CITYWIDE — The holiday season twinkles like a Thomas Kinkade painting with its promise of cheer, good tidings and togetherness.

It’s the time of year that families and friends celebrate each other with outpourings of gifts and love, and toast to old happenings and bright beginnings.

But every ray of light casts a shadow.

That picture-perfect holiday season is an image few can live up to, and those with preexisting dependencies on alcohol and other substances sometimes choose to escape the pressures of the season by embracing old, destructive habits.

“You often see in the recovery rooms that people’s anniversary dates are after Thanksgiving, after Christmas and after New Years,” said Nicholas Vrataric, executive director of the CLARE Foundation.

CLARE is an alcoholism and substance abuse recovery center that offers a clean and sober living environment for those in need as well as classes and group counseling.

The center on Pico Boulevard in Santa Monica sees an uptick in both incoming clients seeking help during the holiday season.

It can be particularly difficult time for those struggling with addiction because many people drink and use a way to quash painful feelings or trauma.

“It’s like a child being set on fire and jumping into water to save themselves, and then they find out they can’t swim,” Vrataric said.

It can also be a time of temptation, with holiday parties flush with spiked punches and champagne to ring in the new year. Individuals who leave care to join old circles in an attempt to be with people they know can find themselves struggling to avoid a drink, according to literature from Alcoholics Anonymous.

CLARE lost seven men from its facility over Thanksgiving, a large departure given the center’s 100-bed capacity.

“It’s a usual time for people to seek treatment because all of the pain comes up again, and all of the drinking and using comes up again and wake up disorders that have never been successful for them in the past,” Vrataric said.

The cold weather can also impact the in-and-out rate, when addicts living on the street seek shelter only to find that they don’t want to work the program required of those that live at CLARE.

As the holidays come into full swing, support organizations like CLARE, the Alano Club and Alcoholics Anonymous ramp up their efforts to help people stay clean and sober.

Groups like the Alano Club offer meetings 24-hours a day for those who find themselves struck by temptation at an odd hour, and meetings abound throughout Santa Monica.

Those seeking support should visit www.aa.org for meeting locations.

Alcoholic or not, studies by the Center for Disease Control spell out the costs of excessive drinking, a practice which spikes during the holidays, both in terms of lives and dollars.

According to the CDC, two to three times as many people are predicted to die in the holidays due to crashes caused by alcohol.

On top of that, excessive alcohol consumption costs the United States $223.5 billion in 2006, or roughly $746 per person.

Approximately 76 percent of the costs of alcohol come as a result of binge drinking, defined as consuming four or more alcoholic beverages per occasion for women and five or more for men.

Binge drinking is most common among whites, men, those aged 18 to 34 and those making $75,000 or more. Most are not considered alcohol-dependent, according to the CDC.

Although holidays are a time of increased excess, it should not be a moment for guilt or shame, but one to access services if they’re needed.

“We need to remember that we’re just human beings, and we all have issues and they can reach out for help,” Vrataric said.

ashley@www.smdp.com

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