Christmas and the holiday season bring joy and a sense of hope to many people worldwide, but for a person in addiction recovery, the holidays can also be a stressful time.
If you’re new to sobriety, you may be dreading the holiday season, from events that have a heavy alcohol presence to avoiding relapse during a high-stress (if joyful) time.
Those who are new to recovery still have hope, however. There are measures you can take to stay sober and keep on track with long-term recovery goals during the holiday season.
How Holidays Trigger Drug and Alcohol Abuse
People who are new to recovery have a number of goals to keep in mind. You may be searching for a job, trying to find stable housing, or dealing with other life changes after leaving drug rehab.
In addition, people in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction have to worry about their relapse triggers or the things around them, which could prompt them to return to substance abuse.
Triggers are different for each individual but may include:
- drug or alcohol withdrawal symptoms
- experiencing symptoms of a dual diagnosis
- high-stress events
- seeing people or places connected to past drug use
- HALT (being Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired)
- feeling a range of emotions typical of early recovery
- being isolated from family or friends
- feelings of longing for drug and alcohol abuse
- pressures of a new job
The first few months and years of recovery are the hardest for many people, which is why having a strong recovery support system is so important.
But having support is only one step to staying drug-free during the holidays and in the long-term. It’s also important to know ways to maintain your sobriety by having a plan for everyday situations.
6 Tips for Staying Sober During the Holiday Season
Consider these tips to make a plan for staying sober in the months to come. You can personalize them to fit your needs, but having a relapse prevention plan is key to both short-term and long-term recovery.
1. Have a plan for parties and events.
The holidays are a time filled with Christmas parties, holiday events, and many opportunities to return to drug and alcohol use.
Plan ahead for these gatherings, and make sure to arrange for your own transportation. Getting stuck at a party could lead you to make unwise decisions. Driving yourself or finding your own way to the party helps ensure you can leave when you’re ready.
Remember to keep up on your basic human needs, such as eating and taking mental breaks from crowds. Parties can be hard for people with co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders, so it’s a good idea to take a few minutes away to breathe, meditate, practice mindfulness, and remind yourself of your sobriety goals.
2. Stay in good company.
Certain personalities clash on any given day, but this can be especially true around Christmas and other holidays when emotions are high. You may have relatives you want to avoid, either because they may pressure you to drink or use drugs or because they will not offer recovery support.
You may already know which relatives will become part of your support network and which ones you want to avoid. Keep your circle limited to those who understand your journey and who will offer the most care and grace during this time in your life.
3. Keep your support system close.
Relapse can happen when you’re lonely, scared, or feeling any myriad of emotions. Newly recovering people may experience feelings of depression, loneliness, mental health symptoms, or other emotions that can prompt them toward drug or alcohol abuse.
Lean on your support network during this time. Explain your concerns and make sure they know which times and events may be hardest for you to face so they can offer extra support.
It can help to have a text message chain, group chat, or other communication system so you can easily connect with your support group or sober sponsor when you need them.
4. Be mindful of self-care.
While it’s important to take care of your basic needs, like eating well, drinking water, getting sleep, and being aware of your mental health, it’s just as important to take advantage of self-care.
Know when you need to call it a night (or day). High-energy events can be overwhelming when you’re newly sober since you likely leaned on substance use to get you through the tough times before entering recovery.
Give yourself space to adjust, and don’t forget to do some fun things just for you, whether in a group setting or during alone time. The holidays afford a wealth of activities, and physical activity is one important way you can reset your thinking, take time for yourself, and bolster your sobriety as a result.
5. Replace old habits with new traditions.
Before addiction recovery, you may have had a favorite drink you liked to bring to parties or needed to get high before dealing with your extended family. Without these coping methods, you may feel unsettled and unsure of how to handle the bustle of the holiday season.
Start by inventing new, sober activities. With long-term recovery, the goal is often to replace drug and alcohol use with healthy, sober habits. Find a daily routine that helps you feel accomplished. The holiday season is also a great time to start traditions with family and friends, from decorating or baking to volunteering and giving.
6. Recognize your triggers and call on coping methods.
Every person with a substance use disorder has triggers, and it’s important to recognize your triggers and how they will affect you.
Have a specific person you can call or text—someone you know who will answer and help you stay on track, get you out of the environment, or otherwise distract you until you can call on coping methods learned during drug and alcohol treatment.
7. Stay true to your recovery goals.
Holiday parties, Christmas traditions, and seasonal events are important to many families throughout the United States. But for newly sober people, recovery has to come first.
Be sure to always put your recovery before any event, task, or anyone else’s feelings about your life. This is especially crucial in early recovery days. Sobriety works only if you make it your number one priority.
What to Do if You Relapse During the Holidays
Despite the many helpful tips that exist to help you maintain sobriety, don’t be discouraged if you relapse during the holidays. Relapse is a known and expected side effect of addiction and common in long-term recovery. You are not the first to experience it, and it is only one part of your recovery journey.
Many addiction treatment programs exist to help people who have relapsed. Some rehab centers even offer a free relapse treatment program for those who have been through their inpatient treatment program and experienced relapse.
Staying on the path of sobriety is possible, during the holidays and beyond, when you have the right help and recovery support on your side.
About the Author: Whitney Wellman is a content manager and writer for Recovering Champions and its parent network, Ark Behavioral Health.
- American Society of Addiction Medicine—Definition of Addiction
- National Institute on Drug Abuse—Treatment and Recovery, What Triggers a Relapse? “Cues” Give Clues
The opinions and views expressed in any guest blog post do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in the article or linked to therein. Guest Authors may have affiliations to products mentioned or linked to in their author bios only.
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