The Risk of Substance Abuse During the Holidays

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Drinking plays a role in countless holiday traditions, from wine with dinner on Thanksgiving to eggnog at Christmas and champagne when toasting the new year. Although some individuals are able to drink moderately at festive functions, others engage in heavy drinking that strays into abuse.

Binge Drinking and DUI Risk During the Holidays

An increase in binge drinking during the holidays increases the risk for alcohol poisoning and physical dependence. Motorists are also more likely to be driving under the influence, often with tragic results. According to the National Safety Council, of nearly 300 auto accident fatalities on December 25, 2017, a third of these involved a drunk driver.

Be aware of the possible reasons for problematic drinking during the holiday season, and explore coping strategies that support your emotional and physical well-being.

Social Isolation

Not everyone has a large circle of family and friends spreading holiday cheer. Individuals who feel lonely and socially isolated are prone to depression during the holiday season, which can manifest with substance abuse. Those who have depression tend to withdraw from social activities, which in turn contributes to feelings of disconnection.

To combat sadness and isolation, schedule social activities. Have a cup of coffee or a quick phone call with a friend regularly. If you lack a social circle, get involved in hobby groups or volunteer in your community, both great ways to connect with like-minded individuals.

Stress

If your already crowded to-do list goes into overdrive during the festive season, you may feel overwhelmed. From buying presents to decking the halls, to attending social functions and sending out Christmas cards, you might not even have time to catch your breath. Financial stress can also play a role in the anxious feelings that arise as the holidays approach.

Stress is one of the biggest triggers for substance abuse. Take steps to avoid binge drinking during the holidays as a method of stress relief. Instead, pare down your to-do list and give yourself some breathing room. Leave unrealistic, social media fueled expectations for a magical holiday behind. Instead, focus on the times and traditions that feel most meaningful to you.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Commonly known as SAD, this mood condition arises when winter weather limits exposure to sunlight. For many individuals, fewer daylight hours leads to feelings of dread, anxiety, sadness and low energy.

If you suspect SAD may be the cause of your holiday blues, look into light therapy or make an appointment with a therapist who specializes in treating this condition.

Grief and Loss

Often, the holiday season can exacerbate existing struggles with grief, whether these painful feelings result from loss of a loved one, divorce, job struggles or other difficult life circumstances. When you have a history of trauma, neglect, or abuse in your extended family, visiting (or not visiting) these relatives can bring up troubling memories.

Healthy Coping Mechanisms

Rather than turning to alcohol or other substances to cope with stressors during the holiday, try practicing some of these healthy coping mechanisms:

  • Make a budget and stick to it to avoid financial stress.
  • Set healthy boundaries on your time and don’t be afraid to turn down obligations you can’t accommodate in your schedule.
  • Practice healthy habits. Eat nutritious meals, exercise regularly, and get adequate sleep.
  • Make time every day for yourself.
  • Connect with people you care about.
  • Seek out community through hobby or volunteer groups.

This holiday season, focus on self-care rather than struggling to meet the expectations of those around you. If you find yourself tempted to use alcohol or other substances to cope with stressful situations, it may be helpful to talk with a therapist. Rehab After Work offers substance use counseling in eastern Pennsylvania. Our compassionate therapists can help you develop positive coping skills to replace drinking. Get in touch with us to schedule a session.