A hearty Cab with Thanksgiving dinner. Rum-spiked eggnog at a raucous holiday party. Champagne toasts at New Year’s Eve. This season can be hard enough for people in recovery without the added emotional and mental hazards the holidays can bring.
This is a time when everything is supposed to be merry and bright. But underneath the surface, there can be loneliness, strained relationships, stress from end-of-the-year busyness, and much more. There may be a stronger-than-usual temptation to go back to substance abuse as a means of coping, making the risk of addiction relapse high during the holidays.
That’s why it’s advisable to go into the holiday season clear-eyed about the best ways to maintain your sobriety. It takes some planning and thoughtfulness, but if you prepare in advance, it may give you better odds of keeping your recovery intact into the new year.
Here are some strategies that are useful for avoiding addiction relapses over the holidays.
How to Avoid Addiction Relapses Over the Holidays
Just Say No to a Busy Holiday
Your calendar fills up quickly this time of year with family obligations, work deadlines, parties, and other social invites. Saying yes to everything can leave you feeling frazzled and overwhelmed with too much on your plate. Pick a few events that you want or have to attend, and politely decline anything that sounds too much to handle.
Give Yourself the Gift of Connection
Of course, you don’t want to go too far in the other direction and say no to all gatherings. You’ll feel isolated and alone, and you may feel tempted to numb the sadness with drugs or alcohol. Make sure to spend the holidays with empathetic family or friends, or reach out to other members of your support group who may also spend the holidays alone.
- Don’t Fall Back Into Bad Relationship Habits
A family dinner with your estranged siblings can be stressful. An alcohol-fueled night out with your old friends you used to party with may be asking for trouble. Try to avoid situations that you recognize as triggers for substance abuse and may lead to addiction relapse. Can’t get out of a particular event? Talk with your counselor or 12-step sponsor about coping mechanisms you can use in case of an emergency.
- Do Some Party Planning
Holiday parties can be a minefield for people who want to preserve their sobriety. You can still take part in the revelry without taking part in the open bar:
- Eat before and during the party to keep blood sugar stable, your mood calm, and your mind clear. Focus on protein, fruits, and vegetables, while keeping sugary treats in moderation.
- Make any party BYOB—bring your own beverage. Non-alcoholic sparkling juice or water provides a festive fizz without the booze factor. That way you’ll always have something to drink and you won’t have to rely on what’s being served at the bar.
- Time your entrance and exit. A party pop-in, where you arrive late and leave early, may be advisable if you know there will be alcohol or drugs. Driving to the party yourself gives you more control over the situation.
- Use the buddy system and bring another sober friend to the party who encourages and supports your recovery efforts. This person can help you stay on track if you feel tempted to indulge.
- Come up with a line or two you can use to turn down any substances you may be offered at a party. It can be something as simple as, “I’m the designated driver tonight” or “I’ve already reached my limit, thanks.”
- Stay Supported, and Sober, While Traveling
If you’re going out of town for the holidays, map out where you can get support away from home. Find the AA meetings at your destination, for instance, or log in to your regular 12-step meeting virtually.
- Take Advantage of Your Rehab Facility’s Aftercare Services
Addiction treatment programs such as Stonegate Center offer a full continuum of care, which includes aftercare service after you complete a residential stay. These programs can be valuable resources for education, tools, and support.
- Watch Your Budget
It’s better to give than to receive, but not if it creates a financial burden. Lack of finances can be a stress trigger for many people, and you don’t want to go into debt if it causes an addiction relapse over the holidays. Small, thoughtful gifts are meaningful even without a big price tag. If you’ve taken up a hobby as part of your recovery, see if you can create handmade gifts of love, such as home-baked cookies or a photo portrait of your relatives.
- Keep Stress in Check
Stress management is one of the best, most practical tools you can learn during alcohol or drug addiction treatment. The tools are vital year-round but especially during the holiday season and the potential mental and emotional difficulties it may present. Incorporate one or more of these relaxation techniques into your daily routine, and when you hit a time of turmoil, switching into stress relief mode will be second nature:
- Moderate exercise for at least 30 minutes a day (walking, cycling, etc.)
- Mindful movement (tai chi, yoga)
- Deep breathing exercises (Start with a deep inhale from the belly, hold the breath for a count of three, then gently exhale, relaxing your body as you do so.)
- Practicing gratitude (writing down one to three things you’re thankful for each day)
Need Help for the Holidays? Contact Stonegate Center
We’re here when you need help achieving sobriety or preventing addiction relapse, not just during the holidays but all through the year. At Stonegate Center, our faith-based program uses proven therapeutic interventions to create personalized rehabilitation treatment plans to give you a solid foundation for recovery. Sobriety is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself. See what our drug and alcohol addiction treatment programs are all about and contact us to learn more.
Allison Johnson (L) is the Director of Compliance for Stonegate Center. She is a recovered alcoholic and addict with over 7 years sober. Her experience in residential treatment extends to her love of all things compliance and quality assurance. Stephanie Griffin (R) is the Program Director for Stonegate Center Hilltop. Her personal journey of recovery began in 2012 and allows her to connect with clients and their families on personal level. She is passionate about 12-Step recovery blended with high-accountability programming.