Christmas can be a difficult time for people who have or are recovering from alcohol and drug addiction.
Parties and celebrations may increase the desire to use, as can the stress of trying to conform to the traditional image of a family Christmas.
But BACP member Dr Angela Mooney says that with planning and support, people can temper their use over the festive and New Year period.
“We know that certain periods of time are emotional triggers to addiction,” said Angela, a chartered psychologist specialising in psychodynamic therapy and addiction. “And Christmas is one of the biggest emotional triggers.
“Social norms say Christmas should be spent around family. We know that 90% of people with an addiction, however, have systemic issues within the family which make being around them stressful.
“When you couple that with a heightened time of nostalgia and sentiment, what you have is recipe for anxiety, melancholy or emotional distress.
“Anxiety and depression are normally triggered by life events, or an emotional trauma that has taken place in someone’s life when they were younger, and Christmas can trigger off some of those feelings again.
“Alcohol or drugs are often used to medicate emotional difficulties. Christmas heightens feelings of loneliness, trying to negotiate disputes and family distress. There are a lot of emotions around Christmas time.
“And because stress is heightened, people tend to drink more or take more drugs.”
So, what can people do to moderate or limit their intake?
You're not alone
“It’s about recognising the emotional triggers,” said Angela, who has worked in the NHS for more than a decade, is a university lecturer and has a private practice in London.
“The key thing is to be around people you want to be around. Don’t isolate yourself. Plan as early as possible who you would like to spend Christmas with.
“If you don’t have anywhere to go then ask a friend if they mind if you come over for Christmas too. Normally, people may have have not invited you because they might think you are busy already but would welcome a new face at the table.
“Make sure you have a couple of people who you can pick up the phone to.
“Don’t be afraid to be honest with people if you are feeling low, sad or anxious. This is important, because even though you may think that others are busy with their own families everyone wants to be of assistance in a meaningful way to another at this time of year.
“Remember you are not alone. Most people find times like Christmas difficult in some shape or form and it is vital to reach out to someone if you need to, in the hope that one day you will be able to do do the same for them.”
To speak to a BACP counsellor or psychotherapist about addictive behaviour this Christmas, visit our Therapist directory.
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