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DOC TALK: Your questions - answered: Alcohol and the holidays: A healthier relationship

It happens every year during the holidays, and it’s worse in Oregon: cold and rainy weather, stressful family gatherings, loneliness, depression, and the soaring use of alcohol.

Presented by Kaiser Permanente November 29, 2022

Chloe Rusca, Behavioral Health Consultant at Kaiser Permanente in Portland, Oregon

For those who struggle with sobriety, the holidays are a minefield of temptation. Asking for help isn’t easy. Fear, shame and the prospect of tackling a powerful addiction are daunting.

Chloe Rusca, a Kaiser Permanente behavioral health consultant in Portland, Oregon, shares how mindfulness and stigma-free advice can help those who may struggle with sobriety.

Q: Has the COVID-19 pandemic increased the amount of alcohol consumption and addiction?

Oregon now ranks fifth among states with the most alcohol addiction, a problem that has gotten significantly worse since the pandemic. Holiday stress and loneliness only compound the problem.

Research shows that alcohol use spikes during the holidays. A 2018 survey found that the average American adult doubles their intake of alcohol in the final weeks of the year.

Q: If I’m hosting a party this holiday season, how can I be mindful of those who are struggling with alcohol?

Hosts share a unique responsibility to limit the temptations for their guests. I think it is easy to be a host who is mindful of others who are wanting to be sober or reduce their drinking even if it isn’t something you’re struggling with.

I suggest removing alcohol from open spaces where guests are mingling and keeping it in a small area like the kitchen. Leave mocktails in a more visible location so they’re the most accessible drinks. And if you know someone who’s struggling, make sure to greet them with a mocktail in hand.

Q: If I’m attending holiday gatherings and am struggling with alcohol, what should I do?

For guests, it’s helpful to bring non-alcoholic drinks or to ask a friend or partner to help them limit their intake. It’s also important to cut back on alcohol intake safely and gradually, rather than trying to stop cold turkey. Lean on the support of family and friends, exercise, eat a healthy diet and get good sleep.

Q: How are health care organizations taking different approaches to identify and support those who struggle with alcohol? 

At Kaiser Permanente, when care provider sees patient, they routinely screen for depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and substance use. If there are signs of alcohol abuse, the provider will ask the patient if they’d like to talk to a behavioral health consultant. If they say yes, the physician calls a consultant embedded within the clinic.

Q: What is the role of a behavioral health consultant?

In my role as a behavioral health consultant, I’m able to provide immediate treatment, rather than asking patients to follow-up on their own, makes it easier to get them help and reduces the stigma they face.

Kaiser Permanente integrates primary care and behavioral health services, so that patients who want to talk to their physician about drinking can meet with a behavioral health consultant, on-the-spot, without leaving the examination room.

Research is really clear that if you meet a behavioral health consultant face to face, in that moment, you are more likely to follow up with care. They don’t want business cards with phone numbers.”

For more information about treatment for alcohol or substance abuse, visit kp.org/addiction.

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