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Substance Abuse and the Holidays

Family celebrations tend to take center stage during the holidays. Unfortunately, many a holiday get-together is marred by disruptive, rude or antagonistic behavior on the part of one or more guests. Whether it’s a family member, friend, neighbor or co-worker, when disturbing behavior takes place, it’s tough to know the reason. Here are 10 signs drugs or alcohol might be the culprit.

  • Nodding off at the table.
    If you spot someone at the table who’s struggling to stay awake, this is a telltale sign of alcohol or drug involvement. Alcohol is a known depressant, as are certain drugs. These cause a slowdown in the body’s central nervous system and can put you to sleep. Too much alcohol or drugs, however, can quickly escalate to a critical point, causing unconsciousness, a blackout, or worse.

  • Excessive drinking.
    Competitive drinking games aren’t only common among high school or college students. Otherwise sane adults sometimes engage in such self-destructive behavior as well. Binge drinking can have serious consequences. The binge drinker is likely to act out, leaving you and other family members and guests trying to tiptoe around the person, ignore him or her, or even leave the party. You might not be able to do anything about this behavior now, other than shut down the bar. When the person sobers up, have a discussion about getting help.
  • Pills and alcohol.
    Taking pills and chasing them with alcohol is another incredibly dangerous behavior. It doesn’t matter if it’s an over-the-counter (OTC) drug or a prescribed medication — the combined effects can be some very bad behavior and a potentially disastrous outcome.
  • Arguments.
    You’ve been busy entertaining and maybe you didn’t notice the drinks your spouse kept pouring while you worked. Now, however, you see that he or she is snarling, engaging in an angry discussion that escalates to an argument. Accompanied by loud or obnoxious behavior, this could be due to accumulated tension, too much to drink or drug use, or a combination.

    If you need help to calm your loved one and the situation, ask someone to take him or her outside and put some distance between the angry individual and everyone else.

  • Slurred speech.
    While this takes a while to be noticeable, it’s actually the result of a prolonged period of alcoholic consumption (perhaps abetted by drug use). Slurred speech is a definite sign of intoxication. No matter the drinker’s age when too much booze is consumed, the body reacts. Bad behavior often follows.
  • Loosened inhibitions.
    Dancing on tabletops, shedding clothes, improper hugging, kissing and touching and lewd or suggestive remarks are never OK. They are, however, typical behavior that may be the result of too much alcohol consumption or taking certain drugs.
  • Marijuana use.
    A quick look around may help you spot the glassy-eyed individual who seems intent on eating everything in sight, laughs a bit too long or loudly at inappropriate moments, or otherwise seems a little off. After smoking pot, the user often takes a while to respond to conversation, moves in a slow or exaggerated manner or falls asleep at the table. Don’t automatically assume it’s a young person who’s been toking. An aged parent or someone with chronic pain may have a medical marijuana prescription and is using marijuana to cope.
  • Vomiting.
    Vomiting is a sign that something is wrong — and it may not be due to illness. Especially during the holiday season, when someone leaves the room (or not) and is forced to vomit, it may be due to drinking too much. Alcohol is a stomach and intestinal lining irritant.
  • Isolation and withdrawal.
    Isolation and withdrawal from others is a common sign of chronic substance use and abuse. You could be witnessing the beginning of this downward spiral in a loved one or family member who appears to be avoiding contact with others, hiding in the corner or disappearing altogether.
  • Emotional distress.
    When a loved one, family member or guest acts out of character, bursts into tears for no apparent reason, or shows signs of emotional distress such as anxiety or depression, alcohol or drugs may be the reason. A coherent discussion with the individual is better left to when he or she is sober. Maybe you can encourage him or her to get help to deal with concerns prompting alcohol or drug abuse.

No one wants to experience the disruption and annoyance of family members, loved ones or friends who’ve imbibed too much or have been using drugs. It’s better to have a plan in place before the holiday event. Serve nonalcoholic beverages, insist on eating earlier rather than later, and be prepared to gently escort an intoxicated or drugged loved one away from the presence of others.

Holiday drunk photo available from Shutterstock

Substance Abuse and the Holidays

Suzanne Kane

Suzanne Kane is a Los Angeles-based writer, blogger and editor. Passionate about helping others live a vibrant and purposeful life, she writes daily for her website, She is a regular contributor to Psych Central. You can reach her at

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APA Reference
Kane, S. (2018). Substance Abuse and the Holidays. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 2 Dec 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.