Debbie Shelley

The Catholic Commentator 

When holiday blues turn black through substance abuse or any other addiction, people need treatment, support and ultimately God’s healing hand, say medical experts and clergy of the Diocese of Baton Rouge. 

Dr. Robert Case Harvey, who specializes in neurology and psychology and is affiliated with Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge, said the number of substance abuse cases in the emergency room drops off during the holidays but quickly added there is an uptick shortly after as people cope with post-holiday blues. 

“People are out, partaking in alcohol and things that they can get their hands on,” said Harvey. “After the holidays itself there’s a comedown that’s a result of their use, because it’s not sustainable for most people. 

“With every up there’s a down. When people are intoxicated it feels good and they forget their problems, but afterwards they’ve released a lot of dopamine and other addictive creating chemicals in their brain. They feel more depressed, more dysphoric, more despondent and unrest. That’s when they come into the emergency room for treatment.” 

The number of attempted suicides treated in the emergency room also spikes after the first of the year. 

It’s after the new year starts, likewise, that people resolve to deal with their addiction.

Methamphetamines, opioids, heroine and other “harder drugs” are a “huge issue,” especially in rural areas, Harvey noted. 

“It’s surprisingly easy to gain access to these drugs. They don’t know completely what they are, or where they are all coming from,” said Harvey, who said a few grains of certain synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, can be deadly. 

Harvey said many people have a misconception that if people try the harder drugs one time at a party they will get hooked. 

“That’s really not the way we usually see how a substance use disorder takes place. It usually develops over time, it develops slowly from repeated use,” said Harvey. 

Nevertheless, the damage is ruthless. 

When someone comes into the emergency room, the medical staff uses the SBIRT process: screening; brief intervention and referral to treatment. Depending on the nature and severity of the disorder, treatment can include inpatient hospitalization, intensive outpatient treatment or outpatient treatment. 

“There’s a spectrum of care we offer people,” said Harvey. 

The medical staff’s goal is to get people into support programs as soon as possible, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and SMART recovery. 

Harvey, a member of Our Lady of Mercy Church in Baton Rouge, spoke highly of the 12 steps applied by AA, which basically calls for people admitting their powerlessness over the addiction, recognition of a higher power to overcome their addiction, making amends to people harmed unless further contact with the people would further harm them, resolving to change their behavior and helping others facing the same struggle. 

Family members of addicted loved ones can also receive support through programs such as Al-Anon and Nar-Anon. 

Harvey and Father Al Davidson, pastor of St. Joseph the Worker Church in Pierre Part, said ideally people’s “bottoming out” period will lead to a connection with God. 

“I think the emotions they have are the same as they have every day, but the holidays tend to exaggerate their loneliness, depression, grief, stress,” said Father Davidson. 

He said the devil separates people so they think they are all alone. 

“Creation is meant to be a unity of all creation – all people, birds, the fish animals, the plants, all God’s creation is to remain whole and healable,” said Father Davidson. 

He said outside of his rectory is a 150-year old live oak tree that had a limb cut off around 25-30 years ago. He sees God healing that tree, as each year the bark on that limb grows three-quarters of an inch. 

“If God made our own physical bodies healable, how more so our souls,” said Father Davidson. 

Each day people make a choice between good or bad, right or wrong, God or themselves. 

“We get lost by choosing ourselves, but with God we find purpose, joy, ultimate happiness and peace,” said Father Davidson. 

When people are “under attack” they should turn to others and ask them to pray for them, and likewise call on the angels, saints, Mary, St. Joseph and Christ to be there in their weakness and strengthen them and realize they are not alone. 

“We can allow the evil one to take us to dark places or hold onto Christ and be a part of the light, or we can hold onto the evil one and be part of the chaos. The solution is with Jesus Christ,” Father Davidson said. 

He said the devil’s destruction is seen especially before Halloween with decorations and entertainment featuring ghosts, ghouls, goblins weaving a macabre web and letting chaos enter the home.

“Even when you sit down as a family to watch it (horror movie), it affects the children of different ages and maturity levels in different ways. And we go right to Christmas and take Advent out of the mix. And what better time than Advent to make the home more prayerful, loving and appreciative of what is to come at Christmas,” Father Davidson said. 

Added to that is preoccupation with shopping, hunting, fishing, Christmas parties and other activities which don’t bring one closer to knowing Christ.

Instead of filling their minds up with their own version of a “picture holiday,” people must allow God to paint the picture, which is more joyful and peaceful, said Father Davidson.

He and Harvey emphasized people’s ultimate healing comes from bringing their brokenness to God, who will fill them with hope, not temporary fixes. 

“Recovery is possible,” said Harvey. “We’ve seen people get better. It’s not how many times you fall down, but how many times you get back up.” 

To me true wisdom from God is taking lived experiences, even our sinfulness, and letting God wash our experiences and sins in the blood of Christ and making them white as wool and giving them back to us so that we then can help others,” said Father Davidson. “That’s true wisdom, not learned from a book or taught but given to us from Christ himself.”