Navigating the Holidays in Addiction Recovery

Navigating the Holidays in Addiction Recovery

For many people, the holiday season is a time for celebration and spending time with loved ones. But for those battling addiction or in recovery, it can also be a time filled with added worry and stress.

For instance, the amount of family gatherings and parties tend to increase during the holidays and as a result excessive drinking often seems more socially acceptable, if not expected. During this time it’s important to be selective of the events you attend. If you’re aware a certain event will have alcohol or drugs and could make you uncomfortable, skip it.

While it may seem like people dealing with addiction should hibernate and avoid all holiday celebrations, it doesn’t have to be that way. If you do attend a party where drugs or alcohol may be present, there are more preventable steps you can take, such as:

  • Bring your own beverage or contact the host ahead of time and ask them to supply some non-alcoholic beverages to choose from.
  • Bring a friend to help avoid potential relapse triggers and to help keep an eye on you.
  • Ask another person in recovery to be “on call” for you to check in with during the event for additional support.
  • Come up with a standard response as to why you aren’t partaking in any substance. For instance, “I don’t drink anymore” or “I’m the designated driver tonight.”

Avoiding Relapse Triggers

The holiday season can also be full of potential unforeseen relapse triggers including events, situations and attitudes that can cause a sudden return of the overwhelming craving for drugs and alcohol in someone recovering from substance abuse. Certain holiday triggers to be aware of include:

  • During the holidays it may seem as if everyone you know is partying, decorating, sending out invitations and stocking up on food and alcohol. Sometimes just knowing there’s a party to attend is enough to add to someone’s stress level. Those feelings combined with the awareness that there will be alcohol or drugs present could potentially become a trigger for relapse. Many people in recovery associate party attendance with past use.
  • Financial Issues. Crowded stores, holiday gift lists and extra bills before and after the holidays can take a toll on a person’s ability to manage stress during this time. This can be crucial, especially for someone in early recovery because having successful coping skills can often be the tipping point between succumbing to financial stress or relapsing and having a safe and sober holiday season.
  • For many people, the holiday season is one of the most stressful times of the year as feelings of shame, guilt, humiliation, embarrassment, anger and depression often crop up during this time. As a result, people in addiction recovery often experience increased anxiety about triggers and cravings during the holidays.
  • Family conflict. During the holidays, the close contact with family members can sometimes cause different levels of conflicts. This, combined with the likelihood that alcohol will be served during family get-togethers or parties, only increases the potential for relapse.
  • Disruption in schedules and time demands. Normal routines are often disrupted during the holiday season, which can put a serious stress on someone’s sobriety. Additionally, other life aspects — such as your regular meeting attendance, exercise routine, and even healthy eating patterns — may also get disrupted during this time.

Remember to Take Care of Yourself

Throughout the holiday season, it’s important to put your sobriety first and pay attention to what your body and mind need in order to remain on your path to recovery. Ignoring these personal needs will only add additional unwanted stress and worry, and could potentially lead to relapse. Taking steps such as paying attention to potential triggers and preparing a safe alternative holiday plan can go a long way in helping to avoid relapse during this time.

Addiction recovery doesn’t need to be a hindrance on celebrating this time of year. Experiment with coping strategies until you find out what works best for you. There’s a good chance you’ll discover that you can have more fun sober than you ever did using drugs or alcohol.

By Jenna Mitchell

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