Addiction and the Holidays

Addiction and the Holidays

Addiction and the holidays are tightly connected. For American families the holiday season between Thanksgiving and New Years is a stressful time for everyone. Many people struggle with all of the challenges that the season presents. From expensive gift giving to travel to dealing with difficult relatives and friends, many people find themselves just trying to survive emotionally.

While most people survive the holidays relatively unscathed, the same can’t always be said for active or recovering addicts and alcoholics. For these people, the holidays can be a challenging time that sometimes culminates in binge drinking or drug use by addicts or a painful relapse for those in recovery.

It is important for addicts, those in recovery and those who love and care for them to be highly aware of holiday triggers that could cause problematic behavior. In this post, we will review some of the stressors that can result in alcohol and drug misuse or worse.

Why Is the Holiday Season So Difficult for Addicts and Those In Recovery?

Christmas and the winter holidays are difficult for everyone. But for addicts, this time can be especially challenging. For some, the season is a time of isolation. Many addicts have alienated friends and family through their past behavior and there are few people to turn to. These addicts see families getting together and friends sharing in seasonal activities that they are not participating in and their sense of isolation is intensified. This alone can be just the trigger that sends an alcoholic or an addict into a major binge.

Similarly, the same issues that stress most people during the holidays like money problems, company parties, forced social situations and family challenges can be very hard to deal with. Often this is because they are the same issues that contributed to the addictive behavior in the first place. If the recovering addict doesn’t have the proper therapy or support system in place, these already potent stressors can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

Factors That Trigger Addictive Behavior During the Holidays

There are many things that can trigger negative behavior or relapse in addicts and alcoholics. The following is a partial list:

  • Being an Active User

Obviously, the most important factor is if the person is currently using and is not in recovery. If the person is an active user, then the season itself can cause behavioral changes that make inappropriate alcohol and drug use more likely.

  • Families Themselves Can Be A Trigger

Sometimes a person’s family life is deeply connected to their misuse of drugs and alcohol. Childhood traumas, real or perceived, can lie at the root of addiction and it is important that this be recognized.

Even if there are no genuine family traumas to confront, addicts and alcoholics often encounter many emotional challenges in reconnecting with family during the holidays. Often, these emotional issues are so deep seated that they are hard to pin down, but they do exist and become overwhelming.

Concerned families need to be aware of these conditions and should engage in active dialog with a vulnerable family member to make sure that they aren’t experiencing any undue discomfort with family situations and dynamics.

  • Connecting with Old Friends

For many people who come home for the holidays, this can be a time to connect with friends who have come home to their families as well. For addicts, this is especially dangerous since some of those friends can be former partners in their substance abuse.

When friends from high school call to get together for drinks or a party, the temptation can be too great and using can be justified as part of the rare occasion when old friends get together.

Sometimes the only recourse is for the vulnerable person to avoid these occasions altogether. For younger people an option might be for their families to host a controlled event at their house where they can invite friends over for food and fun but where alcohol isn’t present and there are no opportunities to use drugs. This can also give the recovering addict a convenient excuse for their friends as to why they aren’t partaking – “Sorry. I wish my parents were serving alcohol, but they aren’t”

  •  It Is a Time of Excess

The holidays are a time of excesses: too much eating, too many celebrations, too much drinking, etc. The general permissiveness that surrounds this period gives active and recovering addicts a rationalization for why it is OK for them to partake as well – (everyone’s doing it).

Families can help loved ones who are addicts by focusing less on party aspects of the holidays and by placing more emphasis on connecting with each other and providing warm and comfortable surroundings for their vulnerable members. For some people, this can also be a time when more focus is placed on the spiritual foundations of the holidays and less is placed on the commercial aspects and party-like elements. This refocusing can be good for everyone in a family.

  • Loneliness During the Holidays

If there are no family or friends around to trigger behavior, then loneliness itself can be the factor that pushes a vulnerable person into inappropriate substance abuse. At this time of the year is when support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous can be especially helpful. Whether a person wants to commit to these groups or not, they can be a place of refuge during trying emotional times.

There are meetings running nearly around the clock during the holidays. Also, members of local groups often make themselves available at all times for emergency interventions and support. Family members who are concerned about someone who is in recovery should reach out to these groups to see if there are any recovery “first responders” available to help if needed.

How Can New Life Medical Addiction Services Help?

New Life’s medical approach to addiction management is available during the holiday season. Our counselors are available to discuss difficult emotional issues and our physicians can intervene with proven therapies if actual drug or alcohol misuse occurs.

If you or someone close to you experiences difficulties with drugs or alcohol during the holidays, please feel free to reach out to us.

Click Here to submit a private contact form or call us at: 856-942-3700

1 Comment

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