Be Mindful of Your Alcohol Use During the Holidays
November 23, 2020 | 2-minute read
During the winter months, cold days are punctuated with warm holiday celebrations, time-honored family traditions, and peace and joy.
Though that picture is true for many in our nation, some people, including Veterans, may experience a holiday season filled with stress, loneliness, or depression. These feelings can lead to unhealthy behaviors, like misusing drugs or drinking too much.
From toasts at Thanksgiving to Christmas egg nog and New Year’s champagne, drinking is woven into many year-end social events. Even the celebratory atmosphere of watching a football game with family members can spur people to drink.
That’s what got to Lisa, a U.S. Marine Corps Veteran. She had completed treatment for substance misuse but hadn’t given up alcohol entirely when she went to watch a football game at her brother’s house.
Moving past trauma and drug use
“It was after a Raiders game, and I was drinking, and I decided to drive home,” Lisa explains. “I could have walked home — I only lived about a mile [away].” Instead, she ended up with a DUI and spent 30 days in treatment.
This time, though, therapy showed Lisa that her substance use was largely rooted in anger, trauma, and depression, and she was able to stop drinking for good. “When I walked out of that treatment facility, I felt like I had a new outlook on life, a new freedom, and a new happiness,” she says.
Is the season the reason?
What causes some people to drink more at holiday time? Drinking too much can begin with trying to relax or celebrate, or it may stem from an attempt to dull difficult memories or ease stressful situations. The holiday season provides both the motive and means to overindulge.
End-of-year holidays can lead to increased pressures or stress, whether from decorating a house or experiencing homelessness, planning a meal or trying to find one, buying presents for 30 people or feeling guilty that you can’t do more. The busy nature of holiday shopping, planning, decorating, and traveling can become overwhelming, and these activities can be connected with emotional stressors like seeing your family, not seeing your family (a particular concern when physical distancing is required), or having no family to see. In addition, shorter days with less sunlight can intensify depression and bring about seasonal affective disorder (also called the “winter blues”).
Resources for evaluating your alcohol use
If you are concerned about drinking or maintaining sobriety around the holidays — or throughout the year — explore these sources of information and support for Veterans:
- VA offers confidential self-assessments you can take at home to check your alcohol consumption and drug use and to screen for signs of depression.
- Read about alcohol or drug problems and the different kinds of treatment available through VA.
- Locate services and programs offered through VA or providers in the community.
- Hear from Veterans like Lisa who share candid descriptions of coping with alcohol or drug misuse and how treatment helped changed their lives.
“It just doesn’t happen overnight,” Lisa says. “You have to be willing to look at your part in things, and it’s a lifetime process. It’s OK to ask for help.”