Holiday stress can raise chances of alcohol abuse

Holiday celebrations that include alcohol can put extra stress on those battling or recovering from alcohol addiction and their families.

“Around the holidays, alcohol abounds at parties and family gatherings,” said David Buys, health specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service. “Being around alcohol and others who might be ‘old drinking buddies’ could drive temptation higher.”

Feelings of social isolation, whether perceived or actual, and anxiety can increase during the holiday season and trigger excessive drinking, Buys said.

“Some people may be estranged from family and friends, leading to a sense of loneliness,” said Buys, who is also a researcher with the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station. “If families are together, but have strained relationships, arguments and underlying stress may cause people to drink at unhealthy levels.”

Kim Kavalsky, a licensed professional counselor and coordinator of mental health outreach at Mississippi State University, said those struggling with alcoholism should know the environment of gatherings ahead of time.

“A person in recovery from an alcohol use disorder should avoid situations where alcohol is present,” Kavalsky said. “If one can’t avoid a party with alcohol, plan to leave early before the drinking begins or attend with others who do not drink or who also are in recovery. It is also a good idea for those in recovery to talk with a member of their support system before and after attending an event where alcohol is present.”

Other ways to manage holiday stressors include observing quiet time to reflect on self-care and recovery, spending more time with a support group or therapist, creating new ways to celebrate, finding a spiritual base in the holidays and volunteering.

Friends and family should acknowledge an individual’s recovery rather than ignore it, according to guidelines from the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. This foundation provides addiction treatment services through licensed drug rehabilitation centers nationwide.

Gracious hosts could have a direct, supportive conversation with the person in recovery before the celebration and make any modifications to the party to help them feel more comfortable. It is okay to talk about the person’s recovery in the same manner another chronic illness might be discussed.

Although family and friends cannot control or cure their loved one’s addiction, they should offer help to individuals who exhibit signs of alcohol abuse. Approach the person in the right environment and when they are sober, and have available resources on alcohol recovery, Kavalsky said.

“Family and friends should definitely intervene when they think someone is abusing alcohol, but be prepared to be met with denial instead of acceptance,” Kavalsky said. “Denial is a fairly common reaction for someone in addiction. It may take repeated attempts before the individual is willing to accept help.

“As a concerned friend or family member, I would provide examples of negative events that involved alcohol and share concern. I do not encourage blaming the person in addiction,” Kavalsky said.

Once the person decides to accept help, Kavalsky recommends they meet with a mental health provider and attend Alcoholics Anonymous, or AA, meetings.

Licensed mental health providers with the Mississippi Department of Mental Health are available at 15 community mental health centers throughout the state. To find a local mental health provider, visit or call 1-877-210-8513. A list of local AA meetings can be found at

Kavalsky said she suggests family and friends attend Al-Anon meetings to get help understanding addiction and support from others who are experiencing the same circumstances. For more information about Al-Anon in Mississippi, visit

Signs of alcohol abuse include the inability to limit alcohol intake, a craving to use alcohol, an increase in tolerance, drinking more or for a longer period than intended, changes in behavior, missing normal events and activities because of alcohol, and problems at home, work or school.

For more information on alcohol abuse, visit the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism at

Susan Collins-Smith | MSU Ag Communications

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