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CDC: Substance abuse increases during the holiday season

The holidays are a time of celebration and festivities for many people. But for some, it's one of the hardest times of the year.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — For many people, the holidays are a time to be together with family and to be merry. But for people struggling with addiction, the holidays can be the hardest time of the season. They can face more triggers, leading to them using alcohol or drugs more, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Local advocates can also attest the holidays are hard for some people. It is a time of the year they work even harder to prevent overdoses and relapses.

"So there are a lot of contributing factors. You know, I know for me, holidays made me sad. I don't have children, so it just kind of puts you in a funk," said Jennifer Knisely, an advocate at the Metro Drug Coalition. "I started using when I was 14, and I was an alcoholic by the time I was 18."

Knisely says by the time she turned 30 years old, she started using more substances after the death of a close friend. 

"I was introduced to meth at that time. And it was something that, unfortunately, would numb everything out to where I could still go to work," she said. 

About a month ago, Knisely celebrated seven years of being clean. The holiday season can be challenging for people like Knisely or people struggling with other kinds of addiction. 

The CDC reports nearly 91,000 drug-related deaths have been reported during December since 1999. Although Knisely has not used drugs for almost a decade, she understands why some people struggle with addiction during the holidays.

"Seasonal affective disorders, which is depression — a significant depression.," she said. "Loneliness is another contributing factor."

As a result, some people may use more or even relapse. 

"Some of it is masking, dealing with stress and pressure caused by the season," said Karen Pershing, the Metro Drug Coalition executive director. 

Organizations like the Metro Drug Coalition work around the clock fighting addiction and work can be even more challenging during the holiday season. 

"We are partnering with Care Cuts Ministry with the Volunteer Ministry Center, the Knox Area Rescue Ministry, and Salvation Army; all of those partners in that area are doing amazing work and serving individuals throughout the holiday season," said Pershing. 

Knisely says there are things families can do to help a relative.

"I think the greatest help is compassion," she said.

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