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Managing addiction recovery over the holidays, during a pandemic

Experts say there are ways to manage stress and the impacts of COVID-19 during the holiday season.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Everywhere we look this time of year, there are reminders that we are supposed to be happy. But for people struggling with addiction, the holidays can be tough.

"I think it's because a lot of people in my shoes, a lot of addicts, tend to stray away from their families or kind of burn those bridges,"  said Joshua Geer, who's recovering. "To be hopeless and have nowhere to go, and to see other people happy and stuff really takes a toll." 

Geer's addiction started with pills as a kid and lasted for years. 

"It  just kind of spiraled out of control these last couple years when I finally got into the depths of it, ended up homeless, jobless and really just kind a let the drug take over my life," said Geer.

The addiction nearly ended his life three months ago, when he was hospitalized with heart problems. That's when decided to make a change. He got help through an addiction clinic called Ideal Option. They primarily manage alcohol and opioid addiction with medications but also refer patients to counseling and psychosocial services.

Dr. Brian Dawson, the clinic's senior medical director, says they've seen a steady increase with substance abuse, and this time of year is especially hard. 

"Particularly around the holidays, the stress, COVID and the isolation that people are feeling, the rise in addiction, the rise in substance use is causing a lot of problems for people," he said.  

Dr. Dawson said it's crucial to stay connected. Whether it's volunteering, being with friends or  reaching out for help, the connection is key.

Geer said he's found that advice works for him. 

"I had to go to meetings, on top of going to the clinic, and I had to build a group of sober friends to help me," he said. "I talk to both nurses at the clinic frequently as well." 

He just celebrated 90 days of sobriety on Christmas Eve, and after 10 years of fighting his addiction he said he is ready to start living again.

Mental health resources for Oregon, SW Washington:

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