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Today's Family Magazine

Holidays + COVID-19 = The Best and Worst of Times

In his book, A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens tells the story of politics and a romantic competition against the backdrop of the French Revolution. He writes about opposite conditions existing simultaneously: wisdom and foolishness, hope and despair, light and darkness. Dickens concludes that “it was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” And with the holidays fast approaching, combined with COVID-19, many of us can relate to this sentiment.

During the holidays, stress can affect all of us, but it is especially stressful for those in recovery from addiction and those who love them. The holidays in these instances can truly be a time of foolishness, despair, and darkness. 

Fortunately, the holidays can also be filled with wisdom, hope, and light for all, including those who are struggling with substance use disorders and other addictive or problematic behaviors. And a new initiative in Ohio intends to make the holidays more like the best of times for all.

In partnership with Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS) and other Peer Recovery Organizations (PROs), Mentor-based SMART Recovery received funding to help reduce social isolation for Ohioans with mental health, substance use disorders and other addictive or problematic behavior.  The resources are provided through the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) funding for use during the holiday season. SMART Recovery is the world’s largest community of mutual support meetings that use science and self-empowerment to help people overcome addictions of all kinds. 

To help Ohioans, SMART Recovery created a Holiday Outreach Helping Others (HOHO) initiative using their online platforms to help individuals and families grappling underneath the weight of addiction. 

A newly created HOHO webpage ( offers immediate access to an increased number of free online meetings, a chat room, numerous message board forums, along with support videos featuring Tips and Tools for recovery, links to OhioMHAS resources, and more. The CARES funding also allows SMART to offer no-cost training to addiction professionals who will then offer SMART as one of the alternative pathways to recovery. 

As SMART’s executive director, Mark Ruth, points out, “The holidays are typically a time that challenges those battling addictions in a normal year.  There are powerful temptations to overindulge, emotional stressors due to family reunions, loneliness for those without strong family or social connections, opportunities to overspend, and even boredom due to being off of a regular routine that can create the urge to overuse substances or increase negative behaviors. When you add COVID to that mix, it can create tremendous problems for individuals and families, creating social isolation and lack of access to their traditional support resources.” 

OhioMHAS, already familiar with SMART’s effective work, identified the organization as a natural partner for Ohioans in need of recovery support during the holidays.  According to Lori Criss, OhioMHAS director, SMART Recovery’s approach is unique and has the potential to positively affect many Ohioans struggling with addictions.  Criss says, 

“The process of recovery is highly personal.  Having support is crucial to each person’s success.  Through this investment, we are providing additional options to help Ohioans achieve lasting recovery and wellness.”  

SMART has been providing recovery services across the country (and throughout the world via SMART Recovery International) for over twenty-five years.  In that time there have been hundreds of thousands of individuals and families who have used SMART’s practical tools and mutual support meetings to successfully address addiction. Individuals have been restored to lives that are meaningful and positive. 

As Christi Alicea, SMART’s assistant executive director puts it, “We have seen incredible transformations among people and families who attend our meetings and take advantage of the practical tools we offer to help them achieve independence from their addictive and problematic behaviors. Harmful addictive behaviors and substance use disorders can cause a downward spiral during the holiday season and impact families. We are proud to be working closely with OhioMHAS in a variety of ways that will benefit all Ohioans.” 

As part of the HOHO effort, accountability and impact metrics will be put in place so that successful activities can be extended into 2021 and beyond.  This means while the HOHO partnership is concerned with these upcoming holidays, the plan is to continue effectively helping Ohioans for years to come—holiday season or not.

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