Everyone can agree – 2020 has been an extremely challenging year. With the pandemic version of the holiday season reaching its crescendo on New Year’s Eve, many people feel compelled to celebrate the end of this difficult year more than ever. However, I want to encourage everyone to be mindful of how they relax and take care of themselves during this transition to 2021.
Even during this unusual holiday season – where many people did not attend parties or see extended family – the holidays still brought their own set of stressors. Fear and uncertainty triggered by the pandemic may even put us at a higher risk of turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms.
Overconsumption of alcohol and other substances around this time of the year was normal before the pandemic. Now, the stressors of the day-to-day life of this not normal time substantially increased the use of substances for many. Compound that usage and corresponding higher tolerances with the need to celebrate the end of 2020, the negative consequences exceed the benefits.
You may not realize it, but there’s a lot at stake:
Your tolerance for alcohol may have changed. If you are not only drinking more, but also drinking more frequently, your tolerance levels go up. It takes more alcohol to achieve the same desired effect.
This past year, there were significant restrictions on bars and restaurants. If you are used to going out and socializing and drinking at a bar – and you have not been drinking at home instead – your tolerance may be lower, because you haven't been drinking as much. Suddenly, drinking more may affect your body more than you expect. You also may misjudge how much you are actually drinking because you are not getting the same euphoric effect, or it takes more alcohol to feel anything.
Arrests for DUIs are up. It is an odd statistic, since people are generally driving less than before, but in many parts of the country, arrests for drunk driving have increased during the pandemic. There are also tragically more people driving under the influence of marijuana and other substances. The bottom-line is driving under the influence is never acceptable and may be a symptom of a substance use disorder.
Prescriptions are on the rise. More healthcare professionals are prescribing anti-anxiety medication to help people cope with these challenging times. Therefore, people consuming substances while drinking during the holidays are also putting themselves at risk for an accidental overdose.
Impairment can impact your exposure to COVID-19. Your critical decision-making abilities have diminished long before you feel intoxicated. You may start out practicing safe social distancing with your mask on, but as the evening goes on and the alcohol flows, it is easy to forget and let down your guard.
Celebrating in Healthier Ways
Instead of abusing our bodies and our brains, we can boost our mood by choosing healthy ways to decrease stress. My recommendation for people who are trying to feel better is that it is best achieved through exercise and diet, solid sleep, helping others and being in nature.
Connection is also vital right now – even if that means getting together virtually. In fact, a recent study showed some people were more connected during the pandemic than before because they made a greater effort. They lost the old ways of staying in touch – going to work or out to social events – but they made a bigger effort to “spend time” virtually with family members and friends. Ultimately, connecting with family and loved ones in an authentic way is the most important part of celebrating the holidays.
There are lots of other ways to experience joy without falling into the trap of overconsumption. You might even find that participating in a run at midnight on New Year's Eve is far more festive than drowning in a bottle.
Editor’s note: If you or a loved one are struggling; we encourage you to reach out and ask for ask. This is an incredibly difficult time and whether you have never been in recovery or you’ve been in recovery for 30 years, you will not be judged. We want you to know that you’re not alone and there are resources available to support you.