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Holiday Survival Guide

Marcel Gemme By Marcel Gemme | Last Updated: 23 October 2023
  • What You'll Learn

The holiday season can be good and bad for everyone. On the surface, it is a truly wonderful time of year. Family and friends come together to share experiences and traditions while others donate their time and money to help others. However, it can also be a challenging time of year for many families and individuals. This may involve financial stress, grief, remorse, bad memories, and emotional pain.

Unfortunately, drugs and alcohol are consumed excessively, regardless of how the holidays are spent. Substance abuse and addiction are common. It’s also challenging for people in sobriety to survive the holiday season. Fortunately, there are practical approaches to staying sober, helping someone struggling with addiction, and enjoying quality time with family and friends.

FIVE TIPS TO SURVIVE THE HOLIDAY

Below are a few simple ways to reduce the risks associated with substance misuse during the holiday season, whether this involves alcohol or other drugs:

Manage Stress in a Healthy Way

  • The stress of the holidays is real and felt by most people. Post-pandemic, families across the nation are coming together to celebrate. It can be a stressful time.
  • Whether you are struggling with addiction or are in recovery, it is vital to manage stress healthily. Drugs and alcohol do not constitute healthy stress management.
  • Take advantage of downtime and time to yourself. Reach out to your sponsor if you need support. Consider going to rehab during the holidays; this is not a crazy idea and is the best time to go to treatment.
  • Additionally, focus on getting plenty of sleep, stay connected with supportive family members, and remember to do things for yourself.
Manage stress picture
Woman with her arms up in the air

Have an Exit Plan

  • Anyone in recovery from addiction should have an exit plan during the holiday season. This is especially important during early recovery from addiction.
  • Whether you are struggling with addiction or are in recovery, it is vital to manage stress healthily. Drugs and alcohol do not constitute healthy stress management.
  • Some individuals choose to be a designated driver for the night to avoid the pressure of being offered drinks. However, most hosts today do not assume that everyone drinks and will offer a variety of non-alcoholic beverages.
  • Finally, if all else fails, set a time to leave and stay only for as long as you need to socialize, say hello, and make a discreet exit; no one is going to be offended.

Call a Friend

  • Most people in recovery have sober friends, a sponsor, or someone they can call when things get rough. Enlisting their help when attending social events could be a good idea. In contrast, if you are struggling with drug addiction, reach out to someone you trust and ask for help.
  • Just having someone to talk to makes a big difference. In addition, they can also be there to intervene if you feel you are going to slip up.
  • If you do not have sober friends or someone to speak to, reach out to a family member, counseling services, or a 12-step meeting. Twelve-step meeting groups are popular around the holiday season, and meetings are often available every day.
Man holding phone to ear
Multiple hands on top of each other

Early Intervention Saves Lives

  • Drug and alcohol addiction is a real problem during the holidays. Times are difficult across the nation post-pandemic amidst record inflation.
  • Addicts are still using drugs alone, and overdose rates are among the highest they have ever been. If you notice a family member addicted to drugs who need help, early intervention will save their life. This does not have to be a formal family intervention but a one-on-one heart-to-heart conversation.
  • However, there are circumstances where formal intervention is required. Hiring a professional interventionist works and is an excellent option for a family to consider.

Be Prepared for Change

  • Families change and grow along with family traditions. Be realistic about what to expect and accept everyone for who they are. The tallest hurdle is putting aside differences. The chances are that the person you are talking with is struggling with something themselves.
  • Post-pandemic, family dynamics are finally getting back together and moving past the wedge that was created. Some family members may have changed, while others may not have. Yet, more people are struggling with addiction and mental health issues.
  • Reach out to those in need and give back to the community. Personal growth and change are important, and the holiday season is a good start.
Two men and one boy together

HOLIDAY RISKS WHEN STRUGGLING WITH ADDICTION OR IN RECOVERY

There are risk factors around the holiday time—binge drinking, heavy alcohol use, drug use, recreational drug use, or experimenting with drugs. Holiday parties can get out of hand, while others struggle with loneliness, mental health issues, and addiction.

It is common for individuals to overindulge over the holidays. Unfortunately, it is also common for people struggling with addiction to go overboard. Anyone in recovery faces an uphill battle and is often faced with uncomfortable choices.

Those who already struggle with addiction may find that the holidays bring up negative emotions or additional scrutiny from family members. They may use even more to cope with the negative feelings or try to hide their drug use.

Below are some tips to help anyone survive the upcoming holiday season, whether struggling with addiction or in recovery.

A FATAL FORECAST

Roadway Fatalities during Thanksgiving and December holiday period are an unfortunate reality. The National Safety Council estimates there will be over 1,000 fatalities on the roadways during this time. Here are their projections:

  • Over 370 people may die on U.S. roads over Christmas.
  • Over 500 people may die on U.S. roads over Thanksgiving. Many of the deaths are attributed to alcohol consumption.
  • During the New Year’s holiday, it is estimated that over 420 people will suffer a traffic fatality.

Whether Thanksgiving or holidays taking place in December and January, increased risks are associated with excessive alcohol consumption and drug use. Below we address the different aspects of each holiday and how you can be prepared.

THANKSGIVING NOT DRUNKSGIVING

The day before Thanksgiving is the biggest alcohol sales day in the nation around the holidays. Data from over 2,900 local beer, wine, and liquor stores show sales leap to 130% higher than a typical day.

Thanksgiving creates a certain amount of stress for many people, especially addicts and recovering addicts. Family gatherings generate many emotions that are not always easy to manage. Holidays like Thanksgiving also invite excessive drinking and alcohol consumption.

Also known as Drinksgiving, Blackout Wednesday, or Black Wednesday, this holiday has become the first drinking weekend of the holiday season.

There is no doubt that Thanksgiving is a heavy drinking weekend; football, family, parties, and food.

Thanksgiving does not have to be a heavy drinking holiday. Significant risks include drinking and driving, personal injury, and family conflict.

If you feel you are going to drink more than usual, speak to a friend, drink non-alcoholic drinks, eat more turkey, and socialize with supportive family and friends.

DECEMBER HOLIDAYS TURMOIL

Anyone coping with alcohol or drug addiction can have a difficult time over the December holiday season. For example, many individuals experience high amounts of chronic or temporary stress during Christmas and Hanukkah.

The December holiday season can bring about old family arguments and create new ones. It is not uncommon to feel that holiday parties or social gatherings create heavy drinking, which is how many Americans feel:

  • Approximately 56% of Americans experience more alcohol served at holiday gatherings than at other social events throughout the year. 58% of Americans agreed that their family drinks too much at these events.
  • 63% say there is a family member that takes things too far
  • Whiskey, beer, wine, and tequila are the most common alcoholic drinks to take people over the edge during holiday parties.
  • Additionally, depression and anxiety during these celebrations significantly impact how people celebrate. The most common reasons for seasonal sadness were finances, strained family relationships, missing a family member who died, and being alone.

These issues can lead to excessive alcohol consumption and drug use. Young people primarily, for example, engage in risky drinking and alcohol consumption during the holiday season.

NEW YEAR'S OFTEN BEGINS WITH ALCOHOL

Regardless of how the new year is celebrated, the holiday typically involves excessive alcohol consumption and drug use.

The use of substances during New Year’s leads to increased risks on U.S. roadways and the chances of a fatal crash involving a DUI. Drunk driving incidents during New Year’s are estimated to increase 116% above the baseline average, making it the most dangerous holiday for drunk driving.

While the year tends to end with a string of bad habits, the good news is that New Year’s resolutions usually revolve around breaking bad habits or creating good ones.

Unfortunately, some individuals are unsure or in denial about some bad habits. The end-of-the-year onslaught of parties and questionable decisions may not be a good touchstone for a person’s behavior.

Sometimes, it may lead someone to ignore unhealthy habits and justify them as part of the celebration.

DRY JANUARY

One effective method for establishing if you have an issue with drug and alcohol use is participating in “Dry” January. This involves individuals abstaining from alcohol (or drug use) for the entirety of the month. Taking a month off from drinking alcohol and drug use is beneficial. The process could help you examine your relationships with substances and can help you establish if you are dependent. If you cannot go a whole month without using drugs or alcohol, then there may be an issue.

Here are some other early warning signs and symptoms to watch for:

  • Alcohol becomes an emotional crutch for people who suffer from stress while going about their daily routines.
  • Binge drinking becomes an escape plan from this type of stress, and holiday traditions are an excuse to drink excessively.
  • A family member may drink too much and then continue drinking even more.
  • Drugs like marijuana are used to cope with stress and anxiety.
  • A person may feel the need to use drugs or alcohol just to cope with the holidays.
  • Some individuals are not comfortable with being at social events without alcohol.
  • Some family members avoid social gatherings because their drinking habits are frowned upon.

If you or a family member begin to notice the early warning signs, it is important to intervene early. Have a conversation with them, ask if everything is ok, and if they need help or support. The holidays can be stressful, but there is help available.

CELEBRATE FAMILY, FRIENDS, AND LIFE

The Holidays don’t have to be a stressful time. They are intended as a time of celebration and gathering, and those with addiction struggles should be able to enjoy them without risking relapse.

The holiday season is a time to celebrate family, friends, and life. It is particularly important to support those in recovery and help those in need who are struggling with addiction and mental health issues.

Post-pandemic many things may of changed, yet most families have grown closer appreciating more that life has to offer. Take the time this holiday season to celebrate safely, show gratitude, and hug the ones you love.

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Marcel Gemme has been helping people struggling with addiction for over 19 years. He first started as an intake counselor for a drug rehabilitation center in 2000. During his 5 years as an intake counselor, he helped many addicts get the treatment they needed. He also dealt with the families and friends of those people; he saw first-hand how much strain addiction puts on a family and how it can tear relationships apart. With drug and alcohol problems constantly on the rise in the United States and Canada, he decided to use the Internet as a way to educate and help many more people in both those countries. This was 15 years ago. Since then, Marcel has built two of the largest websites in the U.S. and Canada which reach and help millions of people each year. He is an author and a leader in the field of drug and alcohol addiction. His main focus is threefold: education, prevention and rehabilitation. To this day, he still strives to be at the forefront of technology in order to help more and more people. He is a Licensed Drug and Alcohol Treatment Specialist graduate with Honours of Stratford Career Institute. Marcel has also received a certificate from Harvard for completing a course entitled The Opioid Crisis in America and a certificate from The University of Adelaide for completing a course entitled AddictionX: Managing Addiction: A Framework for Succesful Treatment.