Scores of temptations are associated with the upcoming holiday season: large meals, dozens of sales to lure shoppers into buying gifts, dozens of parties full of sweets and libations.

For some people, however, the constant celebrations and shopping bargains become a distraction - or worse.

Health and recovery experts are advising those with drinking, eating and spending problems to take extra precautions.

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Planning ahead is the best thing for people in the early stages of addiction recovery, said Robert Zlotnick, executive director for Atlantic Prevention Resources, a substance-abuse prevention and education center in Pleasantville. If you're going to a party, bring along nonalcoholic drinks or healthy foods and take a friend or family member along for support, or carry a telephone number for someone you can talk to or get a ride home, he suggested.

"People who are in early recovery need a lot of reminders, even up to the first year. Somebody who got sober in the spring, or January or February, this is their first holiday season and (they) would know what the pitfalls may be," said Zlotnick, who spent 23 years in recovery for alcohol and drug addiction himself.

Zlotnick also suggested that people with addictions can enjoy the spirit of the season by volunteering at a soup kitchen or offering to be a designated driver. "We should try as much as we can to live within our needs and give back to the community," Zlotnick said.

People tend to get more stressed during the holidays, and sometimes the pressure increases the likelihood of overindulging in eating, drinking or shopping to handle it, said Dan Mikus, the administrative director of affiliated services for Shore Memorial Hospital in Somers Point.

Dependence on these activities is usually tied to an emotional or supportive need, Mikus said. He suggested reframing the situation by focusing on eating healthy, exercising or spending time with family.

Holiday depression or winter seasonal depression can compound the situation, increasing feelings of loneliness, said Dr. Marie Elena Hasson, medical director of AtlantiCare Behavioral Health. She emphasized that "people should be more mindful of each other and be more social to support each other."

The spending pressure most people feel around the holidays "is magnified a hundredfold" for those with shopping addictions, said Dr. April Lane Benson, a New York City psychologist who runs and wrote two books on compulsive overspending.

"One reason is that because they have been ostentatiously shopping all year long and may be in debt, there's no money for holiday gifts," Benson said. For others, the holidays trigger a large expectation to spend or it "brings up a lot of old (emotional) ghosts and the addiction is kicked up."

Benson estimated that about 18 million to 25 million people in the country have compulsive spending problems. While the stereotype of a compulsive spender is a woman in her 30s buying clothing, jewelry and accessories, Benson said more studies have shown the problem is split roughly between men and women, with men shopping more on the Internet.

The economic recession forced some people to become more mindful of their habits, Benson said, but on the other hand, businesses have been offering more bargains.

Benson recommended that problem shoppers carry a card with them containing six questions to ask before making any purchase: Why am I here? How do I feel? Do I need this? What if I wait? How will I pay for it? Where will I put it?

Another way to cope would be to focus on experiences rather than gifts, Benson said. She suggested taking relatives and friends on a hike or going to a museum as an alternative to spending a large amount of money on presents.

"It's really a challenge and it's really important to look at shopping with a wider angle lens and include not just goods and services, but ideas and experiences," Benson said.

Mikus of Shore Memorial and Hasson of AtlantiCare said people with serious drinking, eating and shopping problems should seek professional help or find support groups with other people who have been through similar experiences.

Hasson also suggested reaching out to local churches or synagogues that offer counseling and other support services.

"Shop around different meetings," Hasson said. "Sometimes it's a matter of clicking with the people."

Contact Michelle Lee:


For more information about Alcoholics Anonymous, or to find a local meeting group, visit:

Cape Atlantic Intergroup of Alcoholics Anonymous

609-641-8855 or 1-800-604-HELP (4357)

South Jersey Intergroup of Alcoholics Anonymous

856-486-4444 or 1-866-920-1212

For more information about Overeaters Anonymous, or to find a local meeting group, visit:

Overeaters Anonymous

Overeaters Anonymous Jersey Shore Intergroup

South Jersey Intergroup of Overeaters Anonymous

Hotline 609-239-0022

For more information and assistance with eating disorders, contact the National Eating Disorders Association at 1-800-931-2237, or visit:

For more information and assistance with compulsive debting, contact Debtors Anonymous at 1-800-421-2383 or visit:

To find a New Jersey group, contact Debtors Anonymous of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware at 1-877-717-DEBT (3328) or visit: The closest DA meeting in southern New Jersey is a men's group in Lakewood.


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