For those who are struggling with an active opioid use disorder, the holidays can be an extremely stressful time. Opioids are strong painkillers that can cause a lapse in judgment and extreme grogginess, which can cause an individual to skip out on the holiday season altogether. Individuals who are actively using opioids may not remember to attend a family gathering or make an appearance at Christmas dinner. They may be in dire financial stress because of their opioid use disorder and therefore are not able to purchase gifts for family and friends. They are also at risk of overdosing. Deaths from opioid use are still on the incline, and this is partially because many opioids purchased on the street are laced with other drugs. As a result, it can only take one time to overdose on opioids accidentally. The holiday season can be a time to start fresh and recover from an opioid use disorder. There is never a wrong time to enter treatment for an opioid use disorder, as this can save your life.

Holiday triggers and opioid use disorder

Opioid use disorder can be an unwelcomed guest during the holiday season. Holidays can be a stressful time of year, especially when there is family tension, financial strain, loneliness, grief, or seasonal affective disorder looming around. As a result, many individuals turn to their addiction as a crutch to help them through the holiday season. According to the CDC, the most dangerous time of the year for drug-and-alcohol-related deaths is during the holiday season, specifically December and January. Nearly 91,000 deaths have been reported for the month of December since 1999.

Holiday relapse

The holidays can be a potential time for relapse, especially if there are stressful triggers involved. Individuals who are in recovery for an opioid use disorder may find the holiday season to be more stressful because of the external pressure places by society to always feel “happy and festive.” Past memories of holiday parties where drugs were involved or thinking about old friends who were associated with drug use can be triggers around this time of year. Not to mention the stress of family gatherings, stigma from loved ones, and financial strain that the holidays can bring during recovery.

Signs and symptoms of opioid intoxication

If you are a loved one or a family member related to someone who is struggling with an opioid use disorder, it is essential to be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of opioid intoxication. Opioid intoxication could occur at your holiday party, and you may have to help your loved one:

  • Excessive drowsiness
  • Constricted pupils (meiosis)
  • Confusion
  • Slurred speech
  • Constipation
  • Respiratory depression (shallow and short breathing)
  • Track marks on skin or fresh puncture wounds
  • Weight loss
  • Mood swings
  • Frequent nose bleeds (if heroin is snorted)

Helping your loved one this holiday season

If your loved one is struggling with an opioid use disorder, there are many steps you can take to help them enter recovery. If you feel that your loved one is at risk of an opioid overdose, you should carry naloxone, a life-saving opioid nasal spray reversal agent that can be purchased at your local pharmacy. Naloxone can reverse the effects of opioid intoxication, specifically respiratory depression, and potentially save your loved one from an accidental overdose. It is also essential to have a compassionate conversation about your concerns and why you think your loved one should seek help. During this conversation, it is vital to provide a list of treatment centers and hotlines and any other resources you think may benefit this decision process. It is up to your loved one to choose the path to recovery, but you can be their guiding light during this process.

Pinelands Recovery of Medford is a substance abuse treatment center offering multiple levels of care that is located in New Jersey. It is located in a serene environment, and a compassionate and well-trained treatment team can help you overcome your alcohol use disorder and place you on the road to a successful recovery.

Kristen Fuller, M.D., is a clinical content writer and enjoys writing about evidence-based topics in the cutting-edge world of mental health and addiction medicine. She is a family medicine physician and author, who also teaches and contributes to medicine board education. Her passion lies within educating the public on preventable diseases, including mental health disorders and the stigma associated with them. She is also an outdoor activist and spends most of her free time empowering other women to get outside into the backcountry.