11/26/2013 11:48 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Holiday Stress Can Amplify Mental Health and Substance Abuse Issues

Most people look at the holidays as a happy season, a season where you can catch up with loved ones and friends you haven't seen all year. However, this time of year can be the most stressful and dangerous for those who suffer from mental health and addiction issues.

Think about it. You may be worrying out about buying gifts for everyone on your list, trying to decide what to wear to that holiday office party or having your in-laws stay over your house for a week. Blended families have to deal with generations of biases and wounds. Kids who are suffering from drug abuse and other internal problems can use the holiday stress we all experience to intensify their own destructive behavior because with all the free time away from school the opportunities are endless for them to feed the beast. Drug abuse can seem like a logical escape from the drama for many teens.

At Newport Academy, we see an uptick in clients starting in November. This is because many teens and young adults end their fall semesters and are home for winter break. This vacation away from school allows an individual suffering from substance abuse and mental illness to escalate their destructive behavior by overindulging in their hometown holiday parties and by spending more time with old friends with bad habits.

Parents who may not have taken notice of the red flags of mental health problems and addiction also pay more attention to their child because they are home more. They may notice that their son or daughter that's been away at college has become withdrawn or aggressive. Or, they may notice more overt signs such as drinking more than usual at family gatherings. Be on the look out for more isolation by a child as it could also be a sign that something is wrong.


I encourage parents to always be engaged in their children's lives all year round. This doesn't necessarily mean knowing their email passwords or stalking their Facebook, although it is good to monitor their social network activity. It is as simple as being an open channel of communication for your child to reach out to for help and feel safe coming to with their problems.

The root of every addiction and mental health problem does not solely lie on the child. It is a problem that affects the entire family and as a consequence, all members should be part of the recovery process.

The holidays aren't just a time for parents to notice new behaviors in their children. It is also a very challenging time for those who are in recovery. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, nearly half of recovering addicts will relapse.

With an abundance of alcohol and friends around during festive activities, triggers are all around. Being in their old bedroom or neighborhood can cause a shift in the recovery process. Or, even the notion of the holidays can send a child into depression as it may force them to confront memories they haven't necessarily dealt with the rest of the year.

I urge families of teens and young adults facing mental health and addiction issues to remain vigilant around the holidays.

In many respects, it is the most joyous time of year and should remain that way for your family. Still, the holidays serve as a perfect opportunity for parents to spend more time with their children and address alarming behaviors you may have missed during the year. For recovering addicts, it should be a time for families to band together and learn to celebrate in different and new ways that support sobriety and build love and trust amongst its members.

I wish everyone a happy and healthy holiday season and to remember those who need a little more support this time of year more than ever.