For most people, Christmas is a time of celebration, but for those who have alcohol problems or addiction issues, it is a period fraught with danger and difficulty. These difficulties will be profoundly evident this year, the first post covid Christmas since lockdowns ended. For many people who lived through the pandemic alcohol is an integral part of Christmas and New Year celebrations, and the culture of festive excess not only makes alcohol and other substances more accessible, but also makes society much more likely to condone any sort of antisocial behaviour brought on by intoxication.
Alcohol is the number one substance addiction treated among UK clients at Asia’s leading addiction treatment facility The Cabin, located in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Historically at The Cabin, 72% of all Britons treated for alcohol addiction are men and 28% women. Of those who have undergone treatment for alcohol addiction since we opened a decade ago, 35% are in a working professional role, with the highest percentage aged between 38-48 years old.
“The festive season is an excuse for over-indulgence for many and unfortunately, alcoholics disappear into normality at Christmas because everyone is drinking too much. This is ideal for an addict because they can fade into the background, and for once no one is pulling them up on it,” says Lee Hawker, Clinical Lead at The Cabin.
An acceptable excuse to drink is the worst possible thing that can happen to a problem drinker or alcoholic, as it leads to uncontrollable drinking with often serious consequences. This is one of the reasons why there is always a dramatic increase in the number of people seeking treatment at The Cabin immediately after the Christmas period.
Three Types of Drinkers
At The Cabin we have seen three main categories that users of alcohol fall into; social drinkers, alcohol abusers or alcoholic drinkers. Most people who drink alcohol will not have any problems with their consumption; however, for those who do have a problem, this can gradually worsen over the Christmas season.
Social DrinkerA social drinker is a person who drinks on an occasional basis and will rarely have any problems or negative consequences from drinking. Friends or family do not complain about their consumption. The social drinker does not think about drinking often or need to drink often. They may go out to have a few drinks and are able to handle their alcohol intake without experiencing a loss of control. They are not prone to extreme mood swings, fighting or being violent.
Alcohol AbuserAn alcohol abuser is someone who begins to take their alcohol consumption too far. Their social drinking becomes more frequent, often with heavy to extreme consumption. Their drinking habit may become physically harmful to themselves and others around them. Alcohol may begin to occupy their thoughts; the abuser may begin to feel like they need to have a drink more often. An alcohol abuser’s family and friends may start to notice changes in their attitude and their daily behaviour. The social drinker has become an alcohol abuser, but still has a sense of control and is not yet an alcoholic.
AlcoholicAn alcoholic drinker is a person who has developed an addiction to alcohol. They are unable to control or set limits for their consumption. Most alcoholics start as a social drinker and then move on to an alcohol abuser. An alcoholic will have developed a tolerance and will need to drink more alcohol to get the same effects. Once their addiction is active, they will have developed an even greater tolerance from when they were only an abuser. It may seem as though alcohol begins to control the alcoholic’s life. Their job, their family, social circle, and health are all jeopardized. Despite these negative consequences, the alcoholic is unable to stop drinking. The alcoholic may begin to deny that they have a problem; this denial can make it even more difficult for the person to get help.
Alcohol addiction is a disease; it will have had a profound influence upon the neurochemicals in the individual’s brain and will have increased the salience of alcohol, making alcohol the most important thing in their life. Unlike the social drinker or alcohol abuser, the alcoholic will experience physical and emotional withdrawal symptoms when they try to cease their drinking. Whilst these symptoms will vary from person to person, they are physically, emotionally, and mentally draining, frequently overwhelming, and sometimes life-threatening.
Once a person is an alcoholic, in order to overcome their addiction, they will usually need a medically supervised detox, and to get structured help and support at a rehab such as The Cabin in order to overcome their addiction,”
From social drinker to alcohol abuser and ultimately to alcoholic, each type of drinker is different. When it comes to alcohol consumption, most people will remain either completely abstinent or fall into the category of social drinkers. For those who do end up abusing alcohol or becoming alcoholic, they must be brought to a place of understanding as to just how harmful and even deadly their consumption has become. Alcohol consumption in the UK increased dramatically throughout the pandemic and as the first post COVID Christmas approaches here at The Cabin we believe there is little evidence to suggest that there will be a significant drop off over the 2022 holiday season. For those coping with problematic alcohol use or alcohol addiction, this first Christmas without lockdowns is likely to be one of the toughest years.
10 Tips for Staying Sober During the post COVID Holidays
The holiday season can be an extremely challenging time for those trying to reduce or manage their alcohol intake. Endless holiday parties, shopping, expectations from friends and family, and memories of maybe indulging in drugs and alcohol during at this time during the pandemic, are all stressors that can make it seem as though the world is testing your attempts to not go too far. Given that the pandemic is in our rear-view mirror it makes sense to go out and party, right? Not so fast. Lee Hawker at The Cabin, Thailand suggests that while stressful for most, the time surrounding Christmas and New Year’s doesn’t have to be at odds with your commitment to keeping a level head – even when it seems that all those around you are losing theirs.
Christmas is a time to be extra vigilant about your recovery and for staying sober if you are already in recovery,”
However, many people may not recognize that the risk for problematic drinking over this first Christmas since the lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 is much higher.”
Lee recommends that
This year, planning for yourself is one of the best ways you can keep on track as you prepare to celebrate the holidays while staying level headed and not overdoing it. These are my ten tips for how you can limit the impact of excessive drinking throughout this lockdown free holiday season and to ultimately ensure your Christmas is manageable and rewarding”
Having a few lines ready for when you may have to turn down yet another drink, or turn down a holiday party all together, can make these instances of temptation less stressful. Unless you feel comfortable doing so, you do not have to disclose that you are trying to limit your alcohol consumption to everyone you encounter. You do not owe anyone an explanation for why you do not want to have that next drink. A simple “No thank you, but I’ll take a Diet Coke,” is sufficient. Being prepared and planning for what you will say will make staying sober or limiting your alcohol intake over the holidays much less stressful.
Remind yourself why staying sober is important to you
Think about why you decided to cut down, write it down, and carry it with you. For example, ‘I am doing this for me, for my wife, for my kids’ or ‘I’m cutting back because it allows me to lead a happier and healthier life.’ When the temptation to partake in drugs or excessive alcohol consumption arises, you can read this over to yourself, reminding yourself why you agreed to keep within safe limits.
Similarly, write a letter to yourself from your future (maybe you are sober) self: ‘How I made it through the first covid free holiday season sober.’ List the things you will do to make this time enjoyable, healthy, and sober and why it is important to you. Read it when you are feeling especially vulnerable and need a reminder.
Choose holiday parties wisely
The holidays are a time spent with friends and family, so avoiding every party you receive an invitation too is not realistic. Occasionally, there will be gatherings that are important to you – that you wish to attend – where alcohol will be flowing freely. If you choose to attend a party where alcohol or drugs are present, ask yourself honestly: ‘Is this an event that is truly meant for sharing quality time together? Would all the attendees still be there even if alcohol was not being served?’ If the answer is no, then it may be best to steer clear. Reducing your alcohol intake or even staying sober is the most important thing for you; a few hours at a party are not worth risking your goals for.
Plan an escape route
If you are attending an event where people will be drinking heavily then make sure you can leave if you begin to feel strong urges to throw caution to the wind. When possible, go with a friend who also does not drink or who shares your goal to reduce your alcohol intake so you can keep each other accountable.
Stay away from slippery places
There is no reason you should ever stop by an old hangout where drugs will be available to say ‘hello’, even over the holidays.
Be careful of overeating
Of course, the holidays are full of wonderful feasts and treats that should be enjoyed, but be careful of eating so much you feel bad about it. The feeling of guilt can give your addicted brain more reason to return to picking up a drink or a drug.
Spend time with people who support your recovery
Now is a more important time than ever to reach out to friends and family who support you in reducing your alcohol consumption. Those who know about your recovery from alcohol abuse or addiction will not only be happy to support you in your recovery, but they know what you are going through, which can be very beneficial. Keep a list of at least 5 people you can call if you feel lonely, overwhelmed, or just need someone to talk to rather than going for a drink and drowning your feelings.
Start new traditions
Be creative! Host your own sober party, buy a new board game, make holiday crafts, go ice skating, volunteer; the opportunities for sober holiday fun are endless.
Do not let your normal recovery routine lax over the holidays. Regular exercise, yoga, meditation, walks and any other activities you use for staying sober on a day-to-day basis now become even more important. Even if exercise has not been a solid part of your recovery thus far, now is a great time to start!
Remember the spirit of gratitude and giving
Remember the true spirit of the holiday season is that of gratitude and giving. Even if you feel that you do not have much to give monetarily you can give your time, your kindness, and your smile.
Cutting back on alcohol or stopping altogether is a gift and an accomplishment worth celebrating. This holiday season celebrate all that you have achieved by renewing your commitment to staying sober. Believe in yourself, start new traditions, and live one day at a time. As the holidays can be a difficult time emotionally, do not be afraid to ask for help if you start feeling down, lonely, guilty, or tempted to resume drinking.
Above all this Christmas, remember that it is important for an alcoholic and even an alcohol abuser to get help, to seek support in reclaiming their life, and escape the vicious cycle of addiction. The sooner you or your loved one gets help, the better the chances are of getting and staying sober which is why it is important to seek treatment at the first signs of addiction if possible. When the time is right The Cabin are ready to help.
Call us today, we are here to listen.
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