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Holidays and Substance Use

By Erendira Zazueta, Coalition Coordinator

The holidays are a cheerful time of the year. There’s lots of lights, colors, gifts, happy songs, and quality time with family and friends. While some people may think this is the most wonderful time of the year, others may strongly dislike the winter holidays. It can be a difficult time for those experiencing family conflict, grief, financial burden, or seasonal depression. Even those who do not have any personal conflict can also just be stressed out or overwhelmed. Some people have negative thoughts about their childhood and the holidays while others feel stressed out about getting holiday shopping done in time or dealing with holiday traveling. The concern during this time is that the overwhelming feeling of the holidays can lead to substance use. The CDC reports that alcohol-and-drug-induced deaths spike during December and January. It is evident that there is a substance use problem during the holiday season.

While it could be due to negative personal conflicts it could also be because of holiday parties. During the holiday season there’s many parties whether it’s work holiday parties, friend parties, family parties, birthdays, or acquaintance get-togethers, many of these parties involve alcohol or other substances. It is important to be considerate of others and have alternatives to alcohol or by having substance free parties. A good way to do this is by offering mocktails that don’t have any alcohol but still look cute. That addresses the issue of having substances at parties, but some people might still use substances at home. There are people who deal with holiday stress by doing things like exercising, meditating, doing yoga, or participating in fun hobbies. While that is a good and healthy option there are other people who deal with stress by drinking. A 2011 study found that stress can reduce the intoxicating feeling which means that people who drink to reduce stress may have to drink more to feel the relaxing effect. Therefore, drinking while stressed can lead to overconsumption.

One of the top reasons why people experience such high levels of stress during the holidays is due to gift giving. Sometimes people aren’t in a good financial situation, but they have multiple kids, friends, or people in general they want to give a gift to. Some parents even go into debt just to make their kids happy and that can cause a lot of stress. It’s even more stressful when you not only have to get your kids gifts but also other family members, then there’s people who will also get their coworkers gifts. All these stressors can lead to substance use which is why it is important to learn some ways to handle that stress.

Family conflicts can be another stressor too whether it’s having divorced parents, family members not on good terms, or feeling lonely because you have no family or can’t make it in time to see your family. Some people are dealing with spending their first holiday without a loved one who has passed away. All these things can lead to substance use if the stress or grief is too overwhelming for someone.  The best thing we can do with these people is support them in any way we can and if they are also trying to remain sober do it with them or try to have them in an alcohol-free environment. 

To help take care of others we also need to take care of ourselves. Some of us might be dealing with any of the problems mentioned above. Take some time out of your day to de-stress and reflect. If you feel that alcohol at a party may trigger you to drink, bring your own mocktails and some to share and maybe that will lead to someone joining you in being sober at the party. Good ways to de-stress are taking 30 minutes to walk outside, exercise, do some stretching, play with your pets if you have some, participate in holiday activities like making a gingerbread house or walking around to look at lights. If you feel that you need help regarding substance use or mental health help don’t hesitate to reach out to someone or check out the free resources on the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website.

Thank you for checking out this week’s blog! Check back next week for a new blog on a new topic.


1.      American Addiction Centers. (2023). Holiday Highs and Lows.

Image sources

1.      One Chel Of An Adventure (2023). Best Christmas Town In Texas.

2.      Mind Wellness Center (2023). Tips For Helping You Cope With The Holiday Blues. 

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