Mental Health Matters: Balancing fun, dangers of holiday imbibing (opinion) |

Mental Health Matters: Balancing fun, dangers of holiday imbibing (opinion)

Andrew Whyman
File photo |

A world of happiness or a world of hurt. To a point, it depends on whether your candidate won the presidency. And now we contend with the holidays. If you believe in “Make America Great Again,” you are undoubtedly in a celebratory way. If Hillary let you down, or the fact that Trump triumphed, not so much.

Either way, the holidays are widely billed as “the best time of the year.” What’s not to like? Gatherings with family and friends, gaiety and laughter, fond recollections of times gone by, and a toast or more, to future success. At least that’s what the genius of advertising would have you believe.

But then, looking back, there is also illness, loss, death, defeat, deceit and cowardly retreat. Everyone brings something to the table.

During the holidays, we celebrate our good fortune, and if we are fortunate, draw closer to those we care about most. But the holidays also pose risk, particularly when there’s a history of emotional trouble, family turmoil or overindulgence in drugs and/or alcohol.

It’s not surprising to learn that alcohol and drug consumption increase over the holiday season. According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse, alcohol beverage companies make over one-quarter of a full years profit during this celebratory season.

During the Christmas period, alcohol-related automobile fatalities increase 30%, and over New Year’s, they go up a scandalous 50%. And 40% of all traffic related deaths during the holidays involve drunk drivers.

Still, during the holidays, you’re supposed to have fun. Merriment is the order of the day. Good news if you’re in a celebratory way. Not so much if you’re isolated and depressed.

Rates of depression escalate over the holidays and suicides peak right after that, both statistics indicators of holiday stress.

The holidays produce both potential reward and potential risk. With that in mind, here are my annual Top Tips for a successful holiday season:

1. Celebrate sobriety. This is a bit trickier than it might seem. If you live in the Recovery Community, sobriety means absolute abstinence. If, like most of us, you’re not part of that world, it can mean moderate use, not being intoxicated, not being impaired, or an absence of problems due to alcohol or drugs. In other words, enjoy yourself, but don’t overdo it.

2. Enjoy opportunities to renew or enrich relationships or mend fences. Everyone has something to offer. Cultivate it.

3. While there is “no place like home for the holidays,” that’s precisely why you need to contemplate that visit ahead of time. Home may be where your substance abuse was first nurtured or where old, off-putting memories trigger childish behavior.

4. If you are part of the Recovery Community demanding absolute abstinence, make sure you have a clearly defined strategy before the party. Rehearse how you will handle any social discomfort now.

5. If a “ little bit” of alcohol or drug is your program, make sure you tally up your limits ahead of time. Too many of us drive off into a ditch because we leave that door open.

6. If you’re socially isolated and enjoy it, don’t fret over those advertisements showing partying people living it up.

7. If you’re socially isolated and don’t enjoy it, get out and about. Go to public places. Don’t mope. Hit the gym. Go for a walk. Engage the world around you.

8. For those near the edge, the precipice, the falling-down point, the risks of substance abuse and disaster escalate. So, if you’re coping with job loss or demotion, financial or legal problems, relationship issues, newfound or recent sobriety, the likelihood of a big mistake escalates. Know that and take precautions.

9. Make sure you know that drunk driving and drugged driving are the same thing.

10. And last, make the holidays work for you. We all have something to celebrate.

Incline Village resident Andrew Whyman, MD, is a clinical and forensic psychiatrist. He can be reached for comment at

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