Sobriety can be challenging and getting through the holidays presents an added layer of complexity, especially for those who are new to recovery. From Thanksgiving to New Year’s, financial stress, unfulfilled expectations and family dynamics can be stressful. Whether it’s a suddenly jam-packed schedule, uncomfortable run-ins with old acquaintances, holiday blues, or a simple champagne toast, avoiding triggers and staying sober during the holidays can be difficult.
Everyone can relate to the feelings of stress and pressure during the holidays. After all, it’s the most wonderful time of the year. As much as most people love the holiday season, at times, it can become truly overwhelming. For those in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction, the stress, pressure, excitement, loneliness, or a number of various feelings can contribute to a sense of holiday anxiety. For those in early recovery, the added stressors of the holidays can lead people closer to relapse.
Why Do People Relapse?
Every addict knows that relapse is a part of recovery. Virtually no one remains sober after the first time they get sober. Some people place their focus on bolstering their recovery so that they do not suffer a relapse, while others may focus on ways to pull themselves back to solid ground after they do relapse. Addiction is a sinister disease that can cause a person to relapse for a number of reasons, and many of those reasons become prominent during the holiday season.
Common Factors That Compromise Addiction Recovery
During the holiday season, people balance their work lives, family lives, and inner lives. People purchase gifts, attend parties, and visit distant relatives. People may inadvertently disappoint their loved ones, they may run out of time, and they may be rushed in everything they do. Stress ramps up around Halloween and doesn’t ramp down until after the New Year.
Others may feel disappointed by the reality of the holiday season. There are not always happy endings with big turkeys and jovial families in real life. In real life, there are arguments, bills, and quotas. When real life doesn’t line up with what we see in the movies, we can experience cognitive dissonance that results in an overwhelming sense of disappointment.
Additionally, we often compare ourselves to others during the holiday season. We see other families on Christmas cards and we see expensive gifts on Instagram. Making comparisons between ourselves and others can make us feel depressed, anxious, and lonely.
How Does Relapse Occur?
Most relapses do not occur in a moment’s notice, rather there is usually a slow build-up leading up to the relapse. A physical relapse often happens after a person has experienced some mental and emotional troubles that have gone unaddressed. For example, stress, upsetting experiences, and ignoring emotions can all erode a person’s resilience in their recovery. This is especially true when more than one issue is happening simultaneously and going unaddressed. Relapse often occurs as a result of the neglect of psychological and emotional needs, which is why a large portion of addiction recovery is focused on addressing issues as they occur.
What are the Warning Signs of a Relapse?
There are several warning signs associated with a relapse that can signal that one is on the horizon. From minor signs such as mood swings and unhealthy eating habits to more severe ones such as having big cravings and convincing oneself that they can control their use, there are signs of relapse.
Some of the most common warning signs that a relapse is imminent include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Overall poor self-care
- Neglecting or masking emotions
- Isolating from others
- Developing a poor sleep schedule
- Skipping meetings
- Not utilizing coping skills
- Avoiding problems
- Glamorizing drug or alcohol use
- Thinking about using
- Planning to use
If these or other warning signs are noticed quickly, they can be actively identified and addressed in an appropriate manner. Should these signs go ignored, it can lead to a relapse, which can be fatal.
Tips for Avoiding Relapse Triggers During the Holidays
The holidays can be extremely complex, even for those who enjoy them. Avoiding relapse triggers during the holidays is absolutely key for those who are in recovery from drug or alcohol use. While it might seem nearly impossible for some, it is important to know that avoiding relapse triggers during the holidays is doable.
Here are a few supportive tips to avoid relapse triggers and help maintain your sobriety through the holiday season.
Identify Triggers & Avoid Them
This is step one for maintaining your sobriety. Make a list of all possible scenarios that can trigger addictive behavior. However, be cautious about dwelling too much on the list. If needed, work on your list with your support system. Being mindful of triggers can be the difference between being successful in recovery and relapsing. If possible, walk away from any dangerous situation that can be risky for your sobriety.
Plan Ahead & Schedule Out Your Days
The holiday season can quickly jam-pack one’s schedule to the point where there is little time to simply relax. While we all try to accommodate our friends, family and loved ones as much as possible, it is important to establish boundaries around how you are going to spend time with family and friends. Therefore, schedule out your days so that you have structure and can rely on time that is just for you, rather than for everyone else. Unfortunately, we cannot control every situation. Once potential triggers have been identified, make a plan to manage them when they do arise. Leave early, call a sober friend for a ride home, or practice saying “no” to uncomfortable situations.
Know What to Say
Depending on what activities you are engaging in during the holidays, knowing what to say when someone asks you about things that are triggering can be extremely beneficial. Have a few responses in mind for when someone asks you why you aren’t drinking. Practice a few one-liners to throw out there when someone brings up a topic that is triggering for you. Being prepared will help bring you comfort both before and during the holidays.
Keep Healthy Habits
During all of the hustle and bustle of the holidays, be sure to continue to practice healthy habits. Get a good night’s sleep, prioritize proper nutrition, and take some time to practice self-care.
Limit or Avoid Some People
Being together for the holidays may include coming together with people who aren’t healthy for your recovery. Avoid old friends who are associated with unhealthy memories. If you’re attending a family dinner, limit time with family members who ask uncomfortable questions about your recovery process or who constantly ask if you would like “just one drink.”
Serve Yourself & Keep a Non-Alcoholic Drink in Hand
Even if alcohol was not your substance of choice, if you are in recovery, you are abstaining from the use of alcohol, too. Alcohol plays a major role in the holiday season and may be present in many celebrations and holiday parties. Before anyone can ask if you would like an alcoholic beverage, keep a non-alcoholic drink in hand. They will see that you already have something to drink and won’t bother to ask you. And if they do offer you a drink, you can let them know you’re still working on the one you have.
Go to Meetings Regularly
Be sure to keep up with your recovery routine and continue to attend any meetings that you frequent. The strength and wisdom that can be gained through these meetings can help in avoiding relapse triggers during the holidays. Not only that, but you can also increase your accountability to other members of the group, helping you stay encouraged to keep from drinking or using drugs. If you can’t make it to in-person meetings, reach out to your sponsor or other peer support, or find an online meeting to attend.
Lean on Your Support System
The holidays are one of the most important times to lean on your support system because avoiding relapse triggers during the holidays can be complicated. Keep in constant contact with members of your support system, such as your sponsor, best friend, family member, or another close confidant. Share how you are feeling as opposed to bottling it up and keep the line of communication open. When in doubt, talk it out with a friend, your sponsor, or someone you can lean on. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the busy holiday season but sharing and confiding in others who are also in recovery can help relieve that stress. And if you are attending a holiday party, consider bringing a sober friend for extra support.
Try to remember what brings you joy during the holiday season. When you direct your attention away from what you should and need to be doing during the holidays and instead you focus your attention on what makes you happy, you will find that this time of year is more enjoyable and it’s a little bit easier to stay sober.
Benefits of Professional Help
Even though the holidays can be extremely difficult, there are plenty of resources that can help you maintain your sobriety. Professional treatment services such as those we offer at Clear Behavioral Health can help you stay centered and focused on recovery.
Professional outpatient treatment can be of great benefit to those who are at risk of relapse or have already relapsed during the holidays. If you have relapsed but do not require more intensive care, outpatient programming might be an effective way to help you address your relapse. However, in the event that you have relapsed and things have become out of control, our residential rehab services can help offer you the structure you need to get sober again.
Seek Support During the Holidays
We understand how difficult it can be to maintain sobriety. Avoiding relapse triggers during the holidays is a challenge in itself. Allow our team to help you through this difficult time so that you can continue on with your sobriety.
If you or a loved one is in need of help for a substance use disorder, call Clear Behavioral Health to learn more about our substance abuse treatment in Los Angeles and start your journey toward building a sober life.