“Stoned” for the Holidays: Holidays and Prescription Drugs

Contributor: Joseph A. DeSanto MD, Medical Director, Hotel California by the Sea, DeSanto Clinics for Recovery

mountain-299002_640The holidays will soon be upon us. It’s time for merriment, joy, and unfortunately a whole lot of stress. Alcohol use in the United States tends to increase during the time between Thanksgiving and New Years Eve.

For most, alcohol usually represents joy and closeness, raised holiday spirits, and good times. For those struggling with prescription medication dependence, it is a time where life can become very unmanageable.

Many major studies show that DUIs, drunk driving accidents, domestic violence and suicides increase during this period as well. It’s no coincidence that requests by patients to their physicians for sedative and narcotic prescriptions increase during this time as well.

Seeking Relief from Holiday Stress

To avoid dealing with the pressure of holiday stress many “newcomers” will seek relief from their medical doctors or psychiatrists in the form of mind-altering medications. Most physicians and health care practitioners are not educated about the risks of addiction with these substances.

Alprazolam, or Xanax, is a commonly prescribed drug, typically in high doses and in large quantities. What many physicians don’t know is that it doesn’t take many doses for the brain to be “hijacked” by the pleasure centers and to enter a syndrome of dependence and even addiction.

Combining Prescription Drugs & Alcohol

Drugs such as Xanax, when combined with alcohol and the other prescription medication like it, can cause potential overdose, and possibly death. This is commonly seen in patients who are not accustomed to taking these medications. These overdoses can occur quickly and unexpectedly.

With more prescriptions for pain meds and sedatives in homes, there is an increased risk for young children and adolescents finding their parent’s pills and experimenting with them.

The Stats Behind the Risks of Overdose

sweethearts-502558_640In 2012, drug misuse and abuse caused about 2.5 million emergency department (ED) visits. Of these, more than 1.4 million ED visits were related to pharmaceuticals, and this number continued to rise over 2013, increasing sharply.

Of the 22,114 deaths relating to pharmaceutical overdose in 2012, 16,007 (72%) involved opioid analgesics, such as Vicodin and Percocet, and 6,524 (30%) involved benzodiazepines, such as Valium and Xanax.

These numbers double during the Holiday season.

How the Holidays Get People into Treatment

At Hotel California by the Sea, and in drug and alcohol treatment facilities around the United States, there is a large increase in admissions and evaluations for addicts and alcoholics seeking treatment immediately following the holiday period.

If you are struggling with prescription mediation, or have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, the holidays are a good time to recognize it. Seasonal affective (SAD) disorder happens during times when there is less sunlight. It’s no surprise that many people suffer depression in greatest numbers during the winter months.

Staying Healthy During the Holidays

Instead of turning to a prescription medication for relief, there are many foods, supplements and activities that can activate the brain’s natural endorphins, and other natural feel-good chemicals. Dopamine is the reward neurotransmitter of the brain.

In addicts and alcoholics, there is usually a deficiency in the brain cells, or areas of brain cells that produce and process dopamine. Serotonin, a calming, sleep inducing, bliss mediating hormone, is important for spiritual connection, love, intimacy, and self-care.

Boosting Feel-Good Chemicals

Foods That Boost Dopamine and Serotonin:

  • Turkey
  • Almonds
  • Cottage Cheese
  • Blue Potatoes
  • Cherry Tomatoes
  • Swiss Chard
  • Oatmeal

Eat 5-6 small meals per day to ensure that blood sugar does not rise too high, or dip to low. It is the large swings in blood sugar that make the body and brain ultrasensitive to stress. Limit caffeinated beverages to 1-2 per day, and try to restrict those to the morning. This will help you keep you sleep schedule consistent.

Help with Mood

Supplements to Help with Mood

  • 5-HTP
  • Magnesium (orally and in soaking tub as Epsom Salts)
  • Tyrosine
  • Phenylalanine
  • Vitamin D
  • Omega-3 Fish oil/Evening Primrose Oil
  • Melatonin and Valerian Root for sleep
  • St. John’s Wort and SAM-E
  • B Vitamin Complex (preferably with methylated B-12/Folate and Pyridoxine)

These supplements are directly related to the production of serotonin and dopamine. Your brain will make more, and you will feel calmer and better able to handle stressful times as they happen. You will feel less inclined to reach for a prescription medication to calm you or numb you.

Activities for Stress Reduction

cat-9256_640Yoga, meditation, and mindfulness, also know as the practice of being present and aware of your emotions and how you connect with others, have all been shown to improve mood, reduce stress, and allow for better sleep and health.

Resistance training with weights, and cardiovascular exercise such as fast walking and jogging, both boost natural endorphin levels. Also, don’t forget to have a little fun in the bedroom. Sex and romance are wonderful, healthy ways to raise natural dopamine levels.

Lavender aromatherapy has been shown in clinical trials to help induce sleep and promote calm.

Love Yourself

There is no greater natural stimulator of endorphins than love. Take time to be grateful for the beautiful things in your life. Take time to be thankful for the struggles you have gone through, and for struggles that you might be facing.

There is joy on the other side hardship, and connection with others that results from how you love and respect yourself and handle these struggles can supersede the need for prescription medications.

I wish you peace, joy and, love during this upcoming holiday season, and remember you never have to take another drink or drug if you don’t want to.

Joseph A. DeSanto MD, Medical Director, Hotel California by the Sea, DeSanto Clinics for Recovery

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

What is your experience with eating foods that boost dopamine and serotonin and taking nutritional supplements to boost your mood?

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on November 27th, 2014
Published on AddictionHope.com