The Holidays & Substance Use

Updated: Nov 20, 2018

For some of us, the holiday season is not necessarily a time of exuberant celebration but one of increased stress and even sadness. With fewer hours of sunlight and increasingly cold temperatures here in the northeast, the winter months are already challenging for a lot of people who struggle with mental health issues. Add to that more interactions with family, abundant alcohol, and a pressure to feel like it's "the most wonderful time of the year," and many people find themselves drinking or using more during this time. It is important, too, to consider how the holidays can be a triggering in that they can remind us of the losses we have experienced in our lives.

Some tips for maintaining sobriety during the holiday season:

Know Your Triggers

If you know listening to that Anne Murray Christmas album you had growing up will make you unspeakably sad, opt for Mariah Carey's "Merry Christmas" instead. If you know your Aunt Nell will insist on pouring you a stiff drink, avoid her. If you know low blood sugar makes you more irritable and susceptible to cravings, make sure you're not too hungry before that work party.

Make a Plan

It's important to have a plan in place for moments when we feel overwhelmed. Identify what coping mechanisms feel helpful to you, and write a detailed and specific plan of steps you will take when you're feeling like you're out of control. If you can, call on a supportive friend. Reach out to find professionals to help. Call a substance use hotline. If you find support groups helpful, go to a meeting before or after festivities. Take a few minutes to practice mindfulness meditation or breathing exercises like this one if you're feeling too much of the holiday stress. The important part is that you have a plan that is tailored to your experience, and that you can refer to it when you're in a tough moment.

Practice Self-Care

Especially during this season, it's important to remember to eat nutritious foods, get enough sleep, exercise and decompress how we're able.

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