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Alcohol Use Disorder During The Holidays

The holidays are a special time when family and friends make the time in their busy schedules to see one another. For some families—especially for those who are spread out across different states or even countries—this can be the first time you’re seeing a brother, uncle, mother, or cousin since last year.

It’s important to keep in mind that the holidays aren’t easy for everybody and that your loved ones can turn to alcohol to ease the stress associated with the season. As a concerned family member, it’s important to stay educated on the signs and symptoms of alcohol use disorder—so that you can help get your loved ones the help they need.

Why are the Holidays a Difficult Time?

alcohol use disorder

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, many people experience “holiday blues,” or anxiety and depression around the holidays. These conditions can exacerbate mental health issues and trigger drinking problems in those vulnerable to alcohol use disorder. In fact, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism states that more people drink “beyond their limits” during the holidays than any other time. What triggers this predilection for drinking to increase during this festive time of year?

  • Availability of alcohol. This can be a tricky time of year for those who have suffered from alcohol use disorder in the past. During the holidays, wine, beer, spirits, and eggnog are readily available. For many, this can create a dangerous relapse situation.
  • Money & family stress. The holidays are an expensive time which can be especially difficult for those with families to support. In addition to the expense, many people experience stress from simply being around anxiety-provoking family situations. Studies have shown that stress and anxiety can be a precursor to alcohol use problems, which is why the stresses of the holidays can trigger alcohol misuse.
  • SAD. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a specific type of seasonal depression that coincides with the holiday months in colder climates. Individuals who suffer from SAD are responding to a lack of sunlight and can be fatigued, irritable, and sad. One major European study found that there was a correlation between those with SAD and those with alcohol disorders, showing a possible link between the two.

How to Recognize the Signs of a Problem

It’s important to recognize the difference between your family members or loved ones enjoying a drink or two, and presenting with signs of an alcohol problem. Though people with alcoholism can sometimes go to great lengths to mask that they have a problem with alcohol use, Alcohol.Org highlights some important signs to keep in mind:

Attitudes around Drinking

This might be one of your most powerful signs that a loved one is suffering with an alcohol use disorder. One of the most obvious attitudes you might notice is that your loved one is drinking in greater quantity and with greater frequency than seems normal. Have you seen them with a drink in hand at every point during the day? Have you noticed that they’ve consumed an unusual amount of beverages? Are they drinking in the morning?

This goes beyond the obvious signs, and involves more subtle indicators as well. Do you find that your loved one is extremely defensive if someone points out that they’re drinking? Do you find that they’re only going to holiday parties where there’s a culture of drinking? Are they spending a lot of time at bars even after family activities have wound down? If your loved one is demonstrating extreme attitudes towards drinking—it might be time to start paying closer attention.

Behavioral Signs

Alcohol abuse manifests in many different ways, and can vary from person to person. However, for many people it can highlight some unusual behavioral changes in your loved one. For example, you may notice that they are more prone to yell or get into fights with family members or strangers while inebriated. In extreme cases, they may attempt to drive or operate machinery while drunk, or engage in other dangerous behaviors. Are they more belligerent than unusual? Do they seem to be turning to alcohol to deal with complicated feelings like sadness or anger?

You might notice that your loved one’s relationships are suffering within the family if they’re struggling with alcohol use disorder. It’s difficult to know what a person is going through at work or school, but if alcohol is interfering with the activities of their daily life then it’s definitely a good idea to pay close attention.

Physical Signs

Aside from seeing your loved one display the signs of inebriation (slurred speech, coordination problems, stumbling), there are some other physical signs to look for that may indicate an alcohol use disorder. For example, you may notice that they are frequently hungover from drinking, with symptoms that can range from extreme fatigue, to vomiting, to nausea. At this point, some people who are in a cycle of alcohol dependence may start drinking early in the morning to decrease their symptoms of hangover.

If they can’t remember the day or night before because they drank until they blacked out, that is a major red flag. If you notice that your loved one seems to be experiencing the physical effects of withdrawal—tremors, racing heart, nausea—then it might be time to go to the next step of the process.

What Should You Do?

Stay calm. Discovering that someone you care about may be struggling with an alcohol use disorder can be alarming and distressing. Before you can help anyone else, you need to make sure that you’re taking care of yourself. Try not to internalize the feelings, and remember that it is not your fault.

Educate yourself. In order to help someone who’s suffering from alcohol use disorder, it’s important to stay educated. You need to understand the complex genetic, emotional, and experience-based factors that contribute to alcohol use. (We’ve included some helpful resources at the bottom of this article.)

Don’t judge or diagnose. It can be difficult to hold back when you’re emotional, but it’s best not to accuse, judge, or “diagnose” your loved one. Although you can certainly help them find help, remember that it’s outside your purview to “cure” or “fix” them. Extend your compassion, and help them help themselves.

Listen and communicate. Your loved one needs your support and understanding at this difficult time. If you think it’s the right time to broach a conversation with a loved one, make sure you do so in a calm and supportive fashion. Keep the lines of communication open at all times so that they don’t feel like they’re being lectured at or judged.

Find help. No one should have to struggle with an alcohol use disorder alone. You might want to help your loved one find a recovery center. Look for solutions like NAD IV Therapy, which utilizes enzymes to help begin the process of brain restoration in the person suffering from alcohol use disorder. Remember that every person will require a different sort of treatment. Help your loved one navigate the process to find a solution that works for them.

During the holiday season, it’s more important than ever to show your loved ones that you care for them. If your loved one is battling alcohol use disorder, call today to learn about our safe detox process that significantly reduces withdrawal symptoms while also boosting brain restoration. Our compassionate medical experts at BrainSpark Health can help your loved one get started on the road to recovery.

Additional Resources:

National Alcohol Hotlines

How to Help an Alcoholic

NIH Treatment and Getting Help

Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

Helping an Alcoholic

SAMHSA Mental Health Treatment Facilities