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Is There an Increase in Drug Overdoses During the Holidays? 

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The number of overdose deaths in the United States is alarmingly high on any given day of the year.  However, holiday drug overdose spikes even more than usual, especially during December and January.  

According to the Centers for Disease Control:

“The most dangerous time of the year for drug-and-alcohol-related deaths are during the holiday season, specifically December and January.”

It’s hard to imagine the holidays as dangerous, but the statistics reveal a sad truth.  In the United States, more than 107,000 people died from fatal overdoses last year.  

Holiday Drug Overdose: How Much Do They Increase?

Drug OverdoseResearch shows that drug overdose rates are about 22% higher during the holidays than during non-holiday weeks.  Shockingly, 57% of those overdoses occurred for people who received an opioid prescription in the past year.

Christmas and New Year’s holidays are a special time for most people. But, many others are dealing with stress, depression, or loneliness during the festive season.  As a result, they increase their drug and alcohol consumption to cope with these feelings.

Holiday overdoses increase during the holidays due to many factors.  With the variety of ways to celebrate, substance abuse becomes more likely.  Additionally, substance abuse is a way to cope with high-stress levels that are prevalent this time of year.

Can Overdoses During the Holidays Be Prevented?

Overcoming stress during the holiday season is easier said than done.  However, it is possible to cope without resorting to increased drug or alcohol use.  It can be difficult for “social drinkers” to get back to their normal drinking patterns after overindulging.  

People who are in early recovery during the holidays are at an increased risk for overdose if they relapse. Their bodies have a reduced tolerance level, leaving them more susceptible to a non-fatal or fatal overdose.

Anyone who struggles with stress or depression during the holidays can use these strategies as an alternative to drug or alcohol use:

  • Try to maintain your normal routine as much as possible.
  • Remember to eat healthy foods and get enough sleep and exercise.
  • Stick to a budget to avoid dealing with financial stress.
  • Ask friends or family to help with your to-do list.
  • Skip get-togethers if you feel overwhelmed.
  • Practice meditation, yoga, or breathing exercises.

Having these proven coping strategies is a healthier way to get through the busy holidays and avoid substance use. 

How Can a Person in Recovery Cope with Holiday Stress?

Someone in recovery during the holidays will struggle to maintain their sobriety.  It’s tempting to join in the fun and get high whether with drugs or alcohol.  But, during this sensitive time in their recovery process, overdose is a considerable risk.  

If you or someone you love is in recovery, these tips for coping with the holidays may be helpful:

  • Attend extra support group meetings.
  • Share your preferences for alcohol-free celebrations.
  • Find sober activities to attend or start your own tradition.
  • Volunteer to help at community-sponsored, sober events.
  • Reach out for help or support if you feel overwhelmed.

If you think it’s likely that you will be around drugs or alcohol during the holidays, take time to learn the signs of overdose.  This knowledge may help save someone’s life.  You can help prevent overdose by avoiding substances you can’t verify.  For example, cocaine, meth, heroin, or marijuana can be laced with deadly fentanyl, the leading cause of overdoses today. 

To further protect yourself from an overdose, avoid combining different types of drugs.  Taking drugs together can intensify their effects and lead to an overdose.

What Are the Warning Signs of Drug Overdose?

Everyone reacts to drugs and alcohol differently, and each substance has different effects.  However, there are some common signs and symptoms of overdose regardless of the substance involved.  

The general signs and symptoms of overdose can include:

  • Unconsciousness, unresponsiveness
  • Shallow or stopped breathing
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Bluish-tinted lips or fingernails
  • Gurgling sounds
  • Confusion
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Agitation, paranoia

Not all overdoses are fatal, but it’s wise to seek medical help right away if these symptoms appear.  Some of the effects can be permanent.  For instance, breathing issues can result in severe oxygen loss to the brain.  This situation can result in long-term brain damage and other health issues.

Addiction Treatment at Design for Change Can Prevent Drug Overdose

Prolonged substance use increases your risk of overdosing.  The best way to avoid an overdose is to stop using drugs or alcohol as soon as possible.  If you are worried about your substance use, contact Design for Change Recovery in Lancaster, CA.  We will be happy to conduct a confidential assessment and recommend an evidence-based, comprehensive treatment plan customized to fit your specific needs.   

Everyone here at Design for Change Recovery wishes you and your family a joyous holiday season.


  • – U.S. Overdose Deaths in 2021
  • – Provisional Drug Overdose Death Counts
Avoiding Holiday Relapse