thanks to help from SouthLight, a non-profit group that operates five facilities in the Triangle and works with 10,000 clients a year to help them overcome their substance abuse or mental health issues.

"I had to do something," he said. "If you can lie to yourself and believe it, you'll never quit."

He said his family has been very supportive as he has battled his addiction.

"If you have a supportive family like I do, (the holidays) are actually happy," Johnson said. "They don't drink around me or offer me drinks."

Adam Hartzell, the chief executive officer of SouthLight, says holidays can be especially hard for people battling addiction.

He says people around them should be mindful of the issues they are facing.

"You don't have to go way out of your way to make them feel comfortable," Hartzell said. "Just let them know you support them and the journey they are on."

Jennifer Whitfield battled her own addictions and mental health issues 15 years ago.

Now, she heads SouthLight's Peer Support program, which matches mentors in recovery with people who are in crisis.

She counsels clients not to idealize the holidays.

"Take the pressure off yourself and your family members," she said. "Keep your expectations realistic."

Benjamin Farmer, 47, says SouthLight helped him battle drug and alcohol addiction.

He credits the program for helping him stay sober.

"The pain had become so unbearable to me," he said. "So, I knew at that point I had to try another way because my way wasn't working."

He says now that every day of sobriety, including the holidays, are gifts to him.

"Through me being clean, I have gained my freedom back," he said. "And I have peace of mind."

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