Maintaining Recovery During the Holidays: Tips to Prevent a Relapse

November 22, 2019

For many people the holiday season is a joyous and festive time of year. Family gatherings, parties, and other seasonal activities call for us to eat, drink, and be merry. However, for people in recovery from alcohol or drug addiction, the holidays aren’t always so jolly. Being surrounded by drinking, partying, and the usual hustle and bustle associated with this time of year can increase the risk of a relapse. Here are some practical tips to help you, or a loved one, maintain sobriety throughout the holiday season:

Make sobriety a priority

The holiday season is a time to be extra vigilant about your recovery. Spending more time with family, financial pressures, and past memories of drug/alcohol use are some of the stressors that can test your commitment to staying clean and sober. Recovering addicts understand that the addict part of themselves is always there waiting for an opportunity to start using again. It can be something as subtle as the sound of ice cubes clinking in a glass, a visit to an old hangout, or the thought, “Maybe I can have just one drink.” The key is to gain strength from the parts of yourself that value your hard-earned sobriety. Continue to put your recovery first, even if it seems selfish at times. Keeping your recovery on track is the most important thing you can do for yourself and your loved ones. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Make a plan

People in recovery understand that a big part of relapse prevention involves having an awareness of the people, places, and things that can trigger old behaviors. To prevent a relapse this holiday season, come up with strategies to protect your sobriety. Here are some examples:

  • Ask people you trust for help and support.
  • Limit the time you spend with relatives who drive you nuts.
  • Keep a list on hand with phone numbers of people you can contact day or night.
  • Decline any event you feel uncomfortable attending – you’re allowed to say “No.”
  • When you do attend an event, drive yourself so that you can exit if you want to leave.
  • Attend alcohol/drug-free parties and other social activities with local AA/NA friends.

Don’t get sucked into the illusion that you’re invincible to the challenges you will most likely face during this holiday season. Developing a plan for how to navigate your way through the next couple of months gives you the opportunity to make the best choices to maintain your recovery.

Stay connected to your support network

Now is the time to lean on those who support your recovery journey. With the help of a therapist, you can learn to recognize holiday triggers so that you can prevent behavior problems before they start. If you’re a part of a 12-step support group like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA), make the effort to attend extra meetings and contact your sponsor regularly. This community of support will be there for you when you’re struggling and challenge you if they notice you’re isolating. Consider bringing an AA/NA friend along with you to family gatherings or other social activities for reassurance, encouragement, and understanding. If that’s not possible, make a commitment to a friend or friends to contact them before and after an event to get the support and comfort you need. If you plan to travel, locate the 12-step meetings close to where you’re staying. Remember, you’re not alone and being with others who share your journey and care about you is a blessing.

Be aware of anxiety and depression

Holiday commercials and movies tend to portray the holiday season as a time of peace, love, and joy. In reality, the holidays are often stressful and emotionally challenging, especially for people in recovery who are grappling with other mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. Ruminating negative thoughts and intense emotions like sadness and loneliness can be triggers for people who previously used drugs or alcohol as a way to cope with emotional suffering. If you’re feeling emotionally vulnerable, make the decision that relapse is not an option. Instead of acting out impulsively or resorting to old behaviors to feel better, try sitting with the uncomfortable feelings and trust that they will pass. Meditation and the Serenity Prayer are also helpful tools. If that doesn’t work and the emotions become overwhelming, seek treatment from a therapist and/or a medical professional. Don’t use feelings of stress, anxiety, or depression as an excuse to relapse. Remember, you have choices.

Look for ways to be of service

Living a life of recovery offers you powerful opportunities to change and become the best version of yourself. As you work on reaching your full potential, help others reach theirs, too. Consider volunteering for a good cause. During this time of year, soup kitchens and food banks are constantly looking for extra hands. Helping out at local animal shelters or nursing homes is also an option. If you’re able, sponsor someone grappling with addiction or work with SMART recovery. While being active in your community is a meaningful way to give back, acts of service can be as simple as helping out a sick friend or visiting a family member you haven’t seen in a while. No act of kindness is too big or too small. What matters most is that you’re stepping away from your self-centeredness and connecting with others to create greater hope and optimism. Strengthen your recovery this holiday by lifting the spirits of others.

So, celebrate your sober life this holiday season. You’ve worked hard to be able to enjoy the present moment with family and friends without alcohol or drugs. We are all a work in progress. Have faith in yourself, be strong, and live life one day at a time!

If you’re interested in therapy, request an appointment today!