Research evidence gathered from Google data suggests that “addiction” searches reflect actual drug use patterns in our population, and these searches follow seasonal fluctuations.
Studies of Internet activity show that Google searches for “drug withdrawal” and topics related to “alcohol” and “drugs” drop to their lowest point on Thanksgiving and Christmas, but peak around New Year’s Eve. Why is that? High expectations and false hope.
“The problem with the holidays is that people are always overly optimistic about how much the mood of the season is going to move the person with a drug or alcohol problem to improve, to accept treatment or to behave differently,” says David Sack, MD, chief medical officer at Elements Behavioral Health, a network of addiction treatment and mental health centers. “People with addiction and their family members need to be realistic that problems will occur.”
Many people with drug and alcohol addiction hope that “this year will be different” and they will be able to manage their addictions through the holidays and achieve their resolutions to quit drinking or using drugs once and for all. However, online data reveals that their interest in recovery peaks around the New Year and then sharply declines through the winter months as their efforts to quit fail and their hope for overcoming addiction dwindles.
What Google Search Trends Tell Us About Addiction in Our Society
The winter holidays are a well-known trigger for substance abuse, and the post-January drop in online searches on addiction topics suggests that many people get overwhelmed by the stress of the holidays and can’t always face quitting drugs and alcohol during that time because they are still dealing with troubling holiday memories and emotions.
“Addicted relatives often create crises during the holidays, making scenes during family reunions, forgetting to pick up the kids for visitations or ending up in the emergency room because they overdosed, which makes it a hard time for the entire family,” says Dr. Sack.
What Are the Implications of Google Search Trends on Addiction Topics?
A lesson to be gleaned from this data is that helping an addicted loved one enter addiction treatment in the autumn, before the holidays arrive, is an opportune time to prevent crises and get an early start on building the tools necessary for overcoming addiction and coping with the triggers that peak at this time of year. The great truth, however, is that there’s no bad time to get help, but tremendous risks to putting it off.
“Holidays involve so many different kinds of stressors — financial, interpersonal and emotional,” says Dr. Sack. “It’s very hard for family members, once the holidays begin, to focus on someone with a drug or alcohol problem. My advice is, work on getting help for them early, before the holidays. Get them into treatment right away. Don’t wait.”
As November rolls in and Thanksgiving approaches, families and their loved ones with addiction can start planning how to make things better this year by starting addiction treatment in the autumn so they can get sober by Christmas and enjoy the gift of recovery through winter. But no matter the season, week, day or moment that an addict decides to enter treatment, a new chance at a healthy life without the use of alcohol or other drugs awaits.
Health — Addiction: The opioid crisis. What our Google searches reveal about the drug epidemic. Christopher Ingraham. The Inquirer, The Washington Post, July 2017.
Google searches for mental health issues spike in March. Stef W. Knight. Axios, September 2017.
Letter from the Editor: Fall in love with your health. Marie Ellis, Managing Editor. Medical News Today, September 2017.