Hello, and first off, may we wish you and yours a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year. As we in Extern prepare for the festive season we remember those who are negatively impacted by problem substance use.

Those who are negatively impacted by problem substance use. Those who are….. That’s almost all of us, right? Or at least at some point in our lives we’ve been adversely affected by someone’s substance use, maybe even our own.

Watch any advertising in the run-up to Christmas Day and you’ll see how happiness is sold to us in the form of products, which subtly promise to bring community and family together, as well as bring joy and contentedness.

Of course, we know, at some level, that this is illusory. But it goes deeper than we think, especially for those who are struggling in life. Measured against the utopian dream sold by adverts they come out very poorly, especially for those who struggle with substance use. Their reality is far from the ideal, they know it, and that itself fosters hopelessness.

Making connections

Most of us will consume some alcohol over the next couple of weeks, and the majority of it will be harmless enough. For some, however, their alcohol use causes harm to themselves, and often others. In the emotively charged environment of Christmas, such problem alcohol use appears more stark because it can prevent the very thing it promises – connectedness.

One of the two dominant explanations for addiction is that it is caused by a lack of connection with others but, conversely, is also ameliorated by a strengthening of connections. Whichever theory is true, all agree that a central feature of addiction is a loss of control over the behaviour e.g. drinking alcohol. It spirals beyond conscious control and the spectrum of resulting harm ranges from mild to the extreme.#

Isolated individuals

Extern works with many people who use drugs, including alcohol. Often their use is problematic, for example those who are alcohol dependent or those with a coexisting mental health problem. They have lost some or many connections with other people and can be isolated from family and society in general. We see the harm done not only to the individual but also the family. All members of such families need support to navigate the challenges imposed by problem substance use, not just the person using. We help in whatever ways we can, giving our time and expertise to benefit others.

We foster hope, that vital ingredient from which change can grow. We keep supporting people irrespective of ongoing substance use because for some, the journey to less harmful use is a huge achievement, and not to be underestimated. As the late Dan Bigg, of Chicago Recovery Alliance, said ‘Any positive change’ is to be celebrated. He knew that those who are already dead as a result of their substance use could never recover.

There are two simple things we’d like you to do over Christmas when it comes to the substance users you might know, and their loved ones:

1. Keep them as safe as possible
2. Make (deeper) connections with them

Of course, there are a thousand ways to achieve both these asks. The first will take a little knowledge but is largely common sense. Taking less of a substance, less often, eating well, staying in the company of others, avoiding debt and not doing risky things whilst using are all ways of staying as safe as possible. On making (deeper) connections, aim to make the person feel that you are there for them and are interested in their wellbeing.

It could be said explicitly, but so long as they feel your genuine interest, the exact words themselves aren’t absolutely necessary.

If you are worried about someone’s substance use (or your own) and you live in Ireland please contact us on +44 28 9084 0555. We have support services in many but not all areas of Ireland which may be able to help.

Finally, may you enjoy the festivities and develop deeper connections all around you.

DACS by Extern