Holiday Substance Abuse Triggers

Holidays are meant to be joyous, happy occasions that bring friends and family together. But for some, holidays can pose a risk for substance abuse and relapse due to reasons such as stress, loneliness, and increased access to drugs and alcohol. If you or a loved one is recovering from addiction or at risk for substance abuse during the holidays, there are steps you can take to stay healthy and safe and reduce the risk for relapse, alcohol poisoning, and drug overdose.

Here are holiday statistics surrounding substance abuse, along with common holiday triggers and tips for staying safe this holiday season.

Holiday Statistics on Drug and Alcohol Abuse

  • The majority of drug- and alcohol-related deaths take place in December. There were nearly 91,000 deaths that occurred during this month between 1999 and 2014.
  • Every year between Christmas and New Year from 2012 to 2016, an average of 300 people died in drunk driving accidents.
  • In December 2016, roughly 25% of all deaths from motor vehicle accidents were caused by drunk driving.
  • Of the 14,472 people who died in traffic crashes between 2012 and 2016, roughly 28% were caused by drunk driving.
  • Alcohol consumption during the last 2 weeks of December is about 70% higher than any other time of year.

Common Holiday Triggers

Holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year can be stressful for some — especially for those in recovery from addiction. People who are estranged from their relatives can experience negative feelings of guilt, sadness, and depression around the holidays, while those suffering from financial hardship can experience stress and anxiety related to buying gifts and hosting parties.

Other common holiday triggers and stressors that can lead to drug abuse include:

  • Holiday shopping and large crowds.
  • Attendance at parties and events where drugs and alcohol are present.
  • Long-held family traditions that involve alcohol use.
  • Dealing with difficult relatives.
  • Unwanted family or work obligations.
  • Time constraints and busier schedules.
  • Traveling.
  • Returning to hometowns and childhood homes.
  • Reminiscing about past joyous holidays.
  • Pressure to host the “perfect” party or prepare the perfect meal.

Tips for Avoiding Holiday Drug and Alcohol Abuse

Holidays may be difficult and stressful for some, but that doesn’t mean relapse and drug abuse are inevitable. If you are prone to substance abuse or in recovery from addiction, there are many ways to make the most of your holiday season while staying abstinent from drugs and alcohol.

Here are tips that can help you stay in recovery during the holiday season:

  • Develop a plan to follow in situations that involve drugs and alcohol — such as making a great excuse to leave a holiday party early.
  • Know your triggers so you can avoid and cope with them when faced with drugs and alcohol. If you need help identifying your personal triggers, consider receiving cognitive behavioral therapy through an outpatient drug rehab program.
  • Stay in contact with caring, supportive family members who can steer you away from drugs and alcohol and help you stay abstinent.
  • Prepare to talk openly about your abstinence from drugs and alcohol if friends and relatives inquire as to why you’re not using these substances during holiday events.
  • Stay in touch with your AA or NA sponsor and contact that person when you feel close to relapsing at any point during the holiday season.
  • Start your own new holiday traditions that don’t involve drugs and alcohol.
  • Understand that you’re not alone, and that there are millions of others around the world fighting to stay abstinent during the holidays while in recovery from addiction.