Holiday Blues Can Lead to Alcohol & Drug Abuse


For many of us, the holidays are a joyous time as it’s a season where we can spend quality time with our loved ones. However, this holiday season, as many as 1 in 5 Americans will feel down during the holidays. Unrealistic expectations and pricey Christmas shopping can mark trouble for anyone, but especially those who struggle with mental health and substance abuse issues.

The period from Thanksgiving to New Year’s is a time when many people with substance abuse issues try to ignore their problems and participate in the holiday festivities alongside their friends and relatives. Studies show that cases of depression, drunk driving accidents and suicide all increase during the holiday period. Unfortunately, many of these are tied to alcohol and drug abuse, typically engaged in by people who are trying to cope with holiday blues.

Holiday Blues

What Causes the Holiday Blues?

Sadness is a deeply personal feeling, and may have different symptoms, depending on the person. Typical sources of holiday depression can include:

  • Stress

  • Fatigue

  • Financial stress

  • Lack of energy

  • The inability to be with friends or family

  • Over-commercialization 

In the Midwest, the upcoming holiday season also marks the beginning of colder weather with limited daylight. With this in mind, many people may feel depressed around the winter holidays due to seasonal affective disorder (SAD), sometimes referred to as seasonal depression.


What are the symptoms of holiday depression?

Balancing the demands of the holiday season may contribute to the intense feelings of being overwhelmed. People who may not typically be classified as depressed are capable of developing stress responses and may experience a number of physical and emotional symptoms including:

  • Excessive drinking: It is common during the holiday season for people to want to celebrate the cheerful season. Unfortunately, many people may forget their boundaries. It is important to remember your alcohol limit.

  • Headaches: Many people attribute headaches to vitamin deficiencies and intestinal toxemia, as the holidays usher in a time of of celebration and with that comes frequent consumption of sugars, fats, excess refined foods and fast foods. 

  • Lack of sleep: It’s not uncommon for people to get less sleep due to their busy schedules, but it’s vital to try to maintain a consistent sleep schedule to maintain your health. 

  • Overeating: Obesity is a major American problem. During the holidays, there is a tendency for all of us to overeat, which can lead us to feel worse about our body image.

Dealing with Holiday Depression

Most people know the holiday season can be a time of emotional highs and lows. However, there are several other ways to fight off the holiday blues including:

  • Don't succumb to holiday pressures: Feel free to leave an event if you aren't comfortable. It is not a requirement to always be in a festive mood. 

  • Practice self-care: Take quiet time each day to relax and gather your thoughts and feelings.

  • Volunteer: Work at a soup kitchen, organize a gift drive or simply help a neighbor shovel his or her driveway.

  • Get back to nature: Going for a walk in the snow helps many people who are feeling overwhelmed to feel better and relieve stress.

How To Help a Family Member With Substance Abuse Issues 

For the millions of people in recovery from addiction to alcohol or drugs, holiday blues or stress can trigger a relapse. Here’re some tips on how to act during holiday get-together with someone in treatment or recovery.

  • Be a role model: In a survey, Hazelden found that 90 percent of teens view their parents as role models on the issues of using alcohol or other drugs. Holiday family gatherings are a time in which elders can demonstrate the responsible use of alcohol to younger members of the family.

  • Have a heart-to-heart: To avoid any mishaps or awkwardness, have a direct conversation with a family member who has suffered from substance abuse issues in the past. Tell them you are proud of their journey and ask if there is anything you can do to make them feel more comfortable at the party.

  • Offer alternatives: Provide alternative, tasty drinks that don’t have alcohol.

Mental Health & Substance Abuse at UnityPoint Health - Trinity

Since our founding, the Robert Young Center has championed mental health care advocacy, offering services under UnityPoint Health - Trinity. Riverside, the hospital-based chemical dependency treatment program of the Robert Young Center, offers inpatient and outpatient services for adults as well as outpatient services for adolescents with substance abuse problems. Worried that you, or someone you know, may have a substance abuse problem? Take our substance abuse assessment today.

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