It’s December. For many people, that means preparing to celebrate the holidays and spending time with family and friends. However, that is not the case for everyone. For some, including several of my close friends and family members, these next few months are not a time of celebration, but instead, they are a time of significant stress. Many people experience increased levels of stress during these months because there is a rise in financial stress, familial conflict, loneliness, and grief. During COVID-19, there has been a rise in financial stress, loneliness, and grief due to unexpected deaths in the family, job losses, and the isolation of social distancing.

In a survey of 2000 people, 84% reported significantly increased stress levels during the holiday season. In the same study, 29% reported an increase in substance use. A study conducted by the CDC  reported that since the onset of COVID-19, one in ten people have either started to use substances or have reported an increase in their substance use. These statistics cause me to have a genuine concern for others. Having worked in several substance use treatment facilities, I have seen the impact that substance use can have on people and their families. It can lead to increased symptoms of depression, anxiety, disordered eating, obsessions and compulsions, and trauma. In 2018, 3.7% of people surveyed by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reported experiencing both substance abuse concerns as well as concerns about other co-occurring disorders.

To help manage those concerns, here are some helpful tips:

  1. Develop strategies, alone or with a loved one, to help you cope with the holiday season. Coping strategies could include determining who to contact when feeling triggered to use and ways to manage triggers, like attending a 12-step or Smart Recovery
  2. Redefine what the holiday season means for you. Try things like starting new traditions that excite you, connecting with your current support system, or trying to write a gratitude journal for what you are thankful for this year.
  3. Create or spend time in safe spaces. This could include being alone in a space you feel safe or a zoom meeting with your loved ones.
  4. Know that it is okay to limit time with friends or family members, especially if being around them is triggering for you. One way to do this is to set a timer on your phone or have a friend call you to remind you that it is time to leave the gathering.

There are resources you can access through the SAMHSA website or through our Resources page. You can also contact us to set up an appointment to address your concerns around substance use. What is most important is finding a resource that fits your needs.