The holiday season is supposed to be joyful, butstudies reveal that the holiday season is a risk factor for teen and adolescent substance misuse, with relapses occurring frequently as the year comes to an end (1).
There are several reasons contributing to the use of drugs and alcohol over the holiday season according to nationally certified School Psychologist and Gamechanger’s Director of Prevention, Kim Legg.
“One of the reasons first use is likely during the holiday season is the simple fact there is more access to alcohol and other drugs at this time of year, with alcohol being a center of parties,” says Legg. “Other reasons include the stress of family conflict, loss of loved ones, financial strain, or unmet expectations of holiday gifts or positive outcomes.”
Fortunately, Legg says there are steps parents and caregivers can take to reduce or prevent substance use over the next couple of months.
“As adults, we cannot only model healthy behaviors but also make simple decisions to reduce the risk for children and teens using alcohol, opioids, and other substances over the holiday season,” says Legg.
Model healthy emotional regulation without substance use.
You’ve probably heard young children are like a sponge, absorbing the experiences around them. According to Legg, the same is true for teens and adolescents.
“One way adults can model healthy behavior is to limit or abstain from substance use to send the message that there are other ways to celebrate or deal with uncomfortable feelings that arise during the holidays,” says Legg.
Whether you’re feeling celebratory or if your mood is low, modeling healthy emotional regulation can look like:
- Turning to healthy outlets when tough emotions come up: exercise, talking with a friend, journaling, or meditation/prayer
- Communicating your feelings and needs with your family as they come up, then verbalizing your plan for managing them
- Prioritizing your basic needs for rest, movement, nourishment, hydration, and self-care
Set clear expectations around substance use and delay first use.
Research shows that allowing even a sip of alcohol for children is related to poorer health outcomes with substance misuse later on in life (2). To combat this, set clear boundaries on what is and isn’t allowed when it comes to alcohol and other substances with your children and teens.
“Holidays provide a relaxed atmosphere and often contribute to first use, but it’s imperative not to allow a young person to consume alcohol in any amount during the holiday season or any other time,” urges Legg. “Set clear expectations about the use of substances to protect young people and reduce the risk for addiction later in life.”
While a parent may feel allowing underage alcohol or substance use with supervision provides an element of safety, Legg points to the research that says otherwise.
“The longer you can delay the use of any substance, the less likely a child or teen is to become addicted in the future,” says Legg. “While the parent may feel like they’re providing a “safe environment” around their teen, in reality a teen’s brain —far from developed —is a uniquely vulnerable environment for substances to be. From a health perspective, it is best to delay use—period.”
Supervise holiday celebrations and help your teen prepare.
It’s not a matter of “if” your child or teen will be offered alcohol or other substances, says Legg, but a matter of “when”.
That’s why it’s essential to talk early and often about alcohol use, opioids, and other substances—and what to do when they’re in the situation.
“In the event that they’re at a party with friends, set up a plan beforehand,” says Legg. “If they are feeling uncomfortable or are pressured to use, they have a “way out.”
Need some help with navigating peer pressure and creating an “escape plan”? See also: AWKWARD SITUATION? HERE ARE SOME EXIT PLANS
Additionally, Legg encourages parents and caregivers to supervise teens at family functions and parties.
Substance use may be more tempting and accessible during the holiday season, but parents and caregivers can take simple precautions to reduce the risk no matter the time of year.
Created in 2018, GameChanger is a student-powered movement with focus on substance misuse prevention among youths. We connect students, educators, and communities with education, training, coaching, and support services to prevent opioid and other drug use before it starts.
- 5 ways to support kids with substance use issues during the holidays. Akron Children’s Hospital. 07 December 2021. Accessed from: https://www.akronchildrens.org/inside/2021/12/07/5-ways-to-support-kids-with-substance-use-issues-during-the-holidays/
- University at Buffalo. “Letting kids sip and taste alcohol is a risky behavior.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 February 2018. Accessed from: www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/02/180220094247.htm