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The Holidays Increase Mental Health Challenges, New Survey from Caron Treatment Centers

2015 holiday season

The holidays are an upbeat time for many people. However, for many others, the holidays can lead to stress and anxiety, workplace pressure, and potentially dangerous consequences from substance use, according to a new national survey. The online survey, commissioned by Caron Treatment Centers, a leading not-for-profit provider of addiction and behavioral healthcare treatment, and conducted by Harris Poll among 2,018 U.S. adults, reveals the holiday season takes a toll both mentally and physically for many and even prompts public safety concerns.

High Expectations and Perfectionism during the Holidays Can Lead to Disappointment, Increased Anxiety and Social Media Avoidance

While many adults (70%) say the holidays are their favorite time of year, nearly 1 in 3 adults (30%) say that compared to other times of the year, the holiday season triggers mental health challenges, such as feelings of anxiety, depression, or isolation. More than 2 in 5 (44%) say they strive for perfection during the holidays and 1 in 3 adults (32%) say their high expectations are usually met with disappointment.

Nearly 2 in 5 Americans (38%) note that socializing with extended family during the holidays is stressful, and for half of adults (50%), alcohol plays a role in their family’s holiday gatherings, including helping individuals to reduce anxiety and stress (11%).

The survey also reveals that those using social media present their lives as happy and some even harbor resentment against others:

  • The majority of adults who use social media (68%) say they tend to only share happy photos and status updates during the holidays
  • Nearly 1 in 3 who use social media (28%) try to avoid social media during the holidays
  • More than two in five (41%) young adults (18-34) say they’ve been jealous of others’ photos on social media during the holidays

“Social media can be a great way to network and connect with family and friends. However, it’s important to recognize that social media use can also trigger depression and feelings of envy and insecurity,” said Dr. Harris Stratyner, Ph.D., Regional Clinical Vice President of Caron Treatment Centers’ New York Recovery Center. “Caron’s survey shows that impact is evident during the holiday season. Withdrawing from typical activities can be a symptom of a larger problem. We encourage people experiencing these issues to seek support.”

Adults Admit Participating in and Witnessing Unhealthy and Even Life-Threatening Behavior during the Holiday Season

The survey shows many adults admit they don’t treat their bodies as well during the holidays as they do other times of year. The majority of adults (54%) say they eat more unhealthy foods and 16% say they drink more alcohol than they typically do.

While both men and women admit to engaging in more unhealthy behaviors during the holiday season, women appear more likely to eat unhealthy foods, while men are more likely to drink more alcohol (unhealthy foods: men, 48% vs. women, 59%; drink more alcohol: men, 19% vs. women, 13%).

According to Caron’s survey, the majority of adults who drink alcohol (54%) say they’ve experienced at least one negative consequence after drinking alcohol during the holidays, including the physical toll alcohol can take on the body. Some responses include (but are not limited to):

  • Waking up with a hangover (37%)
  • Developing a bad headache or migraine (24%)
  • Vomiting (22%)
  • Saying things they later regret to people around them (16%)

The survey also demonstrates that many people have observed others experiencing negative and potentially dangerous consequences after drinking too much, including:

  • Passing out (32%)
  • Blacking out and not remembering what happened (24%)
  • Having an accident (e.g. falling) (18%)
  • Having sex with someone they wouldn’t have if not intoxicated (16%)
  • Receiving a DUI/DWI charge (13%)
  • Getting into a car accident (10%)

It’s important that people are aware of the risks associated with the behaviors above, especially when it comes to drinking and driving which puts others at risk. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), every day almost 30 people in the United States die in motor vehicle crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver.

“Mental health and addiction issues don’t take a holiday,” said Dr. Joseph Garbely, Medical Director at Caron Treatment Centers. “We know that for many people this season brings up a lot of painful issues that can exacerbate behavioral health symptoms. We want families to know that they are not alone and that asking for help can be a critical first step.”

Alcohol Use Often Encouraged as Part of Workplace Culture

Caron’s survey finds more than 1 in 5 adults who’ve attended workplace holiday parties (22%) have felt pressure to drink either to fit in, because their boss was encouraging them, or to feel more at ease. The majority of U.S. adults (85%) believe it is appropriate to drink at a work holiday party and nearly 1 in 5 (17%) say it’s appropriate for someone to drink as much as they can handle as long as they’re not drinking on an empty stomach and/or driving.

Of those who attended workplace holiday parties, some (11%) report experiencing physical and social effects from drinking, including: vomiting, experiencing a headache or passing out, needing to apologize to colleagues, having their behavior negatively impacting their standing at work, people posting embarrassing photos/videos of them online that were taken while they were drunk, or getting drunk quickly from mixing alcohol with medicine.

Men appear more likely than women to use alcohol as a crutch to survive holiday work events (26% vs. 18% feeling internal/external pressure, respectively). And subsequently, they are also more likely to experience negative (both physical and social) consequences. Men are more likely than women to say it is appropriate for someone to drink “as much as they can handle as long as they are not driving” at a work holiday party (15% vs. 10%). Similarly, men are also more likely than women to say they’ve witnessed the impact alcohol has on someone else during the holiday season.

  • Men who’ve attended a workplace holiday party are more likely than women to report their boss has encouraged them to drink (10% vs. 6%) and they’ve consumed more alcohol than they wanted to because it is part of workplace culture (10% vs. 5%).
  • Similarly, men also are more likely than women to say they’ve witnessed the impact alcohol has on someone else during the holiday season, particularly embarrassing themselves in front of colleagues (34% vs. 24%) and calling in sick to work the next day (29% vs. 22%).
  • About 1 in 10 adults (8%) have attempted to restrict their own behavior, due to past negative experiences drinking alcohol.

“Drinking too much at a workplace party is one of the quickest ways to derail your career,” said Doug Tieman, Caron’s President and CEO and author of Flying Over the Pigpen: Leadership Lessons from Growing Up on a Farm. “In today’s world of competitive workplaces and the increased use of smart phones, you really have to be mindful of your behavior at any company event and the holidays are no different. If you find that despite your best efforts you can’t stop drinking, I encourage you to seek help as soon as possible. Take responsibility and you may prevent devastating consequences.”

The holidays can be a time of joy and celebration, but many are also struggling with mental health and substance abuse issues. To learn more about signs and symptoms that may indicate you or someone you know may need help, visit or follow us on Twitter: @CaronTreatment.


This survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Poll on behalf of Caron Treatment Centers between November 5-9, 2015 among 2,018 U.S. adults. Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted, where necessary, to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability (random) sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, the words “margin of error” are avoided as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in the panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

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