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7 Reasons The Holidays Can Cause Relapses

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The end of the year can be especially difficult for people who are trying to recover from substance use disorder, for a wide variety of reasons.

Below are just some of the reasons why relapse prevention and continuing care can be especially difficult around the end of the year.1,2,3,4,5,6,7 If you or someone you know is having problems with their relapse prevention plan, get in touch with Boston Drug Treatment Centers to discuss your options.

1.) Social Expectations

Many Americans are willing to turn a blind eye to some kinds of substance misuse when done in the context of the holidays. In some circumstances, even individuals currently recovering from SUD may feel some pressure to give in to friendly offers from people who might not completely understand their situation. If someone was already struggling with their SUD, these holiday expectations may serve to increase their chances of relapse.1,7

2.) Increases in Holiday-related Anxiety

SUDs are closely linked to anxiety, which can both be worsened by and contribute to substance misuse. Recovering individuals who are worried about personal or professional challenges related to the holidays may experience anxiety, which may trigger drug or alcohol use as a response.1,7

3.) Stressful or Traumatic Family Gatherings

Many individuals recovering from SUD or other related psychiatric conditions also have unresolved issues with family members that they only meet infrequently. When someone is still in the vulnerable early phases of recovery, the stress of meetings or reminders of traumas caused by these family members can cause relapses.1,5,7

4.) Prevalence of Traumas Around the Holidays

The holidays tend to see a predictable rise in suicide attempts and relapses, partly due to the prevalence of traumatic experiences during this period. The dissonance between how a person feels inside and how they are expected to act during the season may also contribute further to relapses and other kinds of self-harm.1,5,7

5.) Seasonal Affective Disorder

Some people may experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD) during particularly hot or cool seasons, the latter of which are the times most major holidays are celebrated in North America. While the specific mechanisms behind SAD are not definitively known, the ensuing depression can increase the risks of relapse among some people currently recovering from substance use disorder.6

6.) Difficulty in Obtaining Professional Aftercare

Another unfortunate reason for relapses during the holidays is the acute shortage of mental health professionals. Many of these vital workers also need to take the holidays off, which puts some recovering individuals in a very difficult position. If these people are unable to get the aftercare they need at this time, the other risk factors in this list may become more acute.

7.) Increased Access to Alcohol or Other Drugs

Recovering individuals are more likely to have access to alcohol or drugs at social events during the holidays. Additionally, marketing for legal substances such as alcohol or cannabis may ramp up during this period, increasing potential exposure and possibly increasing cravings in some individuals.

Find Aftercare Options in Boston During the Holidays

If you’re concerned about possible relapses during the holidays, get in touch with a qualified mental health professional immediately. They should be able to help you create a personalized plan for coping with your cravings during this time. You can also call our team at (857) 577-8193 to find better options for continuing care and relapse prevention in Boston, MA.


  1. Deisenhammer, E. A., Stiglbauer, C., & Kemmler, G. (2018). Time-related aspects of suicides-suicide frequency related to birthday, major holidays, day of the week, season, month of birth and zodiac signs.Neuropsychiatrie: Klinik, Diagnostik, Therapie und Rehabilitation: Organ der Gesellschaft Osterreichischer Nervenarzte und Psychiater32(2), 93-100.
  2. Harper, S., & Palayew, A. (2019). The annual cannabis holiday and fatal traffic crashesInjury prevention25(5), 433-437.
  3. Centazzo, N., Frederick, B. M., Jacox, A., Cheng, S. Y., & Concheiro-Guisan, M. (2019). Wastewater analysis for nicotine, cocaine, amphetamines, opioids and cannabis in New York CityForensic sciences research4(2), 152-167.
  4. Ort, C., Bijlsma, L., Castiglioni, S., Covaci, A., de Voogt, P., Emke, E., … & Kasprzyk-Hordern, B. (2018). Wastewater analysis for community-wide drugs use assessment. In New Psychoactive Substances(pp. 543-566). Springer, Cham.
  5. Baird, A., While, D., Flynn, S., Ibrahim, S., Kapur, N., Appleby, L., & Shaw, J. (2019). Do homicide rates increase during weekends and national holidays?The Journal of Forensic Psychiatry & Psychology30(3), 367-380.
  6. Fellinger, M., Waldhör, T., Serretti, A., Hinterbuchinger, B., Pruckner, N., König, D., … & Fugger, G. (2022). Seasonality in Major Depressive Disorder: Effect of Sex and AgeJournal of Affective Disorders296, 111-116.
  7. Griffin, E., Dillon, C. B., O’Regan, G., Corcoran, P., Perry, I. J., & Arensman, E. (2017). The paradox of public holidays: Hospital-treated self-harm and associated factorsJournal of affective disorders218, 30-34.

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