Alcoholism/Substance Abuse During the Holidays


Holidays are a stressful time, with a majority of Americans feeling that their stress and anxiety levels rise as they prepare for end-of-year celebrations, according to Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research. While women are more likely to succumb to holiday stress than men, both sexes feel the impact as they worry about putting up decorations, planning and attending get-togethers, buying gifts, and all the other aspects of a busy holiday season.

Stress is a common factor in alcoholism and substance abuse, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and the added stress of the holidays can make that abuse worse or trigger a relapse for recovering alcoholics or drug abusers. A drink or pill is a tempting way to soothe the turmoil, but the long-term consequences aren’t worth the temporary effect. Instead of reaching for liquor or medication, use these four strategies to keep your holiday stress in check:

Acknowledge your feelings

People often use drugs or alcohol to mask their stress and anxiety. They don’t want to admit that they can’t handle everything, so they chemically quash the turmoil. Unfortunately, it comes right back when the intoxication wears off. The Mayo Clinic recommends being honest about your feelings. It’s a myth that you have to be perpetually happy, cheerful, and calm during the holiday whirlwind. If you need to scream or cry or pound a pillow, let yourself do it rather than self-medicating.

Ask for help

If you’ve had substance abuse problems in the past, you know the importance of support from others in the recovery process. There’s no reason to cope with holiday stress alone, especially if it puts your sobriety at risk. If you need emotional support, ask family and friends, go to 12-step meetings, or join online support groups. If you need hands-on help with overwhelming holiday preparations, enlist your family’s assistance. If that’s not possible, cut back on what you’re doing. You don’t have to throw elaborate parties or fight the mall frenzy to buy the hottest gifts in order to have a meaningful holiday. The Mayo Clinic says it’s much smarter to be realistic with your expectations.

Keep up healthy habits

Instead of turning to drugs or alcohol, fight stress in healthy ways. Physical activity is a well-known stress buster, and the Anxiety and Depression Association of America says it even works as well as medication for some people. You don’t need an elaborate fitness routine. Your exercise could be as simple as going for a walk when you feel the pressure building. If cold weather keeps you inside, pop in an exercise DVD, stream a routine on your TV, or use an app. Keep eating healthy, too. The holidays are full of tasty temptations, but you’ll feel more stressed if the scale starts creeping up. Work in time for yourself to do simple stress-busting activities like meditating or soaking in a hot tub.

Seek professional assistance

Sometimes you need a little extra help outside of your family, friends, and self-help options. If your sobriety is at risk and other strategies aren’t working, talk to a professional therapist. A good counselor will help you create a custom stress reduction plan. WebPsychology can help you find someone in your local area via its Therapist Finder page.