holidays and drug abuse

The Holidays and Drug Addiction

The holiday season is a mixture of joy and stress for most of us but, for those struggling with alcohol and drug abuse addiction, or are in recovery, the stress of the holidays can be overwhelming.

The Holidays

Statistics show that Thanksgiving to New Year’s is a critical time for those dealing with drug addiction. Many drug addicts and alcoholics will try to ignore their addiction and make the decision to partake of the celebrations associated with the holidays such as family gatherings, company parties and the like. This behavior can result in a person returning to their old lifestyle of drug and alcohol abuse; experiencing feelings of guilt over using again which increases anxiety and paranoia; increased chances of dramatic mood swings; depression; etc…

Studies show that high levels of depression, drunk driving accidents, domestic violence and even cases of suicide all increase during the holidays between Thanksgiving and New Years. Most of these cases are related to drug and alcohol abuse engaged by people who are trying to cope with holiday stress.

Findings from The Centers for Disease Control show that suicide victims frequently test positive for alcohol or illegal drugs. In one study done in 2015, approximately 33 percent of suicide victims tested positive for alcohol while another 16 percent tested positive for fentanyl, 9 percent for cocaine and 8% for marijuana.

Recovering Addicts Need Support

Family members can be a great source of support for recovering addicts during the holidays by planning ahead and offering non-alcoholic options at parties, assigning designated drivers for guests who will be on the road after a party and, being aware that anyone who is in addiction treatment or struggling with addiction may need your help when they have a craving. All of these are ways family can help recovering addicts from slipping back into their addictive behaviors, especially during the holidays.

Here are a few more tips that you or anyone can use to deal with alcohol and drug cravings during the holidays:
  • Alternatives to Alcohol. Mix fruit juice with sparkling water and drink it from a wine glass. Get non-alcoholic beer, bottled sparkling grape juice or cider. Drink a favorite non-alcoholic mixer complete with garnish. Have a fruit smoothie in a hurricane glass.
  • Eat Sweets when you have Cravings. Eat or drink something sweet when a strong craving or urge hits. Alcohol is mostly sugar and eating something sweet satisfies the part of your brain that triggers the need for alcohol. Eating something sweet can also help with drug cravings, especially opiate drugs. If you are concerned about weight gain, it might be wise to take a moment to compare the consequences of drinking or using drugs, and the consequences of eating a piece of hard candy or having a cookie.
  • Backup Plans for Holiday Parties. Invite a friend who is not a drinker or who has had success with long term sobriety to any parties where you know alcohol will be served. If you decide to go alone line up a support person who you can call if needed and plan to stay for a limited time so you are not tempted to partake as your friends get drunker.
  • Handle Stress before it’s Stress. Get plenty of sleep. Be sure to get enough rest. (Most of us don’t sleep enough but for those in recovery it is vitally important to stay balanced); Exercise and get outside as much as possible even if it’s just to walk around the block; listen to meditation CD’s or other music that is soothing; get a massage; do yoga and deep breathing; try to avoid arguments and limit social and family obligations.
  • Alcohol can increase stress for alcoholics and non-alcoholics, especially during the holidays. It’s always important to moderate your alcohol intake but this is especially so during the holidays when there are more opportunities to drink and do social drug using. Alcohol is a depressant, high in calories and low in nutrients. Too much alcohol can make one feel jittery, moody and tired and for some alcohol and drug use increases a sense of loneliness and depression which can lead to a return to the old lifestyle of using or in some cases even suicide.

Be aware that drinking alcohol can also set up dangerous situations. Alcohol can interact in a dangerous way with prescription medications as well as illegal drugs. In addition, half of all traffic deaths in the U.S. are alcohol related.

If you know that you are struggling with a substance abuse issue, or if you are a friend or family of someone who is struggling with a substance abuse issue, you need to seek help. For many, it can mean the difference between life or death.

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