Navigating Substance Misuse and Supporting Young People During the Holiday Season

By: Roland Harmon, Partnership Co-President

As the holiday season approaches, it’s important to recognize that this time of year can be challenging for many people.  While it’s a season of joy and celebration for some, others find themselves struggling with feelings of sadness, loneliness, and grief.  These emotional challenges can sometimes lead to an increase in the misuse of substances as individuals seek ways to cope with their pain.  I’d like to take a few moments to explore some of the reasons behind this trend and discuss how we can come together as a community to provide support, especially to our young people.

Understanding the Reasons

  1. Increased Depression and Holiday Blues: The holiday season can trigger or exacerbate feelings of depression and anxiety in some individuals. The pressure to be cheerful and the emphasis on family and togetherness can be overwhelming for those who are already struggling with their mental health.
  2. Loneliness and Isolation: Many people experience heightened feelings of loneliness during the holidays, particularly if they are separated from loved ones or do not have a strong support system. This loneliness can drive individuals towards substances as a means of temporary relief.
  3. Grief and Loss: For those who have lost loved ones, the holidays can be a painful reminder of their absence. Coping with grief during this time can be incredibly challenging, and some turn to substances to numb their emotional pain.

Amid these challenges, the holiday season also presents us with an opportunity to care for one another.  It’s crucial that we check in on our friends, family members, and acquaintances who may be struggling.  Here are some ways to offer support:

  1. Listen and Observe: Pay attention to changes in behavior, mood swings, or signs of substance misuse in your loved ones. Sometimes, a simple conversation can provide a safe space for them to share their struggles.
  2. Show Concern: Express genuine concern for the well-being of those you suspect may be misusing substances. Let them know that you care about their health and are there to support them.
  3. Offer Professional Support: If you believe someone is struggling with substance abuse, encourage them to seek professional help. Offer to assist in finding treatment options or accompany them to appointments.

The holiday season is also an opportunity for adults to engage in meaningful conversations with young people. Here are some tips based on information from our website:

  1. Build Authentic Connections: Start by connecting with young people on a personal level. Show genuine interest in their lives, goals, and aspirations.  Let young people know that you’re investing in creating the conditions and world that they want to thrive in.
  2. Discuss Relationships: Ask about their relationships with peers, friends, and family. Encourage open communication about their experiences and feelings.
  3. Address Substance Misuse: Talk to young people about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. Ask them how comfortable they feel refusing these substances in social situations.

Late last month, I had the pleasure of hearing Caroline Austin give remarks as a parent and community advocate at our press conference launching our new prevention and safe drug disposal initiative “Prevention Starts With You.”

And, she said it best – “if you’re not having the conversation with your children, someone else is.”

As adults, we can reflect on our own experiences growing up and remember the times when we may have felt invisible or unheard.  It’s essential to consider what we wished for from caring adults during those moments and whether we can offer the same support to young people today.  Many of us had positive role models who helped shape us into the individuals we are today, and now, it’s our turn to pay it forward.

The holiday season can be a challenging time for many, and substance misuse is a coping mechanism that some individuals turn to during this period.  However, it’s also a time for us to come together as a community, provide support, and engage in meaningful conversations with young people.  By listening, showing concern, and offering guidance, we can make a positive impact on those who may be struggling, ensuring that they have the support they need to navigate the holiday season and beyond.

Enjoy family and friends and have a blessed holiday season!

The Governor’s Prevention Partnership builds statewide capacity to prevent underage drinking and substance use and builds strategic alliances to promote the overall well-being of Connecticut’s future workforce.