The holidays are right around the corner. This is an exciting time of the year for many, but for those who struggle with substance use, the holidays can be challenging, stressful, and exhausting. The business of the holiday season, along with emotional stress that can come from family conflict, trauma, financial strain, or loneliness can lead those in recovery to resort back to poor coping strategies, making them more vulnerable to relapse.
“For people struggling with addiction, the holidays are fraught with triggers and other aspects that can make maintaining sobriety difficult. Developing a strong sobriety plan to manage triggers goes a long way in helping a person be successful during this time. Isolation from family and others greatly contributes to people feeling depressed and looking for ways to cope. Finding support groups, such as AA, Celebrate Recovery, and Smart Recovery, to connect with during the holiday time can be a big support. Identifying warning signs of lapse, and making a plan for how to manage high risk situations ahead of time can also greatly increase a person’s chances for success.” –Adam Kurtz, LCAS, LCMHC
We have put together some tips and strategies to help you safeguard your sobriety during the holidays:
Be Selective About the Invitations You Accept & Avoid Risky Situations
- Don’t feel obligated to accept every invitation you receive.
- Ask yourself: What is this event really about? Is this event appropriate for my stage of recovery? What are my motives for attending this event?
- Say yes to celebrating with people or in ways that are supportive of your recovery. This will give you peace of mind.
- Identify your triggers- Are they stress, specific environments, or certain people?
- Be aware of your own warning signs related to triggers, such as thinking patterns or unhealthy situations
- Take care of your basic needs (food, sleep, mood) to help you manage your triggers better
Have a Plan in Place
- Practice responses to triggering questions or stories from the past through role-play with a supportive friend or counselor
- Practice turning down substances or avoiding certain behaviors
- Consider bringing an accountability person to events with you
- It may be beneficial to arrive early and leave early to avoid potentially risky situations
- Bring your own safe food/beverages in order to have control over what you consume
- Have an escape plan. Make sure you would be able to leave at any time, if needed. Have your own transportation or means of escape.
Establish a Support System
- Reach out to sober friends or people who are understanding of your experience. Schedule an appointment with a therapist in advance to help make your holiday plan.
- Attend additional meetings with a counselor or support group during the holiday season.
- Be mindful about your attitudes and feelings about the holidays and adjust them when necessary. This may involve talking to a counselor or friend who understands addiction recovery. Be open, accepting, and positive at gatherings, instead of on-edge and defensive.
- Be mindful about what you’re consuming- keep a drink in hand that you have selected
- Engage in stress-reducing activities during the holiday season. This may include, walking, hiking, biking, yoga, deep breathing exercises, meditation, or gentle exercise.
- Be sure to get enough rest and proper nutrition during the holidays
Try New Activities or Spend Time Serving Others
- This can help you avoid triggers and give you some good alternatives to former habits during the holidays.
- New activities may include cooking meals or baking with friends, watching holiday movies, experiencing nature, etc.
- Serve a meal at a homeless shelter or volunteer at non-profit organization.
Seek Additional Treatment if Needed
- There is no shame in going to rehab during the holidays if it protects you from harmful situations.
Remember that recovery is a one-day-at-a-time endeavor, regardless of the season you are in!
If you need additional help during the holidays, the Substance abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Helpline is 1-800-662-HELP (4357).