The holidays bring on several different emotions for those in recovery from drug abuse or alcohol abuse. There are a combination of different feelings that may occur. For some the holiday’s are a time of happiness and joy, thus resulting in lower levels of awareness, and a higher propensity for relapse. Under other circumstance, people may experience increased level of stress from financial concerns, or being around relatives they have not seen in some time. On the other hand some recovering addicts may not have a social support network, or family to spend the holiday season with which can result in feelings of depression, and a higher likelihood of relapse. Regardless of the amount of time that a person has been sober, it is imperative to be aware of the different relapse triggers that may occur during the holiday season, and how to avoid them.
Be Aware of Relapse Triggers
Because of the diversity of situations, and abundance of relapse triggers that occur during the holiday season it is necessary to be aware of them. For many people there are a wide range of emotions experienced, high levels of stress, and a disruption in routines. All of which increase the likelihood of relapse.
Trigger # 1 Be Aware of your Emotions
Be aware of how you are feelings, and the consequences of your actions. For some people they will experience heightened emotions of joy, and happiness. Thus resulting in lower levels of awareness. Often recovery addicts will have experience thoughts such as, “ One drink won’t hurt”, “Why kill the moment” , “ I want to be part of the festivities, so I will just have a glass of wine”. All of these cognitive distortions are ways that recovering addicts will justify, and convince themselves that there will be no consequence for having a drink during the holiday season. However, the truth is one drink, or one time use of drugs may lead to the cycle of abuse all over again, thus resulting in more harm than good. On the hand people may experience feelings of depression, and reach out to their substance of choice as a coping mechanism. Mayoclinic.org states that, “ If someone close to you has recently died or you can’t be with loved ones, a person may experience sadness or grief. This can be a challenge for people recovery from a substance use disorder, or alcohol abuse. Many people begin using drugs to cope with feelings of depression from the start. Dualdiagnosis.org states that, “Many depressed individuals reach for drugs or alcohol as a way to lift their spirits or to numb painful thoughts. As a result, depression and substance abuse feed into each other, and one condition will often make the other worse”. Understanding that the holiday’s can bring on depression for some is crucial to relapse prevention.
Trigger # 2 Watch Out For Stress
Stress is extra high around this time of year. Mayoclinic.org states that, “The holidays present a dizzying array of demands — parties, shopping, baking, cleaning and entertaining, to name just a few. Three overarching types of stress to watch out for are stress brought on by finances, family, and time constriction. During the holiday’s there is an influx in financial pressures. There is the added pressure of buying gifts, preparing a meal for the family, and the cost of entertainment. Other times of the year people generally have an idea of what regular expenses they will need to take care of, but the holiday season brings on additional costs that may present as stressful for some people. Understanding that the burden of financial pressures maybe a trigger will help in formulating a plan for coping with this during the holiday season. In addition to financial stress, people are challenged with dealing with additional stress from family members. Being in close contact with family members you have not seen in awhile can increase levels of stress, and lead to a stronger desire to drink or use drugs. On top of that numerous holidays events such as parties, friends and relatives will be consuming alcohol which can lead to an increased desire to use. Aside from stress brought on by interactions with family, many people are faced with stress related to the abundance of things that need to be done before the Holiday’s. Such things include buying gifts, preparing for parties, and travel plans just to name a few. People suffering from addiction often have a propensity to use drugs or drink when under pressure from stress, thus holidays are a huge red flag for those in recovery or struggling with addiction.
Trigger # 3 A Disruption in Routine and Schedules
Lastly for those who are recovering from addiction it is likely that they have developed a routine that works for them, which becomes disrupted during the holidays. Often times recovering addicts begin working, attending meetings, going to school, following different exercise regimens, engaging in hobbies, or other activities that occupy their time. With the time crunch of the holiday’s people will need to manage their regular routine with added pressures. A recovering addict may put a meeting, or some part of their routines on the side to attend to the time crunch of the things that need to be done. This can throw people off track with their plan to maintain sobriety, and created added stress.
Holiday Relapse Prevention Plan
By coming up with a plan of action ahead of time, you reduce your risk of relapse significantly. Start thinking about the things that you can plan to avoid relapse.
Plan # 1 Identifying Holiday Triggers
The most important thing to do during the holiday season is to identify your triggers and make an action plan for dealing with them. Triggers will occur, and without the tools needed to deal with them, it is easy to fall back into the path of addiction.
Plan # 2 Prepare your Support System Ahead of Time
Being in recovery or suffering it is imperative to have your support system set up ahead of time. A support system may consist of sponsors, friends, or relatives that can help you cope with unwanted feelings, stress, and pressures to use during the holidays. By having a support system that you can call on in your time of need, and to make decisions that you are not quite sure on will aid in maintaining your sobriety.
Plan # 3 Understand the Emotional Complexity Associated with the Holidays
Being aware of the different emotions that you may experience during the holidays will help in preparing yourself mentally for when they occur. Coming up with a plan for dealing with the different emotions will be a crucial aspect of maintaining sobriety. Paul Huljich of Psychology Today discusses different ways of identifying maladaptive coping mechanisms. If you are experiencing stress or depression it is necessary to decide what plan of action you are going to take. Mindfulness activities, taking time out, and exercise are good ways to taking a break from what you are feeling.
Plan # 4 Avoid Situations that Put you at Risk
Since it is likely you will be invited to some type of event where alcohol or drugs may be present, it is important to consider if it is worth attending. If you are able to avoid situations like this it would be ideal. Accept the invite that does not put you at risk. However, if the holidays are spent with family who also uses, be prepared for how you will handle this situation. Stay away from the members who are using during the festivity, know your triggers, and understand the consequences of relapsing. If at any time during the event you feel like you are going to use, make your exit gracefully. Those family members who know that you are working to maintain your sobriety will understand. Regardless of whether they do or don’t, one night of using is not worth a lifetime of addiction.
Plan # 5 What to do if a Slip Occurs
It is important to remember that slips do happen more often than not, it’s how a person deals with a slip that makes the difference. Slipping back into the regular routine of using drugs, and drinking is easy. If a slip up happens it is important to address it immediatly, and to ensure that this does not become another cycle of drug or alcohol abuse. It is possible that a short-term rehab program would be beneficial. These include 30 day rehab, 60 day rehab, and 90 day rehab programs. A refresher course to sobriety is an ideal course of action for someone with a recent slip, or even someone who wants a first shot at sobriety.
Get Help Today
It is imperative if you or a loved one relapses during the holiday season or is suffering from drug or alcohol addiction it is imperative to get the help that you need today. There are a variety of treatment options available. At Coast to Coast Recovery, you can find a range of addiction treatment services from holistic healing and complementary therapies to 12-step programs and Christian-based teaching. Let us help you end a life of addiction and start your journey to lasting sobriety. To learn more, call (800) 210-8229.