The Impact the Holiday Blues Have on a Recovering Addict

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The holidays don’t have the same positive associations for everyone. Even though the holidays are supposed to be “the most wonderful time of the year,” they can be the complete opposite for some families.

This time of the year places importance on family, friends and accomplishments from the year. It reconnects people with those they haven’t seen in a year, and it brings back memories from past holidays. Unfortunately, if you struggle in one or more of these areas, the holiday season can be more stressful than enjoyable.

Although there are many factors that can affect a person’s view of the holidays – financial woes, job loss, divorce, sickness and so on – addiction is one that is not often talked about. It does need to be discussed more because the holidays are one of the most difficult times of the year for an addict. Not only are there are more temptations through holiday parties, alcohol and old friends, but also the holidays can increase depressive symptoms, making a recovering addict more likely to indulge again.

Have you heard the common myth that more suicides are attempted between Thanksgiving and Christmas than at any other time of the year? Well, this isn’t true. In fact, December has the fewest suicide attempts of any month, as reported by Healthline.com. What’s interesting is that there is a significant increase in suicide rates following the holidays, as much as a 40 percent increase according to one 2011 study. It’s believed that this uptick is due to a rebound effect from the holidays.

According to Healthline.com, there is an increase in psychopathological disorders after the month of December, and this includes mood disorders and substance abuse. Several factors come together over the holiday season to create the “holiday blues” or a more serious depression, and while this can linger during the holiday season, it’s even more difficult to resume normalcy come January.

For the average person, this can be difficult enough. But for an addict, it’s the greatest weapon. Through the holidays, they may find themselves asking, “Why can’t I be happy like everyone else?” Maybe they don’t have the same things to show off as their friends, such as a nice home, spouse or children, and this makes their past choices even more difficult. They may be working on past relationships that have been damaged as well. When all of these factors come together, they really test the coping skills of the recovering addict.

The problem is that these coping skills are not yet established. That's why it’s important for families and friends to step up to the plate and provide additional support over the holiday season. It’s a big job, but there are a few tips to keep in mind.

Start a new tradition. Create fun, healthy traditions that center on a sober environment and positive people. Let the new tradition be another fresh start in the addict’s life. Sometimes, it can be helpful to get away instead of spending the holidays at home, so consider a family vacation or outing.

Don’t give in to holiday pressures. Focus on the addict, not what other people want. If you know that a particular event or party is not going to be a healthy setting, kindly decline the invitation.

Volunteer. Volunteering is a rewarding experience, and it reminds us of all the things we have to be grateful for. Make it your mission to get involved this year by donating your time to a soup kitchen, toy drive or women’s refuge center. Or, consider small acts of kindness like shoveling a neighbor’s driveway or walking an elderly neighbor’s dog.

Spend time in nature. Just because it’s cold outside doesn’t mean that Mother Nature has retreated. Encourage outdoor activities like hiking or walking. Choose a fun location such as a local forest preserve where you can look at trees and wildlife and connect with nature.

The holidays can be enjoyable once again, but sometimes there are hurdles to cross. Don’t forget that after the holidays, you should also be involved in your loved one’s life. Sometimes, added attention can come with the holiday season, but this can quickly drop off as soon as the New Year comes. As the 2011 study on psychiatric disorders concluded, it’s important for psychiatrists and family physicians to be aware of the increase in psychological disorders after the holidays. If you notice your loved struggling into the New Year, take the cues seriously and seek professional help.