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The Holidays Can Lead to an Increase in Opioid Use

It can be extremely stressful during the holidays for those suffering from an active opioid use disorder. An individual who takes opioids may experience lapses in judgment and extreme grogginess, which can prevent them from enjoying the holiday season. For example, a person who is actively using opioids might forget to attend a family gathering or a holiday party at work. Due to their opioid use disorder, they may also be in dire financial straits and cannot afford to buy gifts for their loved ones.

A further concern is that they are also at risk of overdosing. Opioids are still leading to an increasing number of deaths, and this is partly due to laced opioids purchased on the street. Therefore, accidental overdoses on opioids can only happen once.

The holiday season, however, can be an ideal opportunity to start fresh and recover from opioid addiction. When it comes to opioid use disorders, there is no wrong time to seek treatment.

A Dangerous Time of Year

Drug- and alcohol-related deaths are most prevalent during the holidays, according to the CDC. A combination of the holidays and winter weather can be extremely taxing on the mind and body. In fact, American adults suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) in 6 percent of cases, whereas the "winter blues" affect 14 percent.

Since 1999, nearly 91,000 alcohol- and drug-induced deaths have been reported just during the month of December, according to the CDC. For those with opioid use disorder, the most wonderful time of year is anything but. Family conflict, financial strain, loneliness, grief, and seasonal affective disorder can replace the scene of happily-gathered families around a Christmas tree. During the holiday season, most Americans are either extremely or moderately stressed, according to American Addiction Centers.

In addition, the holidays may be a time for relapse, especially if stress triggers are present. As well as the stress of the holidays, society places external pressure on individuals to always feel “happy and festive.” This time of year can trigger memories of past holiday parties when drugs were involved or memories of old friends who used drugs.

Signs and Symptoms of Opioid Intoxication

Knowing the signs and symptoms of opioid intoxication is essential if you are a loved one or family member of someone struggling with an opioid use disorder.

  • Excessive drowsiness

  • Confusion

  • Speech that is slurred

  • Mood swings

  • Constricted pupils (meiosis)

  • Respiratory depression (shallow and short breathing)

  • Weight loss

  • Constipation

  • Fresh puncture wounds or track marks on the skin

  • Nasal bleeding (if heroin is snorted)

How to Protect Yourself This Holiday Season

Those in recovery are faced with special challenges during the holiday season, according to research from American Addiction Centers. In the face of stress, anxiety, and depression brought on by the holidays, it may be helpful to understand how people have maintained sobriety.

During the holidays, respondents to their survey reported that eating healthy and exercising regularly were helpful methods for maintaining sobriety. A successful recovery from drugs or alcohol depends heavily on establishing and maintaining healthy habits, according to researchers in the field.

Among other helpful tactics, survey respondents recommended prioritizing sleep, spending time with family, meditating, and being strict with a budget.

It is equally important to understand the dangers, triggers, and strategies needed to manage anxiety, depression, stress, and addiction. Don't be afraid to ask for help if things get overwhelming.

Supporting Someone in Recovery During the Holidays

The holidays are a great time to offer support to someone who is struggling to stay sober. These tips will help you support a loved one or friend struggling with addiction during the holiday season.

  • Make sure your expectations are realistic. The goal of creating the perfect holiday is often unattainable for most people. Your newly sober loved one shouldn't act as though nothing is wrong, either. Perhaps they are dealing with difficult emotions like shame or guilt, or find it difficult to be around lots of people. Before planning a gathering or event, talk about what they are willing to do and respect their limitations.

  • Keep the past at bay. The effects of addiction are widespread. The past behaviors and actions of your addicted loved one likely hurt or irritated you or others in their lives. Bringing up past grievances or forcing them to apologize during the holidays is not a good idea. The result is that your gathering might be spoiled, and stirring up these negative emotions may also lead your loved one to relapse. Let go of the past and trust there will be opportunities to discuss it later.

  • Make your event sober-friendly. Many holiday gatherings feature wine, champagne, and cocktails. Alcohol may trigger a relapse for those recovering from opioid addiction. Plan activities that are sober-friendly for everyone instead, such as baking cookies, volunteering, or decorating your home.

  • Encourage the recovery journey of your loved one. The disease of addiction is real. It takes strength, resilience, and courage to break free from this chronic condition. Now is the time to encourage your loved one, despite past hurts. You should let them know that every day they remain sober is a victory for them.

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