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the dry For recovering alcoholics, sobriety can't take a holiday season By Kristin Davis e
The holidays pose particular problems for those struggling with sobriety

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Date published: 12/11/2005

D NEWELL spent Christmas of 1992 in a 28-day program trying to break his alcohol addiction.

He hadn't celebrated the holidays in years and was not a religious man at that time.

But Newell, now 46, remembers patients wrestling with sobriety--and with guilt and loneliness made harder by the season.

Holidays are typically spent with loved ones. But often, Newell said, alcoholics "have mistreated their families for years. We're estranged from them. And they've heard this story before, that we're getting sober."

For most people, the two-month stretch between Thanksgiving and New Year's is a marathon of fellowship and celebration. There are holiday parties, company socials and family dinners to attend, trees to put up and gifts to buy.

But for those in the early stages of sobriety, the season can be as bleak as the long nights of winter, says Roy Smith, a University of Mary Washington psychology professor.

Smith worked with substance-abuse patients and trained counselors through the Rappahannock Community Services Board for more than a decade.

Recovering alcoholics are taught to recognize dangers with the acronym HALT, which stands for "hungry, angry, lonely and tired."

"The third one, lonely, is a real problem during the holidays," Smith said.

A tough time to stay sober

Ed Newell remembers taking his first drink at 4. He was at a family party and thought the drink was a soda, he said.

"I slid on out of the room and drank it. I liked it. I always liked it," said Newell, who lives in Stafford County and works as a home remodeler.

He got in trouble with the law dozens of times over the years because of his alcohol addiction, Newell said. He lost his driver's license at 22 and didn't get it back until 40. By 1992, he was drinking a quart of liquor a day.

Then a friend intervened and took Newell to a rehabilitation facility in Maryland.

"Finally, enough was enough," he said. "I felt like I was dying, in a spiritual and psychological sense. I sought psychiatric help. I got down on my knees and prayed to a God I didn't believe in."

On Dec. 6, Newell celebrated 13 years of sobriety.

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The season of celebration can be a volatile time of year for recovering alcoholics. Here are some tips from a counselor and some AA members to help you stay sober during the holidays.

Surround yourself with people who will support and encourage your newfound sobriety. Alcoholics Anonymous is a great place to meet others who share your struggles.

If you think a party will be too tempting--and it often is for the newly sober--stay away.

Does the company Christmas party seem unavoidable? Take a buddy who will watch out for you.

Bring your own beverage, and keep it in hand. That way, no one can hand you a drink.

Leave if you start to feel uncomfortable.

There are organizations out there to help. The Fredericksburg-area AA chapter holds a Christmas Alchathon, a 72-hour celebration. The annual event begins at noon on Dec. 23 and ends Dec. 26 at 9 a.m. Anyone is welcome.