Here are some sobering statistics. According to a survey of 1000 Americans, 47 per cent of men and 40 per cent of women binge drink more on New Year’s Eve than during any other holiday. In a study done by Alcohol Monitoring Systems, though they were fully aware that they were being monitored, over 450,000 DUI offenders still drank 33 per cent more between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.
Why is it so hard to stay sober during the holidays?
“The holidays are a much harder time to stay sober because many of us suffer from seasonal depression,” Daniel McGhee, Community Director for Hopes Horizon Treatment Center told us. “The lack of sunlight, the cold air, being stuck indoors are all catalysts for depression. Many people have lost loved ones or have ruined relationships and the holidays remind them of their loss. It is the hardest time for most addicts and alcoholics dealing with depression and anxiety. Self-medicating those symptoms with drugs and alcohol is usually the easiest, most available solution, but the most destructive in the end.”
McGhee knows first hand the havoc alcohol can cause in one's own life and how hard it is to stay away from temptations during the holidays. But he has managed to overcome his own challenges. McGhee has been sober for 18 years and is now an entrepreneur and well-known community activist in Baltimore.
“Only a recovered alcoholic or addict themself knows whether they are strong enough to withstand the temptation that a holiday party might bring on to them, or the level of temptation that may be at that party,” McGhee told us. “I believe that parties full of strangers and uncomfortable situations are much riskier than those that are full of families, friends and coworkers. We must choose wisely.”
McGhee gave Theravive seven tips for addicts to safeguard themselves while in tempting situations:
1. Always drive yourself or have your own way of getting to and from the party.
“If we choose to attend these parties there are certain safeguards that we should have in place,” McGhee told us. “Do not put yourself in a situation where you could be stuck there if things become uncomfortable.”
2. Always have an escape plan.
“If I start feeling anxious or uncomfortable I want to let the people who came with me know that they need to arrange another ride home or leave early with me,” McGhee told us. “I make an excuse in my mind ahead of time for leaving just in case.”
3. Always have a non-alcoholic drink in hand.
“Even if I have to bring in my own bottle of water, it eases the uncomfortability to have a drink in hand while others drink,” McGhee told us.
4. Have at least one accountability partner.
“Make sure there’s at least one friend or family member there that has your back, and is familiar with your situation,” McGhee explained. “This has to be someone that you trust to prevent you from making a bad decision if it comes down to that.”
5. Be vocal.
“I did not hide my addiction/alcoholism. I was very unashamed of it,” McGhee told us. “If someone asked me why I didn't drink when I turned down their offer, I told the truth. The more people that understand why I remain sober, the better.”
6. ‘Trust me, I'm no fun when I drink’ is a simple reply that can work wonders.
“Don't argue with people that insist that you can have just one,” McGhee told us. “They want you to have fun with them, and see you loosen up and don't understand why you can't. That one sentence says all that you need to say. Walk away after that.”
7. Do not get angry or jealous of those who can recreationally use drugs and alcohol.
“Don't feel left out or incomplete. We all have our different strengths and weaknesses,” McGhee explained to us. “We have our different paths and purposes as well. I've turned my weaknesses into my strengths. Enjoy the entertainment that drunk people provide and if it’s too tempting, leave.”
If you feel an urge to use, McGhee also advises to ‘tell on your yourself’ to someone you trust that has your best interest at heart, and then leave and get somewhere comfortable. Friends and family can best support a recovering addict during the holidays by being aware if there is a person in recovery attending the holiday function, and providing non-alcoholic drink options. Check on them occasionally and make sure that they are ok without making them feel different.
“Do it in a casual, non-prodding way,” McGhee told us. “Addicts and alcoholics may clam up and disassociate from the rest of the party if they start to feel uncomfortable. Let them have their space. Don't turn all of the attention on them. If they feel the need to leave early, it’s probably for a good reason that they don't want to share in front of a crowd or explain at that moment. Trust that it’s for a good reason.”
Lastly, no means no.
“Too many well-intentioned family members try to force drinks on a person in sobriety, and insist that they can have just one,” McGhee cautions. “They cannot. The alcoholic/addict that is clean knows what’s best for them. That one drink could ruin their entire life. Don't push it."
Patricia Tomasi is a mom, maternal mental health advocate, journalist, and speaker. She writes regularly for the Huffington Post Canada, focusing primarily on maternal mental health after suffering from severe postpartum anxiety twice. You can find her Huffington Post biography here. Patricia is also a Patient Expert Advisor for the North American-based, Maternal Mental Health Research Collective and is the founder of the online peer support group - Facebook Postpartum Depression & Anxiety Support Group - with over 1500 members worldwide. Blog: www.patriciatomasiblog.wordpress.com