Staying sober during holidays Reach out to trusted friends who are supportive of your decision to stay sober or seek professional psychological support if needed.

Dr Chido Rwafa-Madzvamuse-Mental Health

As discussed in previous articles, mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which an individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a meaningful contribution to their community.

Alcohol and substance use often increases dramatically over the holidays. 

As we come to the end of the year and enter the festive season, the temptation to over-indulge or to abuse alcohol and other substances can be overwhelming.

Why is it difficult to stay sober during the holidays?

End of year work functions

The pressure to drink alcohol excessively at end of year work celebrations may be intense, especially where the alcohol is paid for and easy to access. It may be difficult to turn down an invitation to a workplace function and this can make it difficult to remain sober during the festive season.

Family gatherings

Many families have a culture of heavy drinking and this can make it difficult to have family gatherings with little or no alcohol. Toxic family dynamics may also contribute to heavy drinking at family gatherings. Difficult family interactions may be powerful emotional triggers that can result in maladaptive coping mechanisms such as alcohol or substance misuse.

Poor stress management

As the year comes to an end, one may face many work and family pressures that can lead to excessive alcohol use or substance misuse.

Social isolation and loneliness

While many will be reconnecting with family and friends over the holidays, some who are disconnected from family for whatever reason or have lost their family can find the holiday season very lonely. Some then take alcohol or substances to cope with this loneliness.

Depression and anxiety

If you have a common mental health problem such as depression and anxiety, the social and emotional pressures of the holidays may make the symptoms become amplified. This may lead to alcohol and substance use as self-medication.

Having a pre-existing alcohol or substance use disorder Navigating the holidays with a pre-existing challenge with addiction can be difficult. Overcoming alcohol or substance use is a lifestyle change and holidays can make sticking to one’s boundaries and decisions for change difficult.

Common challenges associated with drinking excessively and using substances over the holidays.

Poor decision making

Alcohol and substance use affect our ability to reason and make sound decisions. Excessive alcohol and substance use can result in risky behaviour such as driving while intoxicated and risky sexual behaviour

Social dis-inhibition

Alcohol and substances of abuse can cause dis-inhibition, which in turn can cause social embarrassment, inappropriate or aggressive behaviour.

Strained relationships

Excessive alcohol and substance use often strains relationships with family and friends due to the behaviour that occurs when one is intoxicated.

Physical and mental health problems

Alcohol is linked to over 200 physical health complications and all substances of abuse have detrimental effects on the body and mind. 

How can I stay sober during the holiday season?

Identify your triggers, avoid or manage them

If you are intending to stay sober this holiday, it is important to be aware of what triggers you to use alcohol or substances. It is critical to plan how you will manage triggers if you encounter them and seek help if you need it.

Be aware of your emotions

Difficult emotions or being troubled emotionally can be a powerful emotional trigger to drink excessively or to use substances as a way to self-medicate. Consider healthier ways to express difficult emotions to avoid resorting to alcohol as a coping mechanism.

Have a plan for the holidays

Plan how you will spend your time and which functions you should attend or avoid, you cannot achieve a goal that you haven’t planned for.

Invest in alcohol/ substance free fun

If you are planning to stay sober this holiday, consider ways to have fun, reconnect with others without the use of alcohol or substances.

Reach out for support

Having a supportive network of peers is crucial if you are planning to stay sober during the holidays. Reach out to trusted friends who are supportive of your decision to stay sober or seek professional psychological support if needed.

If you think that you or someone that you know may be struggling with a mental health problem, please contact your nearest health care provider and get help.

Association of Healthcare Funders of Zimbabwe (AHFoZ) article written by Dr Chido Rwafa Madzvamutse, Consultant Psychiatrist. Feedback: Chido Rwafa Madzvamutse Whatsapp+263714987729) (www.ahfoz.org ; [email protected])

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