The holidays are a great way to spread cheer and appreciate family and friends, but they can also be stressful. With all of the holiday cheer can come financial strains, awkward holiday parties and over-indulging in food and alcohol.
For people in recovery, this time of year can be especially difficult — at least many assume. Are relapse rates higher around the Christmas holiday season than during the rest of the year? According to a National Institutes of Health (NIH) study of college students on the alcohol consumed during a 12-month year, this assumption is actually inaccurate. Hardly any published studies exist that show trends in relapse rates around specific holidays such as Christmas, Thanksgiving, Independence Day and Labor Day.
What is it about holidays?
Because people might be around more alcohol during the social, wintery holiday season, it might seem that relapse rates would rise as a result. Many published blogs focus on how to avoid relapse during the holidays and share personal accounts of individuals who relapsed during a Christmas holiday. Yet no scientific studies have proven this concept and, therefore, a person cannot state with certainty that relapse rates are higher around the Christmas holidays.
According to a graph published in the NIH study, drinking increases around holidays in general, most likely because people have that time off work and spend their free day with friends and family, and most likely around alcohol. After all, for many the Fourth of July would not be the same without a cold beer and a hot dog. Any holiday, regardless of the season, can potentially be a stressful day for recovering addicts, as popular culture associates alcohol with parties for every holiday year-round. For example, it is impossible to watch the Super Bowl without coming across at least a handful of commercials for beer and other alcoholic beverages.
What’s really important?
It would be interesting to see hard statistics on relapse rates around each holiday, but this would be a difficult study to do, as many rehabilitation centers would need to distribute a questionnaire about relapse rates to each patient who is admitted, and even then the results could be biased. It is easier to document the rise of DUIs around the holiday season, because those are recorded under the law. When a person relapses, who is around to record it and send the data to researchers? The assumption that relapse rates increase during the holiday season could actually be a myth that could potentially be disproven or proven if a proper study is performed. The important thing is to stay safe around the holidays.
Sovereign Health of California treats many different forms of addictions and is open year-round. For more information about services, feel free to call our 24/7 helpline.
Written by Kristen Fuller, M.D., Sovereign Health Group writer