We all know the countdown: we’ve been working really hard through the long, cold winter and have been counting down the days to the sweet release of the long, hot, lazy days of summer.
Sure, we still have to go to work, but many of us also get those long, glorious three-day weekends off: Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day (with, if you’re lucky, some vacation time thrown in in-between).
Sounds great, doesn't it? And what could be wrong with letting off some much-deserved steam during, say, this year's Memorial Day weekend?
Unfortunately, for some, that “letting off some steam” is a time of excess—be it with alcohol or another substance and it can lead to certain problematic patterns that can be hard to shake—even after that long lost weekend or seemingly endless summer.
As the Clinical Director of The Dunes, a high-end drug and alcohol treatment center in the heart of the summer-fun Hamptons, I have seen the after-effects of innocent summer partying gone bad.
Weekend excess in and of itself need not be a bad thing; the problem arises when a person who may otherwise be predisposed towards addiction and addictive tendencies lights the perhaps dormant addiction fuse with excessive partying.
What we then see is that this person then has an exceedingly difficult time stopping their drinking or drugging—even after the party—or the summer—is over.
Addiction affects approximately 8 to 10 % of the population. There are different ethnological theories about some why people are wired for addiction, but the clinical consensus is that it is due to a combination of a “perfect storm” of genetics, environment, temperament and exposure.
For some, the “long weekends” of summer provide the exposure to excessive alcohol-consumption. And if a person also has the other ingredients that predispose them to addiction, we may have the recipe for full-blown alcohol or substance abuse problems.
So what should you look for this Memorial Day weekend that might be a red flag?
One of the biggest signs of a substance problem is an inability to stop. If you’re at a barbeque, are you the one that needs to keep drinking, even after all the beers are done? Do you then go out to a bar to continue drinking? Or are you the one that goes out driving obsessively looking for more alcohol?
Another tell-tale sign: a person who keeps drinking or drugging despite adverse consequences. In other words, has your “summer drinking” caused problems in your personal or professional life in the past? Have you missed work? Gotten into fights with your spouse or companion over it? Have you gotten a DUI while driving to get more beer after a weekend blow-out?
These are all potential red flags.
If you find yourself drinking too much this Memorial Day weekend—or this summer—ask yourself if you’ve perhaps crossed that line from recreational drinking to problem drinking.
If you think you might have, please reach out to your nearest mental health provider to be pointed in the right direction to get help. And please know this important fact: there is meaningful help out there.
Dr. Nicholas Kardaras, Ph.D., LCSW is an addictions specialist and Clinical Director of the Dunes, a holistic mind-body rehab center in Easthampton, N.Y. He is also a clinical professor at Stony Brook University's Health Sciences Center where he teaches graduate level course-work on the treatment of addiction. He is a licensed NY State psychotherapist and a clinical consultant for LICADD (Long Island Council for Alcoholism and Drug Dependence) as well as being Adjunct Faculty at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology in California. He is the author of "How Plato and Pythagoras Can Save Your Life" (Conari Press, 2011).