By Malini Bartels

The holidays are a time of gathering and celebration, a time of showing thanks and appreciation for those around us. Unfortunately, it is this festive time of year when depression and loneliness can be at its worst as well. A joyful celebration for one person can be a trigger for anxiety and depression for someone else. It can be difficult to spot the difference between holiday cheer and a real problem with alcohol abuse, depression, and drug addiction issues. If this holiday season has left you with concerns, there are steps you can take to identify a more serious problem.

Alcohol Abuse Awareness

“When we talk about celebration and drinking, most people can go out to a party and have a drink or two. That’s part of being celebratory,” says Michelle Glasgow, MD, a family medicine physician at the Kaiser Permanente Fort Collins medical offices. “The problem occurs when someone cannot stop drinking.”

The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism publishes the CAGE Questionnaire, which is commonly used in medical practices to help identify when someone might be struggling with excessive alcohol consumption. The word CAGE is an acronym derived from the following questions:

1. Have you ever felt you should cut down on your drinking?

2. Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?

3. Have you ever felt bad or guilty about your drinking?

4. Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or to get rid of a hangover (eye opener)?

If someone answers yes to any of the above questions, the situation should be addressed by a professional.


Mental Health Awareness

Mental health professionals often refer to the holiday season as the most difficult time of year for their clients. For some, the season amplifies their feelings of loneliness or of loss, which may require attention from a professional. But for many of us, stress and fatigue from unrealistic expectations (self-imposed or otherwise) adversely impact our moods during the holidays.

What can be done to improve and recharge mental and physical health?

“Thirty minutes of cardio per day will change your life,” says Dr. Glasgow. “We physicians are constantly writing prescriptions for exercise. It’s beneficial for all diseases.”

Getting a sufficient amount of cardiovascular activity can be as easy as walking the dog around the block, says Dr. Glasgow. The fresh air and sunshine is beneficial as well.

Making physical activity a priority in the New Year and keeping up with it can help stave-off feelings of anxiety and depression.

Drug Abuse Awareness

We have talked about alcohol abuse and depression, but what about prescription drug abuse? Signs of prescription drug abuse can be more difficult to identify.

Physicians are regularly looking for the following qualifiers:

1. When patients are out of their meds too quickly (before prescriptions are due).

2. They become quickly agitated (typical withdrawal signs).

3. Patients come in for pain that is disproportionate to their physical findings.


“Most people are not successful on their first attempt at recovery. It’s important to keep trying and eventually you will be successful, especially if you have someone that you are accountable to.”
—Michelle Glasgow, MD

Prescription drug abuse is on the rise in the United States. Colorado is a mandatory reporting state for all opioid prescriptions in order to keep track of these regulated substances.

“Kaiser Permanente also requires all people with opioid prescriptions to have a random urine drug screen. If the drug test comes back negative, that’s a red flag because it means the individual might be selling the drugs.” says Dr. Glasgow.

There are also typical screening questions for anyone over the age of 18. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration has developed a screening, brief intervention and referral to treatment (SBIRT), which is an evidence-based practice used to identify, reduce and prevent problematic use, abuse and dependency. The process consists of three major components:

Screening—A healthcare professional assesses a patient for risky substance use behaviors using standardized screening tools. Screening can occur in any healthcare setting.

Brief Intervention—A healthcare professional engages a patient showing risky substance use behaviors in a short conversation, providing feedback and advice.

Referral to Treatment—A healthcare professional provides a referral to brief therapy or additional treatment to patients who screen in need of additional services.

Dr. Glasgow says that family members of those who have atypical behavior due to addiction can sometimes benefit from resources such as Al-Anon as well.

“Getting help on your own can be hard and it’s easy to make excuses,” says Dr. Glasgow. It’s important to have someone in your life that can hold you accountable. It’s much better than going at it alone. “Most people are not successful on their first attempt at recovery. It’s important to keep trying and eventually you will be successful, especially if you have someone that you are accountable to.”

“Don’t have a fear of coming in and talking to your doctor,” she reiterates. “Your physician is here to help. Keeping yourself and the people around you safe means not being afraid to talk to someone. There are a lot of mental health and addiction services available, and there is something out there that will work for you.”

Malini Bartels is a freelance writer, chef, mother, radio host and actress from Fort Collins. To comment on this article, send an email to