7 Strategies to Improve Medication Adherence During the Holidays

Parties, plans, festivities — there’s a lot that goes on during the holiday season that steals your attention. Otherwise solid daily routines — like managing multiple medications — can easily get disrupted when you’re in new surroundings. The busyness of the holiday season, through buying gifts, decorating, preparing food, and hosting or attending parties, can get in the way.

If you’re one of the millions of Americans who takes medications, you’ve likely forgotten a dose at some point. Forgetfulness happens, but it does contribute to decreasing medication adherence numbers. While medication adherence is associated with improved health outcomes, a similar sentiment can be said about the opposite: nonadherence is associated with decreased health success. The CDC reports increased morbidity, mortality, health care costs, and hospital admissions rates in addition to poorer health outcomes are associated with nonadherence.

Around 20% of people who receive a prescription from a doctor never fill it, and of those who do, around half take medications incorrectly.1 The reasons for lack of medication adherence span from purposeful to accidental — from fear of side effects, to high costs, to not thinking they need it because symptoms of their condition subsided, and unfortunately, choosing not to refill medications if they’re low on money — especially around the holiday season because it can be more expensive with gift-giving and preparing for festivities. Also to blame are misunderstandings of the need for the medication or how to take it — like the timing, dosage, or frequency.

During the holiday season, extra time off work, traveling, and eating meals outside of the home are all things that can disrupt normal routines and lead to decreased medication adherence. If you’re used to taking medication with dinners at your kitchen table, it can be hard to remember to take medications with you on the go. If you need help managing multiple medications, here are seven strategies for improving your medication adherence.

  1. Set an alarm. Whether you’re at home during your normal dinner routine or out at a holiday party or traveling to see family, set a daily alarm on your smart watch or phone to remind you to take your medication. Are you traveling out of state and to a different time zone for your holiday or winter travels? Don’t forget to consider time zone changes if you’re traveling far from home. The days you remember on your own, great! It will feel great to be able to swipe away a notification immediately. For the days you end up needing that little reminder, you’ll be glad you had it!
  2. Use a pill planner or other pill storage system. Typical pill planners help you remember whether or not you’ve taken the necessary dose for the morning, evening, or day yet. If you travel a lot, know you’ll be gone for an extended time around the holidays, or just want to make sure to carry around an extra dose or two for when you’re away from home every now and then, a more robust pill planning system can come in handy. You’ll be able to make your own custom packets of pills or vitamins to take on the go or to have around the house so it’s quicker and more efficient when you need to take them.
  3. Set a routine for when you take medications. Choose something you do every day to associate with taking your pills. Do you need to take pills in the morning? Take them after brushing your teeth so the routine becomes almost automatic. Do you need to take them with a meal? Leave them near your silverware drawer or another thing you use for every meal or next to the sink so as you’re cleaning up from dinner you see them.
  4. Have others keep you accountable. And do the same for them! Do you have a spouse, child, or parent who also takes medications? Help each other remember to take them so you each have a backup and stay accountable. If one forgets, the other will likely remember, and it will help you both in the long run!
  5. Know the effects of mixing your medications with anything. It’s important to know what you can and cannot mix medications with. Some need to be taken with food, while others should be taken on an empty stomach. Some have unwanted side effects if you mix them with alcohol. No matter the medication, know the interferences it may have with certain food, drinks, or anything else. The holiday season lends itself to us trying different types of foods — especially if you attend parties that you didn’t cook for. Being confident in what you should or should not mix your medications with will help increase efficacy of the medication.
  6. Mark your refill dates. Is your medication one you need to take long term? Mark the date on your calendar when you’ll need a refill, and also make an extra mark a bit in advance to plan when you’ll need to request the refill. The holidays are a busy time, so don’t let the busyness of the season get in the way of you getting your refill.
  7. Remember your “why.” Is your prescription to address a chronic condition? To help ease pain? To normalize health markers and increase your longevity? Remembering your “why,” or the reason you’re taking them in the first place, can help motivate you to manage your condition or get healthy, and in turn help you remember.

As important as knowing why you’re taking medications is realizing the implications of poor medication adherence. Your doctor prescribed you medications for a reason, so you should be taking them. Not doing so will have an effect on the outcome of your health journey, whether you’re trying to correct a condition or become healthier. The success of your health depends on your adherence, so make sure to be vigilant and stay on top of it.

Making sure you’re educated on your medication, both from the standpoint of why you need it and how to take it, are important to making sure you’re getting the desired outcome. Using these helpful tips and tricks as well as having outside support to keep you accountable are important to your medication adherence and your overall health.



  1. Centers for Disease Control. CDC Grand Rounds: Improving Medication Adherence for Chronic Disease Management — Innovations and Opportunities. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/66/wr/mm6645a2.htm

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