By Dr. Michael Young

A young woman had been doing so well overcoming her addiction. She had been sober for almost nine months – that was nine months longer than she had ever been sober in her young adult life.

Her life-long addiction to alcohol began when she was in her early teens. It started as a coping mechanism in response to a chaotic home environment. As she grew older, she gravitated toward other illicit substances and eventually could not get through a single day without using alcohol or addictive drugs. In college, a concerned school counselor connected her with a therapist who likely helped save her life by helping her decide to go to rehab and get sober for the first time.

The young woman had been participating in her recovery and staying sober since April; however, in early December, things started to turn.

For many, the stresses of the holidays, plentiful opportunities to party, and more time spent with family, unearth powerful feelings of both nostalgia and painful memories, which can be a powerful combination of stressors that lead to someone seeking the substances from which they work so hard to be free.

While holidays are often a festive time filled with family, friends, and parties, these celebrations also pose a risk to recovery from substance abuse. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the most dangerous time of the year for drug and alcohol abuse is during the holiday season. In fact, drug and alcohol-related deaths occur more often in December than in any other month.

Many people end up coping with the stress, anxiety, and tension of the holidays with alcohol, which is often readily available at holiday parties, or other substances. Although self-medication is often used as an outlet for people to deal with difficult feelings during what can be a difficult time of the year, there are healthier coping skills to address the underlying stressors more effectively.

As a board-certified psychiatrist, I have helped treat many people with substance use disorders, which can often feed into mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder as well as anxiety. It is important to note that there are effective treatments for both substance use disorders as well as co-occurring mood disorders and anxiety. Therefore, if you have a mood disorder or other mental illness, it is essential to check in with your healthcare provider early and often this holiday season to make sure that you have enough support in your recovery and that your treatment plan is working. In partnership with your provider, you can work to take steps to alleviate the stress and anxiety that may arise during the hustle and bustle of the holidays. This may include alternate treatment options, or it may just be making sure you take the time to talk to someone.

As the holidays are now in full swing, use this time to reflect on how past gatherings have impacted you, and adjust your schedule accordingly while ensuring you have time for rest and relaxation. Additionally, use the holidays as a chance to rededicate to some of the healthy coping mechanisms that have worked in the past, or try something new! Utilizing a journal, expressing gratitude, meditating, and exercising are great ways to help keep your life in a healthy balance without resorting to dangerous substances.

The holidays provide an opportunity for you to recognize the support systems you have among your family and friends. They may also be a time for families and friends to identify substance abuse issues among loved ones and intervene. This may be a challenging time, but if handled with compassion and care, it will go a long way towards helping someone who is suffering from substance abuse issues to steer their life in a positive direction. t

Dr. Michael Young is the service chief of the Retreat at Sheppard Pratt Health System.

Author Profile

Adam Romanik
Adam Romanik is the owner of Computer Solutions for Less, an IT consulting business. Adam has over 15 years experience working in the both the IT industry and libraries and has worked as an adjunct instructor at several educational institutions. Adam earned both a Bachelors & Masters degree in Library Science from Clarion University, has earned 24 graduate credits towards a second masters degree in Information Systems and is an MCSE (Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer).

Adam Romanik is also the president and founder of the Keystone State Gay Rodeo Association. He actively competes both on the International Gay Rodeo Association Circuit as well as locally in the mid-atlantic region.