Holiday Stress and COVID-19: Uncertainty Can Lead to Alcohol and Drug Abuse
The holiday season does bring about excess, whether eating, drinking, family functions, and even drug abuse. Unrealistic expectations, over-commitment, unhealthy eating, financial strain, and even fatigue frays emotions and creates a stressful time. The ongoing pandemic has added to this, creating economic uncertainty, job loss, family dysfunction, and increases the rates of substance abuse. During the holiday season, many families may also experience travel complications because of the pandemic adding to the stress.
The problems with substance abuse and addiction have been exacerbated due to the pandemic. Overdose trends continue to rise; per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug overdose deaths increased by 4.6% in 2019. As of 2020, nationwide, federal, and local officials are reporting alarming spikes in drug overdoses. The continued isolation, economic devastation, and disruptions in the drug trade are fueling the surge.
According to the Overdose Detection Mapping Application Program, overdoses nationally jumped 18% in March of 2020. When compared to 2019, overdoses increased up to 42% per month during the pandemic. The upcoming holiday season may add to this because issues with substance abuse and addiction tend to increase. However, managing the stress of the holiday season during the pandemic is not impossible, and there are ways to maintain your physical and mental health and prevent substance abuse.
Have Strategies in Place and Be Mindful
Whether you are struggling with addiction, in recovery, or concerned about your drug or alcohol use over the holidays, have a strategy. Develop a plan not to overindulge or to protect your sobriety. For example, this may include attending more support groups or going to a social function with a supportive friend or family member. Also, limit your time in stressful situations or around difficult people and have an escape plan if you feel things are getting out of control. The holiday season creates many emotions, and it becomes easy to drink too much, experiment with drugs, or question sobriety.
Be mindful of your surroundings, such as ordering a beverage and being aware of what is given to you if you are a recovering addict. Unfortunately, at most social gatherings, people are eating and drinking in excess, and it is easy to follow suite. It is not uncommon to become worried about your drinking or drug use during the holidays, especially after what happened with COVID-19. The holiday season is an ideal time to seek out help or treatment. Rehabilitation programs routinely see an increase in people asking for help.
Suppose you are in recovery, schedule sessions with a counselor, or have a peer support group to attend. Being connected to other supportive people is crucial to managing stressful situations. Stress is a key factor in substance use disorders. All of 2020 has been a stressful time for many people making it difficult to cope. Anticipate seasonal cravings and potential substance abuse—understand that moderation is not always an option. Recovering alcoholics, for example, will tell you that moderation is not possible when you are addicted to alcohol.
Avoiding Holiday Addiction and Potential Relapse
There are different ways to prevent addiction or avoid relapse, and much of it is being aware. For example, evaluate each situation you are in, rank scenarios as low, medium, or high risk. Also, know your triggers for relapse, or what would drive you to drink excessively and possibly use drugs. Keep the stress under control, which has been difficult given the pandemic and upcoming holiday season. Many people turn to alcohol or drugs as a way to cope with stress. When stress begins to take over, take a few minutes to decompress, meditate, go for a walk, talk to some about it, or distract yourself.
Develop ways to move past your cravings, such as moving to a different setting, and knowing you will not stop at one drink. Throughout the pandemic, the average American has learned to lean on their support system, which continues to be important during the holiday season. The holidays and stress of this time of year create these problems. According to the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, exploring event-specific drinking in the general population—"weekly variation in alcohol consumption peaked on Fridays and Saturdays and was particularity high on Christmas and New Year's Eve; alcohol consumption within the general population is highly event-specific."
Nothing has been easy in 2020 for someone struggling with addiction or someone in recovery. It is normal to be concerned about what could happen during the holiday season, but you are not alone. Despite the pandemic, treatment providers are available, and there are extensive resources to help people during the holiday season. Substance abuse quickly spirals out of control, and with the stress of the holidays and the pandemic, it is easy to allow it to take over. If you are struggling and require help, reach out and talk to someone. Contact a treatment program, peer support group, or a close friend or family member.