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Substance Use During The Holidays

The holiday season is a time for joy and happiness and togetherness…right? While that may be the case for some, unfortunately, for a large percentage of the population, that is not their experience. This article aims to shed light on how the stress and pressure of the holiday season impacts the lives of community members struggling with substance use, while also offering helpful tips on how to navigate this challenging time.

The team at Pacifica Treatment Centre has dedicated their practice to helping persons dealing with substance use. Our goal is to raise awareness and build a community in which people can learn and have open discussions about overcoming substance use and the struggles that come with it.


Challenges of The 2021 Holiday Season

A holiday season in a ‘typical’ year is stressful and challenging enough, but the last two years have been especially challenging for almost everyone. Many of us were looking forward to the holidays, but with COVID-19 variants looming, family members or friends testing positive, provinces discouraged gatherings and imposed restrictions for public health. Let’s explore the implications of those events further:


An Increase in Mental Health Concerns

According to Statistics Canada, for those in the age group 25 to 44, the number of positive screenings for major depressive disorder increased from 18% in fall 2020 to 23% in spring 2021 and the proportion screening positive for generalized anxiety disorder increased from 15% to 20%.

This is directly correlated to the restrictions, financial strain, and uncertainty surrounding the pandemic; however, these conditions also coincide with Substance Use Disorders (SUDs). We will explore the connection between SUDs and mental health in a future article.


Social Isolation

This applies to both government restrictions as well as a personal choice to reduce the risk to protect your loved ones. Either way, isolating yourself from friends and family puts people at very high risk for substance use.

Without others around, self-indulgent behavior becomes easier as there is no one around to hold you accountable. On the other hand, substance use might arise as an attempt to cope with or ease your feelings of loneliness.


The Cultural “Indulgence Mentality”

Everything about the holidays is indulgent. Extravagant dinners, gifts, drinks, rich desserts, and second helpings – and the underlying thought is, ‘it’s fine, it’s the holidays’.

This sentiment is easily extended to substances. There has been a cultural acceptance of ‘having that extra glass of wine’ or ‘indulging because it’s been a hard year and you deserve it’. These phrases, while intended in a light-hearted way, can trigger more aggressive substance use behaviors.


Substance Use Triggers

Stress, time-sensitive deadlines, gift shopping, planning, work deadlines, social gatherings, and the list goes on. Even during the best years, these triggers are present and have a powerful effect on people.

The common theme is stress and figuring out a means to cope with it. Unfortunately, it’s very easy to lean on substances to ease stress, but there are healthy and constructive ways to cope with holiday stress (meditation, creative expression, reading, and other destressing activities).

Substance use

How to Prepare and Take Care of Yourself

Planning ahead may be the most effective way to reduce holiday stress. Make plans early so there are fewer surprises. Most importantly, if you know the holidays are triggering for you, have someone you can count on to keep you centred – this could be a sponsor, or a reliable friend or family member that has your best interest in mind.

Here are a few strategies to think about when planning for the holidays.


Be Conscious of Your Triggers

If you can identify them ahead of time, you can make a sound plan on how to avoid or limit exposure to them. What challenges are you most worried about? Perhaps work out a plan to solve them first. Do you know of certain people who instigate substance use or scenarios that will place pressure on you to participate?

Shedding light on these triggers helps to prevent surprises and better prepares you for them in the moment. It becomes easier to make better, healthier decisions when you have already given it some thought beforehand.


Have An Accountability Partner

This needs to be someone trustworthy and reliable, who stands firm and helps you get through the holidays. Talk to them about your goals, what you are okay with, and what you are hoping to avoid.

Knowing that you have to answer to someone if you use substances is a more powerful prevention tool than one might think.


Stay Away From Triggering People

Some people won’t let up when you tell them no. They may say things like:

  • “Lighten up”
  • “Relax, it’s the holidays”
  • “It’s just one drink”


While they may not have bad intentions, this type of relentless encouragement can be tough to resist. If you know this type of person, it is best to make your intentions and goals clear, and politely try to distance yourself from them.


Unplug From Social Media

Comparison is the destroyer of happiness. Social media is excellent at sharing snapshots of people’s happiest moments; people very rarely share their inner struggles.

From an outside perspective, it is easy to compare how you feel at this moment, to the perfect happy moment you see on the screen. This can lead to a series of negative emotions like jealousy and envy, and push you towards substance use as a means to cope.

Put down the phone, be present with the people around you and enjoy the moment you are in. There is plenty to be grateful for in your own life.


Reach Out To Crisis Lines

This year has been tough for everyone, but even during the best year, it is perfectly acceptable to reach out for help when you need it! If you need to speak with someone, remember that there are helpful resources available to you. These call and text lines are here to help you in your moment of need!

Crisis Services Canada

Crisis Text Line

Text HOME to 686868 in Canada to text with a trained Crisis Responder.

Examine what your substance use triggers are, what events stress you out and the coping mechanisms you tend to lean on. Remember to create a plan ahead of time, make healthy choices, have an accountability partner and you will be much better off during the holiday season.


Substance Use Recovery in 2022 at Pacifica Treatment Centre

Now is a great time to start thinking about the year ahead. If you or a loved one are looking to get involved in substance use recovery programs, Pacifica Treatment Centre is ready to welcome you into our programs.

Pacifica provides in-residence treatment and community-based services for individuals experiencing problematic substance use, in conjunction with concurrent mental health concerns and trauma.

Call our office to speak with a member of our team or reach out to us online today.

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