You are not alone in sensing a challenging time of year: millions search for answers to holiday blues annually. We imagine happy families gathering around winter dinner tables with music, trees, and comfortable fires. Beneath the fantasy, however, lies something darker—conflict, strain, loneliness, and relapse.
The problem is often holiday stress and a silent grieving process. Alongside them, alcoholism risks rise in the winter months. Thirty percent of Americans drink more during the holidays (and engage in other substance-based coping mechanisms) say national survey results. And, according to the Center for Disease Control, winters rank highest for drug-and-alcohol-related deaths, adding up to nearly 100,000 in each December alone.
Read on to see how we carry holiday grief and all the ways to remain resilient. Learn ways to cope with overwhelming stress and without alcohol. You can make the season more comfortable in sobriety.
10 Ways to Cope with Holiday Grief and Alcoholism
Loss can be unfamiliar and surreal in winter. Fond reminders stir memories of absent traditions, lost loved ones, and old patterns of behavior. They trigger negative thoughts, painful emptiness, and the risk of relapse. It’s one reason we see such an increase in drinking and deaths during the holidays.
Your participation (in parties, traditions, and cheer) can seem mandatory. Some suffer through these weeks by simply gritting their teeth and pushing on, but it helps to know a few more practical options to help you navigate difficult feelings this season.
Being attuned to your feelings without judgment helps you address sadness, rage, and disappointment. Without acknowledgment or expression, emotions build. The stress of holidays and the pain of grief can underline these moods, so try to give yourself the freedom to see, appreciate, and learn from your inner states.
Sensitive situations require strategy. If you identify emotions and describe occasions to yourself, you may be able to more clearly navigate your moods and inclinations. Make the unfamiliar into a friend by articulating your emotions and their triggers. This will prevent unexpected reactions from taking hold of you or feeding excessive drinking.
Support groups—whether for grief or addiction—exist to encourage your recovery. If you’ve lost someone or something this holiday season, seek out a group who will understand your journey and offer compassion to your experience. Make time during the week to meet up with your recovering peers, and show them your support.
With time, we lose. Those we’ve loved and attached to must, eventually, leave us. Resisting the loss when the holidays remind us of our loved ones only creates more pain. Resistance shows avoidance, leaving a victimized feeling. Spend time with yourself and openly feel how you miss your family member or friend.
When communicating your preferences or plans, be clear and honest. The holidays can be a time to slow down and reconnect with your values. Listen to what your mind, body, and emotions tell you they need this season, and express those needs as specifically as you can.
Ease pain by finding ways to help others—even family and friends. You may see that your loss is easier to bear when you can see yourself making a positive impact on another person’s life. There are countless ways to get involved with a cause you support or group that needs help as well.
Grief activates other mental health conditions like anxiety, PTSD, depression, and addiction. Feelings can tangle themselves together, especially with challenges like common seasonal affective disorders during the colder months. Talk to a licensed therapist and address your concerns with insight.
It’s okay to feel grief this holiday. It’s okay to feel stress this season. And, it’s okay to realize you may have an urge to drink or use during a difficult time. Give yourself the freedom to choose what works best for you and honor your validity. Celebrate or stay in. It’s your life, your behavioral health, your way.
Honor and remember your loss without falling into despair or relapse. Create a symbolic way to memorialize your loved one through a fresh tradition. You’ll avoid the guilt of moving on with your life, and it will be something to keep you grounded in your feelings as you move forward with new healthy habits.
Clients often need treatment for grief and substance abuse at the same time. You can begin with medical detoxification as you work toward straightening your sense of self and coping with profound loss. A good treatment center will also offer counseling or therapy individually and through support groups.
Reach The Haven New England
The Haven New England treats alcohol addiction and co-occurring disorders with evidence-based programs. If you’re grieving or feeling isolated this season, discover your options for recovery including medical detox and residential inpatient.
If you suspect you might be coping with holidays through an unhealthy addiction to alcohol, follow those feelings. Contact The Haven New England or call (844) 933-4145 to start your alcohol-free future.