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Addiction and the Holidays

Addiction and the HolidaysAh, the holidays: Candy canes, cozy slippers, festive lights, family peace, marital joy, and grateful children.

Or not.

The holidays are stressful. There are the challenges of too much family, not enough family, not enough money, continual exposure to food and alcohol, and perhaps worst of all, the gap between our actual life and our fantasy life. As if gazing into the perfect happy scene within a snowglobe, we might fall into a trance of how our life should be.

We might feel torn apart by nostalgia and grief over the good times and good people of the past, and wracked with guilt and inadequacy for failing to create a more wonderful life for ourselves. We might feel scared about our dissatisfaction and hypnotized by the promise of fulfillment just beyond the hard glass.

Addictive and codependent behaviors thrive during this season of fantasy.

We use our drugs and habits to escape the pain, while imagining how we will miraculously make changes, always tomorrow, or next week, or next year. We frantically try to keep our idea of the all-good holiday alive through our codependent behaviors, imagining that we have the power to make sure that everyone else is happy and no one gets upset, while suppressing our own feelings of anger and disappointment.

So what should we do about our addictive or codependent behaviors during the holidays? Should we just give up and wait until January 1? Or is there hope for progress now?

One option involves using the holiday season to take an honest and compassionate look at our current behaviors. Instead of using up all of our mental energy imagining how our life used to be better, or how our life should be different, or how we need to change, we can turn our minds and eyes toward simply observing present reality.

We can watch our relationships with alcohol, marijuana, cigarettes, chewing tobacco, prescription and non-prescription drugs, gambling, pornography, video games, television or Internet videos, social media, food, exercise, work, and shopping. We can ask ourselves: How much are we using? How much of our time does it consume? How much money are we spending on our habits? How long have we been using? Is it increasing, decreasing, or remaining constant?

We can watch our relationships with our loved ones. We can ask ourselves: How much of our energy is being devoted to worrying about or trying to control other people‚Äôs addictive behaviors? How much are we being controlled by fear of others’ reactions to our boundaries or limits?

Then we can ask ourselves: why are we doing this? What purpose does it serve? What immediate rewards do we attain? In what ways are our behaviors fulfilling our needs? Are there feelings of shame, anger, sadness, loneliness, anxiety, or depression tangled up in our habits? How do these feelings lead to our behaviors? How do these feelings result from our behaviors?

How are our habits affecting our physical health? How are our behaviors affecting our relationships with others? How are our drugs, habits, or relationship patterns affecting our work life? What are the short- and long-term benefits and costs?

As we watch and explore our behaviors in an open and neutral manner, we set the stage for our growth toward increased health. We emerge into the New Year with information about ourselves that we need in order to develop a plan of action, if we so choose, toward change. And by being more honest with ourselves and more present in the life we currently are living, we have broken the paralyzing spell of fantasy: We have begun moving toward a better life.

Addiction and the Holidays

Danielle B. Grossman, MFT

Danielle B. Grossman, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, has her BA in Ethics, Politics and Economics magna cum laude from Yale University and her MA in Integral Counseling Psychology from the California Institute for Integral Studies. She works virtually for clients throughout California and in-person in Truckee/Tahoe, helping couples and individuals with their relationships, anxiety, struggles with food and eating, and addiction. Reach out at or learn more at

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APA Reference
Grossman, D. (2018). Addiction and the Holidays. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 4, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 12 Dec 2012)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.