This article was written by James Malervy and published by RCA
The holiday season is a time of joy and celebration. Families and friends gather, exchange gifts, and make memories. But for those struggling with substance abuse, holidays present unique challenges or triggers that can lead them back to use. Things like stress, isolation, winter, loneliness, and access to drugs or alcohol can make it challenging to stay sober.
The CDC reports that drug and alcohol-induced deaths increase considerably during the holiday months of December and January. 2021 had a record-breaking number of overdoses as people continued to reel from the pandemic. According to Tampa Bay 10 News, the US had more than 100,000 overdose deaths between May 2020 and April 2021.
If you or a loved one is in recovery, it’s essential to be aware of the potential triggers and have a plan to cope with them. Here are some common holiday addiction triggers and how to avoid them:
The holidays can bring additional stress due to time constraints, family gatherings, financial strain, or expectations from others. In a survey reported by Harvard, 62% of participants described their stress level as “somewhat or very” elevated during the holidays, while only 10% reported no stress during the season.
The key to coping with holiday stress is to anticipate your potential stressors. Think back to the prior holidays and identify the hard moments. Identify potential stressors and come up with a plan or two on how to deal with them.
For example, if you’re concerned that a family member may ask about when you’re getting married or how your job is doing, you want to have a ready answer to the questions. The goal is to focus on your behavior instead of other people’s.
Holiday Parties and Events
Holiday parties and events can be a major trigger for relapse. The easy access to drinks and drugs makes it hard to overcome the temptation. In some cases, friends or family may even try to push you to have a drink. That is why it’s essential to practice refusal skills before attending events and know how to stick to your boundaries.
Know your limits, and don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed for making different choices than those around you. If attending holiday parties that serve alcohol, stay away from the bar and instead focus on conversations with other guests. The more you focus on the conversations, the less likely you will reach for a drink.
Memories of Past Celebrations
Sometimes the holidays can bring memories of both good and bad celebrations. It’s natural to want to replay these scenes as we plan for the future. But if you’re in active recovery, you must be mindful of how those memories may affect your current emotional state.
If you feel nostalgic and struggling with memories of past celebrations, take the time to process the emotions, but don’t try to push them down or ignore them. Instead, find a healthy way to cope with the feelings without turning to drugs or alcohol.
Focusing on self-care and connecting with others can help bring peace of mind. Take a walk, practice yoga or meditation, schedule an appointment with your therapist, or call a friend to chat.
Holiday Shopping and Large Crowds
Holidays are synonymous with shopping, crowds, and standing in long lines. All these can be overwhelming for many people, but more so for those in recovery. It’s essential to recognize that you may find yourself in overwhelming situations, but with the right plan, you can still enjoy the holiday season.
It’s also a good idea to shop early to avoid the large crowds. Stick to your list and limit exposure to areas you may be tempted by.
The festive season brings joy and many other good things. However, if your expectations of how things should be are too high, you feel overwhelmed or disappointed. If you expect to live up to the perfect holiday, you set yourself up for failure. Instead, focus on what matters and let go of any unrealistic expectations.
Returning to hometowns and childhood homes
Returning to your childhood home or hometown can be one of the most difficult challenges for anyone in recovery. Not only can it be hard to face the people you hurt and remind yourself of past hurts, but it can also bring back memories of your addiction.
If you’re returning to a hometown or childhood home, have a support system in place. Talk to your therapist, sponsor, or sober friend so they can be there for you if you need help navigating any difficult emotions or situations. It’s also helpful to plan what you will do and who you will avoid back in your hometown. This can help keep you focused on remaining sober and avoiding temptations.
How to Lower Your Risk of Relapse During the Holidays
The holiday season can be a challenging time for people in recovery. There are plenty of opportunities for temptation, from family gatherings to work parties to binge drinking. However, you can also do many things to lower your risk of relapse during the holidays.
- Plan in advance: Have a plan to stay sober and stick to it. Make sure you know your triggers, have coping skills in place and reach out for help when needed.
- Take care of yourself: Your mental, physical and emotional health is essential during this time. Connect with peers or family members, practice self-care, and engage in activities that make you feel good.
- Be mindful of your surroundings: This is especially true during the holidays. Avoid risky situations or environments where alcohol abuse and drugs are present, and stay away from people who may be a bad influence or toxic.
- Focus on the positive: The holidays are also a time to be grateful and celebrate life. Focus on the joy and happiness of being sober, and find ways to give back.
- Pay attention to nutrition and exercise: Eating well and staying active will help boost your mood, protect your mental health and give you the energy you need to make it through the holiday season.
- Be honest with yourself and others about your sobriety. If you feel like you’re not ready to attend a particular event, it’s okay to say no.
What to Do In Case of a Relapse
Relapse is a part of recovery, and it is essential to understand that relapse does not define you. If you relapse – or have a strong desire to use drugs, it is necessary to reach out for help from friends, family, sponsor, or therapist.
It’s also a good idea to avoid triggers, set healthy boundaries, and develop a relapse prevention plan. Support groups like AA, NA, and CA can be helpful too.
Treatment Options after a Relapse
It is essential to take action if you notice signs of relapse. Talk with your addiction treatment center or therapist about setting up a recovery plan that is right for you. Your therapist might recommend different treatment options, like Medication-assisted treatment, behavioral health therapy, and family therapy, to address your alcohol or drug abuse problem.