It’s that time of year again when stockings line the chimneys, holiday music fills the air and shoppers begin searching for the perfect gifts. For many, the season is a time of joy; but it isn’t all holiday cheer. In fact, as the holiday season comes to a peak, so does drug and alcohol use.
Why Drug and Alcohol Use Increases During the Holidays
There are many reasons why people tend to use substances more during the holiday season than during other times of the year. Stress, for example, is a major driving factor behind compulsive behaviors. It can trigger cravings and affect decision-making. Most people are exposed to several major stressors during the holidays, whether it is hosting a gathering, traveling to visit family, or worrying about the financial burden of gift-giving. Often, people cope with stress by indulging negative or behaviors, such as drug or alcohol use. In fact, stress is one of the leading causes of relapse in recovering drug and alcohol addicts.
Drug and alcohol use also spikes during the holiday season due to the increased number of social gatherings that occur during November and December. Party-goers often imbibe at these gatherings, putting pressure on others in attendance to drink or abuse drugs as well. There are more opportunities to drink, less substance-related stigma, and fewer inhibitions during celebratory gatherings. All of this can be overwhelming for anyone – especially a recovering substance abuser.
Another – and often overlooked – reason for increased drug and alcohol use during the holidays is loneliness, anxiety and depression. These negative emotions can wreak havoc on a person’s ability to think rationally and make healthy decisions. Quite the opposite, people with mental health disorders may engage in self-destructive behaviors, using drugs or alcohol to mask uncomfortable feelings. Depression is very common during the holidays, especially for people who have lost loved ones or who have a negative memory associated with past holiday experiences.
Responsibility and Safety during the Holidays
It is important to go into the holiday season anticipating exposure to drug and alcohol use and its potential effects. Traffic fatalities caused by impaired driving spike on Christmas and New Years Day, so avoid being on the roadways during these times – especially at night. If you are recovering from drug or alcohol abuse, help prevent relapse by avoiding situations that may tempt you to drink or use drugs. Surround yourself with a support system that will help you find new ways of celebrating without the use of substances.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: Fatalities Related to Alcohol-Impaired Driving During the Christmas and New Year’s Day Holiday Periods
Dr. Heidi Lilienthal, Psych Central: Holiday Stress