With the holidays come family traditions, decadent treats and, of course, holiday parties. And where there are holiday parties, there is usually a steady flow of alcohol. During this time of year, drinking becomes a socially acceptable, if not expected, part of the celebrations. Not surprisingly, both alcohol sales and drunk driving accidents skyrocket.
In these next few weeks, a lot of people will drink who would ordinarily abstain, and more serious problems arise for people who have spent the rest of the year struggling to keep their drinking under control. Here are five signs alcohol is detracting from the fun rather than making your holiday merry and bright:
When alcohol stops being a fun way to mingle at the holiday party and becomes the focus of every special occasion or the only way you can cope with the stress of the season, it’s time to reassess the role alcohol is playing in your holiday celebrations. Although alcohol may seem to relax you or help you forget your problems, the effects are short-lived. As a depressant, alcohol use actually amplifies stress in the long term.
Helping someone into treatment for addiction is a gift that yields a lifetime of returns for the individual struggling with chemical dependency, but its benefits extend much further than that. Loved ones, typically driven by unselfish motives to help turn the addict’s life around, also stand to benefit in very personal ways:
Living with an addict is traumatic and life-altering in ways only affected loved ones can fully understand. Everyone in direct contact gets swallowed up by the addiction. Once a respite from the outside world, the home becomes a battlefield where trust and honesty are replaced with worry, resentment and a constant state of alert. Rates of domestic violence and mental illness go up. Daily life becomes unworkable.
Treatment improves quality of life not only for the addict, but also for the people who live with and care for them. In a study from the Central Institute of Mental Health (CIMH) in Mannheim, Germany, loved ones reported significant improvements in quality of life scores (from 60.6 to 68 on a 100-point scale) after the addict completed inpatient or outpatient treatment. These changes impacted not only their social relationships and living environment but also their own mental and physical health.
There is little evidence that depression or suicide rates rise during the holidays, but the season is certainly known for its excesses. Although just as many people (if not more) need help for drug and alcohol addiction, fewer people reach out for treatment in the last couple months of the year. Addicts generally object to being away from home during family gatherings at Thanksgiving or Christmas, but for some families, seeking help during the holidays could be the greatest gift you give this year. Here are a few ironies that keep addicts sick over the holidays:
Even in the face of serious consequences, some addicts put off getting help so that they can get through the holiday festivities without disappearing off to rehab. Some party even harder around the holidays, flying under the radar of loved ones because it is socially acceptable to overdo the celebrating. Unfortunately, the stress of the season can exacerbate substance abuse, leaving an addict spiraling out of control.
The day before Thanksgiving, described in the media as Black Wednesday, is one of the biggest partying nights of the year, with the National Health Institute estimating that 10.8 million underage drinkers binge that day. According to Nielsen reports, alcohol consumption increases dramatically in December and in the week leading up to the New Year. All of this alcohol fuels as much as a 25 percent increase in alcohol-related traffic incidents, prompting President Barack Obama to declare December National Impaired Driving Prevention Month.
When most people contemplate addiction, they think about cigarettes, alcohol, and illicit drugs like crystal methamphetamine, cocaine, and heroin. And certainly those substances are highly addictive—they are incredibly difficult to quit once a person is hooked, and prolonged use/abuse typically results in any number of negative life consequences. But these obvious potential addictions are far from the only possible problem areas.
Though addiction has traditionally been viewed purely in terms of substances, the American Society of Addiction Medicine now embraces a much broader definition that encompasses not only drug and alcohol abuse, but process (behavioral) addictions. Of course, everything we ingest is a substance of some sort, and everything we do is a behavior of some sort, so just about anything can become an addiction. Below is a short list of things many of us eat, drink, or do on a regular basis that can and sometimes do turn into addictions.
Caffeine is a stimulant that occurs naturally in coffee, tea, and yerba mate plants. It is also added to numerous consumer products, including a wide variety of sodas, some candies, and most “energy” drinks. Regular caffeine users, even those who take in as little as 100 milligrams per day—the amount in half a cup of coffee—can develop physical dependency and experience withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, irritability, nausea, and fatigue when they don’t get their fix. While some people may think they just like coffee or other caffeinated products, many actually consume caffeine to stave off withdrawal symptoms (morning lethargy, mid-afternoon headache, etc). For the most part, the consequences of caffeine addiction are mild, though some people do experience anxiety or rapid heartbeat when caffeine is consumed to excess, and others may miss work or social engagements while dealing with symptoms of withdrawal.
Here’s a scary thought: Brain imaging shows that high-sugar, high-fat foods activate the same regions of the brain as heroin, opium, and morphine. In other words, processed sugar and fat (along with processed wheat and salt) stimulate the rewards center of the brain, causing many …