Addiction and Christmas: Top 10 Reasons Why the Holidays Can Make Addiction Worse

Addiction and Christmas go hand in hand just like the tree and its trimmings. That’s right… the most wonderful time of the year is also a time when addiction problems can intensify.

Liquor and bar sales soar. Drunk driving accident climb, overdose deaths surge, and substance abuse counselors see addiction problems escalate as the year comes to an end.

Before the problem can be addressed, however, we must first understand what causes it. Why do so many people struggle with substance abuse this time of year? Let us count the ways.

1. Financial Problems

It’s no secret that addiction can drain your bank account. Many of those in active addiction are already facing depleted funds. Suddenly, there can be immense pressure to spend on holiday gifts for family, friends, and even co-workers, depending on where you work. That is all above and beyond your regular monthly bills.

While Christmas bonuses can stimulate the economy, they are not a given at all employers, so you can easily be on your own for the added expense. In addition to gifts, you may feel pressure to buy a Christmas tree, new decorations and new clothes. You may also have to spring for travel and other incidentals during this time.

The pressure to spend and the strain on the budget can drive some people to the drink or the drug to escape the financial worry.

2. Holiday Stress

One of the things that drives substance abuse is stress. Nearly nine out of 10 Americans agree that the Christmas season is the most stressful time of the year (Anderer, 2019). There can be more things to do than time available for them.

You may have to attend events such as your company’s Christmas party, your significant other’s company’s Christmas party, gatherings with friends, or playing host to family dinners. You may struggle to find the right gifts, wrap them all up and  make time to decorate.

Whatever the challenges are, they can make a getting high or drunk seem like an easy way to get you through these rough spots. It offers a temporary break from reality… one that you have to pay for later.

3. Depression Increases Over the Holidays

Whether it’s because of the changing in the seasons, the loss of loved ones, or something else, people just have a difficult time during Christmas. For millions of Americans, depression and anxiety levels rise sharply at this time of year. With the added depression also comes a major increase in substance abuse.

4. Increased Isolation

Some people are overwhelmed by gatherings during the holidays, while others are left alone. Unfortunately, addiction flourishes in isolation. If you are alone, who is there to tell you not to do drugs or to help you stay distracted? Studies show that people in isolation turn to some of their least healthy habits to pass the time and feel better.

The fact is that the nearly two-year-long pandemic has led to a major increase in drug use. Many of those people are still struggling with it, even now, as the holidays are upon us. When you combine depression with isolation, you get plenty of reasons why someone would want to rely on drugs or alcohol to feel better.

5. Constant Reminders

There are constant reminders that it is the holidays, that you are alone or depressed, that you are stressed, struggling financially, and so forth. Everyone may be talking about the new television or device they are getting and you are hoping to pay your bills. People are having parties and you are at home seeing the pictures they are posting on social media.

You are constantly reminded that it is the most wonderful time of the year, and that reminder pushes you further and further towards substance abuse.

6. Reasons To “Celebrate”

One reason that people start hitting alcohol more this time of year is that they find themselves celebrating a lot. It could be because of the holiday, the end of the year, office parties, friends getting together, or other reason. Alcohol addiction can skyrocket while also going undetected under the guise of celebrating this time of year.

7. New Year, New Start

Some who struggle with drugs or alcohol may allow themselves to indulge now… and address their addiction in the New Year. This is like going on a holiday food binge. People will indulge in a variety of seasonal foods and drinks that are not healthy for them, all while promising themselves that they will get right on a diet and exercise program as soon as the new year starts.

These same justifications can surface with drug and alcohol use. People allow their addictions to take off during December as they promise themselves and their loved ones that they will get help or get clean after the end of the year. The problem is that nothing magically changes on New Year’s Day, unless you do the work.

8. More Time Off

While it’s not often talked about, one of the potential reasons people struggle with addiction during Christmas is the extra time off. While the other reasons make sense, the fact is that we tend to avoid our vices throughout the year simply because we are working more. During the holidays, depending on your job, you may have additional time off. This unfortunately can mean more time to dive into your vices.

9. Great (Unmet) Expectations

Movies and shows push the idea of a perfect holiday. The house is perfect, the gifts are perfect, and money is never an issue. The fact is that many people do struggle this time of year, and everyone’s struggle is a little different.

This is supposed to be the happiest time of the year… and that is a big part of the problem with the stress and the anxiety. We put too much pressure on ourselves this time of year. We try to force things – and ourselves – to enjoy the holidays. In reality, we tend to struggle through them more.

10. Family Events

Think of last year (or, especially, before the pandemic). How many drinks did you have before that certain uncle showed up? Were you frustrated with family members who seem to graciously share every thought in their head with everyone? Did you feel that, if you looked at someone the wrong way, they would say you are responsible for ruining the holidays? Families are made up of people, and none of them are perfect. Some are even abusive.

In some cases, it may be healthier to skip family events altogether. Walking on those eggshells or relieving trauma (and even adding to it) is not something anyone looks forward to. It may even lead to indulging drinking and drugs.

If you are using and drinking before family arrives to help you get through it and after they leave so you can relax, you may have a problem with substance abuse. The holidays can be a time when you can clearly see just how dependent you may be on these substance

Flip the Switch

December can actually be a great time to get clean or sober. If you have time off, or can take it, you can begin on your journey to start a new life, for real this time. You will be away from the stress of the holidays and concentrating on yourself, something that friends and family can appreciate. And, as many who have recovered will tell you, your worst day sober is better than your best day in addiction.

Make 2022 the year you get free from addiction, call a qualified rehab center today.

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Anderer, J. (2019, December 22). Jingle Bell Crock: 88% of Americans feel the holiday season is most stressful time of Year. StudyFinds. Retrieved December 9, 2021.

Justin Baksh, LMHC, MCAP, Chief Clinical Officer

Chief Clinical Officer
Foundations Wellness Center

Meet author Justin Baksh, LMHC, MCAP, the Chief Clinical Officer of Foundations Wellness Center. A former United States Marine, Justin holds a Master’s in Mental Health Counseling and has also attained the Certified Master’s Level Addiction Professional credential.

Justin has over 10 years of experience working with substance use and polysubstance use disorders, as well as anxiety, depression, life stressors, life transitions, trauma, PTSD, ADHD, ADD, OCD, and a variety of other disorders using cognitive behavioral therapy, DBT, biofeedback, strength-based and solution-based modalities. Read Full Bio

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