With the holiday season upon us, it is important to take a step back and observe the fact that this is also a dangerous time of year. Alcohol is prevalent at holiday gatherings. Feelings of depression affect a large percentage of the population during the holidays, including those who have never suffered from clinical depression. Together, alcohol and depression can feed each other in a vicious cycle that can lead someone to a very, very dark place. Here's a look at how problem drinking happens and ways to avoid being caught up in the vicious cycle.

Party Binge

Alcohol-related deaths sharply increase during the holidays. Why is this? One factor is that people who do not normally drink alcohol give themselves license to overdrink. Individuals who abstain from alcohol for the rest of the year and binge on alcohol at holiday parties are more likely to drive drunk, accidently hurt themselves, and put others in harm's way. They also are more likely to suffer from acute alcohol poisoning due to having a lower tolerance than someone who drinks moderately and regularly.

Unfortunately, even moderate drinkers experience the temptation to overdrink at holiday events. Alcohol is often at the center of holiday gatherings, including work parties, dinners, and intimate social gatherings. Eggnog with rum, hot toddies, spiked apple cider, scotch, and Bailey's with coffee are just a few of the drinks associated with the holidays. People may feel pressured to drink at holiday events so that they can “fit in” and “not make people feel weird” if they abstain. Partygoers often keep pace with each other, drink for drink, until gross toxox occurs.

Holiday Depression

Being depressed during the holidays can feel like a double whammy. Not only are you surrounded by festivals, but you also face the onslaught of media, including commercials, that emphasize how happy you should feel during the holidays. People are less likely to reach out for help if they are depressed during the holidays, fearing that they will be perceived as abnormal. This additional isolation only fuels the flames of depression.

Add drinking to the mix, and you face a deadly cocktail. Although drinking may temporarily alleviate the feelings of anxiety and depression, one of the worst effects after a drinking occasion is the chemically-induced INCREASE in feelings of anxiety and depression. For example, you may feel a bit angry at a work party. Alcohol is a quick fix. You drink a glass of wine and instantly feel less inhibited – more able to enjoy yourself. Sure, you end up having a few more drinks than you had planned on having, but it felt worth it at the time. The next day, you wake up filled with anxiety and dread. Did you do something embarrassing? Did you say the wrong thing to the wrong person? Were you acting drunk in front of your co-workers? These are the kinds of anxious thought spirals that follow a night of heavy drinking. You may spend the rest of the day beating yourself up for overdrinking.

The problem is that the holiday parties continue on, and you follow the same pattern of feeling anxious, drinking, and sinking further into depression. No wonder we feel compelled to make New Year's Resolutions. New Year's Resolutions are promises we create for ourselves – commitments to take care of our bodies and our minds by changing. But not until January 1, right?

Wrong.

Giving yourself permission to treat your body poorly is unacceptable. Overdrinking is a form of self-harm, whether you are consciously aware of it or not. If you are worried about your drinking, there are counselors out there who can help you take a look at your lifestyle and figure out if there really is a problem. Make a Resolution to yourself today, before the holiday season begins: You will take care of yourself this year.

Tips:

1. If you are going to a party where there will be alcohol, come up with a plan in advance to control your drinking. Tell a friend or family member what your plan is. This will make you more likely to stick with the plan.

2. A binge is a binge. Just because you avoid drinking during the work week, a binge on alcohol on the weekends is extremely dangerous and hurtful to yourself. If you are already struggling with depression, an alcohol binge is likely to send you into a downward spiral.

3. If you find that you are struggling with feelings of depression or problem drinking, schedule a consultation with a counselor who specializes in mental health and substance abuse to get the support you need.