For many people, the holidays typically signify a time of celebration. For others, this time of year can exacerbate negative feelings. And in 2020, we’re all living on a spectrum of emotions. Regardless of personal circumstances or the state of the world, the season is notorious for alcohol overindulgence. Some may feel inclined or may be triggered to drink excessively.
“During the pandemic, there is already a significant increase in alcohol use given the increased anxiety related to death, fear of contracting the virus, uncertainty about the future, and financial instability,” said Ayana Jordan, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine. “In the holiday season, we generally see an increase of alcohol and other substances for a variety of reasons ― from social gatherings to coping with loneliness.”
Navigating drinking may be more difficult than ever during this time of year. It can be hard to tell if you are just overdoing it because of the holidays or misusing alcohol.
Here are some expert-approved indicators that your holiday drinking habits may be a bigger problem.
You do not feel like you can enjoy holiday events without alcohol.
If you feel like you can only get into the holiday spirit with a few rounds of drinks, chances are you may have a problem with alcohol.
“There are certainly people who only struggle in certain environments and circumstances,” said Stacy Cohen, a psychiatrist and founder of The Moment. “Some individuals may not be daily drinkers, but can have a physical dependency to alcohol when it comes to the holiday season ― which still has negative consequences.”
You find yourself not being able to function without alcohol.
“Some alarming signs are impairment in functioning, like when you’re not able to perform the usual activities in life without alcohol,” Jordan said.
These red flags are usually apparent in your day to day, like if you need to have a drink with every meal or find yourself reaching for the bar cart multiple times while speaking to a friend.
You feel like you need a drink to cope with the stressors of the pandemic.
If you feel socially isolated this holiday season because of the pandemic, you’re not alone. However, leaning on alcohol to cope with your stress may result in short-term satisfaction, but not long-term fulfillment.
“There are more people than ever drinking in isolation as people are stressed due to the current state of the world,” Cohen said. “However, there are a lot of alcohol-free activities that can increase natural endorphins and get our feel-good hormones flowing, like a game night or walk outdoors.”
You snag drinks before the drinking event.
If you’re eagerly looking forward to drinking and even start “pre-gaming” before the holiday event, this is a sign that you have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol.
“A red flag is always thinking about when to use alcohol, like a longing or craving for drinking,” Jordan said.
You hide alcohol or drink secretly and deny drinking in the open.
“An unhealthy attachment to the topic of alcohol, such as defensiveness when drinking is discussed or denying alcohol is definitely an issue,” Cohen said.
She adds that communication is key when treating alcohol use disorders, as it can open doors to new possibilities and insights.
If you tend to drink secretly or get concerned with how much others see you are drinking, this is an alarming sign that can definitely increase your risk of alcohol misuse.
You experience withdrawal symptoms when your drinking is paused.
If you’re having withdrawal symptoms when you pause your drinking for some time, chances are your body has become used to that alcohol consumption.
“Withdrawal symptoms include feeling shaky without the alcohol, having headaches, sweating, heart beating fast and experiencing hallucinations,” Jordan said. She added that common hallucinations are feeling like things are crawling on you and seeing things that are not there.
You attempt to quit, but are unable to stop drinking.
If you cannot say “no” to a drink or continue to engage in excessive drinking, it’s probably a sign that you need to reevaluate your alcohol habits. That may include a vast overhaul to some areas of your life.
“Everyone’s recovery is different, but generally people in early sobriety are best off avoiding people, places and things that can remind them of drinking,” Cohen said.
If you feel that one or more of these indicators apply to you, chat with your health care provider or reach out to an alcohol specialist to get a better assessment of your situation. There are ways to feel in control of your mental and physical health when it comes to drinking.
Need help with substance use disorder or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.