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Holidays Drive Americans To Drink, But Don’t Blame Holiday Blues, New Survey Reveals

There’s a reason DUI incidents spike between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day – but it may have more to do with holiday fun than the holiday blues. While half of Americans believe that loneliness and depression do play a part, a whopping seven out of 10 blame holiday shindigs.

That’s the key finding of a new nationwide survey of 1,000 adults, conducted by market researcher Synovate for New Seasons Behavioral Health Care Systems.

With historical data confirming a holiday increase in drunk-driving incidents and fatalities, respondents were asked to select all of the reasons that might prompt that kind of behavior: the prevalence of holiday parties, stress associated with spending, more encounters with family, the expectation that the holidays must be happy times, the heartache associated with holidays past, increased feelings of loneliness and isolation, or none of the above.

"No matter the trigger, excessive alcohol and drug use should always be addressed sooner rather than later," said Steven M. Orenstein, MA, LMFT, and CEO of New Seasons. "The abundance of parties during the holiday season clearly presents more opportunities for over-drinking, but that’s not the full story. The holiday season compounds issues of family tension, financial stress, feelings of isolation – and problems arise when people stop regulating behaviors like drinking, eating and spending. People like to wait and make recovery a New Year’s resolution, but that’s a mistake. If you or a loved one has a problem, seek treatment now."

Holiday Ahs More Potent Than Holiday Blahs

Seventy-one percent of Americans attributed the rise in holiday drunk-driving incidents to partying – a first-place preference that held across gender, age, race and economic categories.

Only one group – respondents with annual household incomes below $25,000 – ranked partying second. In this group, nearly two out of three (65 percent) chose loneliness and isolation over holiday parties (62 percent).

Overall, loneliness and isolation emerged as Americans’ clear second choice, cited by 50 percent. Interestingly, no major differences emerged among those who might be considered most at riskfor holiday loneliness: unmarried and childless respondents.

The expectation that people are supposed to be happy during the holidays weighed heavily for two out of five respondents (42 percent), while less than one in three blamed past holiday heartaches (29 percent).

Women were more likely than men to blame loneliness and isolation (57 percent versus 43 percent) and happy expectations (47 percent versus 36 percent).

Those in the Northeast were less likely than their peers in other parts of the country to blame holiday parties – 61 percent, versus 75 percent in both the Midwest and the West, and 71 percent in the South.

Financial Pinch Not Felt Until January?

Little more than one in three attribute holiday drunk driving to financial stress – a finding that generally held across income levels.

While households under $25,000 were about 25 percent more likely than average to cite "stress associated with spending" (46 percent vs. 37 percent), financial stress did not outpace parties, loneliness or higher expectations as a reason to drink among these low-income Americans.

Family Togetherness vs. Family Trauma

One in three blamed holiday overindulgence on "more encounters with family" (33 percent). The youngest respondents, ages 18-24, were more likely than any other age group to blame family get-togethers (44 percent). Retirees were least likely to attribute drinking to family stress, with only one in four citing family as a contributing factor.

New Seasons, Port Hueneme, CA, is a treatment system specializing in the treatment of drug, alcohol, gambling, shopping and other addictions, eating disorders, and psychological disorders.

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© 2006 Health Resources Publishing