For most people, the holidays typically bring a sense of joy and comfort, but for those struggling with substance use disorders (SUD) this time of the year can be especially difficult. The winter holidays have become one of the most dangerous times of the year for drug and alcohol-related deaths and relapse. A Healthline survey found 62 percent of people would classify their stress level as “very” or “somewhat” elevated during the holiday season. The stressors of bills, indulgent events and strained relationships with families, or lack thereof can put a client in recovery at risk.
Finances have a huge impact on the added emotions of the season. In 2018, the average family spent over $1,054 on the holiday season. Office parties, family and friend dinners, decorations, and gifts stretched many American’s pockets without any reprieve. Probation clients have the added cost of multiple weekly drug tests. Although these fees are important in holding participants accountable, the financial burden makes it difficult to afford the bills holidays bring. For participants with families – especially children, must make decisions between paying for their essential needs, including court costs or a gift under the tree for their child.
Often clients who are struggling with SUD also have co-occurring disorders. The most common mental disorders that co-occurs with addiction is anxiety and depression. The holidays can often trigger these mental disorders due to the level of stress and often cause clients to fall out of healthy habits and slip up on their recovery journey. Daily probation calls become less routine, overindulgent events with alcohol and drugs are more available, and holiday visits can trigger serious lows and anxiety.
The holidays allow for a time of overindulgence. Plates are filled with food, desserts are plentiful, and an extended flow of alcohol can lower inhibitions. People allow themselves to let loose and often use this time to engage in drug use or heavy alcohol consumption. Family and friends can forget or ignore the fact that their loved one is in recovery in order to have a good time. For most people, these events happen once a year and an annual indulgence does not feel like a crime, but this could be detrimental for someone struggling with SUD.
Family gatherings are not always a cheerful time for people recovering from SUD. According to a survey done by the American Addiction Centers, having strained family relationships was the third-most-common stressor during the holiday. The shame of a participant’s current or previous drug addiction can be dredged up when accompanied by people that have shared in their painful past experiences. Some clients may not have any family or be estranged from them. Receiving Christmas cards and the abundance of social media posts showcasing the joy of the holidays can be a difficult reminder of their loneliness.
Every day for someone experiencing SUD is a struggle, but the holidays bring about an especially challenging time. A simple slip up can make or break someone’s recovery journey. For someone who has achieved long-term sobriety, this can mean wasted years of hard work and clean living. Furthermore, for those struggling with recent recovery or may be on probation, an event can send someone to jail or worse – an overdose.
The holidays still can be a time of joy, but when planning your upcoming family dinner office party, consider the people who may be struggling this season with substance use disorders. Make sure to have non-alcoholic options or consider skipping the alcoholic beverages altogether. Do not take it personally if someone struggling declines or ignores your invite – they may be feeling overwhelmed by plans or may want to avoid situations where they might not be able to maintain their sobriety. Finally, reach out to your loved ones who are struggling. Your support may be the best gift they receive this holiday season.