For millions, it is the happiest time of the year. The holiday season is a time when Americans spend time with family and loved ones showing appreciation, gratitude, and love through gatherings and gift giving.
It is also the time of countless parties and excessive consumption. For most, it is an impossible task to fulfill every party invitation. The obligations are plentiful and calendar overlap often occurs. Some take priority. Some are even mandatory. So you pick and choose. Sounds like a problem hardly worth complaining.
However, for the addiction recovery community, the holiday season is a loaded gun. In fact, it’s more like a minefield. And the first leg of this deadly obstacle course is Thanksgiving.
“Turkey Day” is so high-risk for over-indulgence in alcohol that it has been named as the single highest alcohol-consumption day of the year. But Thanksgiving is only the first in a series of potentially high-risk situations the the addict must face. Shortly after comes the holiday work party, then the party of a friend. As Christmas Day approaches, more social gatherings – most of which serving alcohol – fill the calendar.
“Around the holidays, alcohol abounds at parties and family gatherings,” said David Buys, health specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service. “Being around alcohol and others who might be ‘old drinking buddies’ could drive temptation higher.”
Not only is the socially-accepted abundance of alcoholic beverages during the season presenting a high-risk situation, but so can the prospect of seeing family members.
“Some people may be estranged from family and friends, leading to a sense of loneliness,” said Buys, who is also a researcher with the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station. “If families are together but have strained relationships, arguments and underlying stress may cause people to drink at unhealthy levels,” explains Buys.
The time of year isn’t only risky for relapse, it is also responsible for far too many deaths.
According to the CDC, excessive drinking is responsible for 88,000 deaths in the U.S. each year; 3,700 of those deaths were linked to alcohol dependence. The holiday season is the superbowl of excessive drinking.
For all of these reasons, the addict must enter the season with a plan.
“A person in recovery from an alcohol use disorder should avoid situations where alcohol is present,” says Kim Kavalsky, a licensed professional counselor and coordinator of mental health outreach at Mississippi State University. “If one can’t avoid a party with alcohol, plan to leave early before the drinking begins or attend with others who do not drink or who also are in recovery. It is also a good idea for those in recovery to talk with a member of their support system before and after attending an event where alcohol is present.”
Other ways to manage holiday stressors include observing quiet time to reflect on self-care and recovery, spending more time with a support group or therapist, creating new ways to celebrate, finding a spiritual base in the holidays and volunteering.
History has shown that this time of the year is dangerous and even deadly for many. Our thoughts and prayers this holiday season are with all of those struggling with the disease of addiction.
Hemet Valley Recovery Center & Sage Retreat offers a full continuum of care including: Acute Medical Detoxification, Rehabilitation, Residential, Partial Hospitalization and Recovery Residences.