Holiday Stress: How It Presents Special Challenges For Recovering Addicts and Helpful Tips to Avoid a Relapse
Family gatherings, holiday office parties, everywhere you turn, drug and alcohol use is on prevalent display. The stresses of the busy holiday season can be overwhelming to even conventionally well-balanced people. Loneliness, buying and being able to afford gifts, long lines in stores, long lines in traffic and financial uncertainty are all potentially stressful endeavors. For many people, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is in full swing during even the brightest days of the season. The relationships with your family and friends can cause great stress that all comes out during the hustle and bustle of this busy time of year. It certainly is an emotional time for everyone. All of this is especially true for a recovering addict or someone who currently is struggling with substance abuse.
Whether you are just beginning a rehabilitation program, or you are celebrating years of successful sobriety, temptations that challenge your recovery will present themselves this holiday season.
Experiencing feelings of “the blues” is a common occurrence for many individuals between Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Many are reminded of the fact they are alone. Some holidays are key dates reminding us of the loss of a loved one or family member. Perhaps this is the first holiday since a family member’s passing and experiencing it without them just isn’t the same.
For others with a troubled family upbringing, it could be quite the opposite. Many people did not have a good relationship with their family and the holidays can bring up a barrage of emotions tied to past physical or mental abuse within the family. In some instances, personal guilt may arise from memories of your own struggle with addiction and the effect it had on your family and relationships. Throwing yourself into a situation with people you haven’t seen for long periods of time can greatly amplify any emotions you have attached to them.
Likewise for many recovering addicts, the holidays can remind them of times of severe overindulgence, past parties and long benders of hardcore substance abuse. This can lead some people to romanticize these past experiences. For someone in recovery this could be a great temptation to relapse back into his or her old habits.
With the right plan, it is absolutely 100% possible to attend holiday gatherings and events without indulging in drug or alcohol use.
Even if you are currently overtaken by your addiction, there is a way to get sober and stay sober, not only for your family members and loved ones, but for yourself as well. We suggest being prepared with a plan to maintain your sobriety and avoid or at least limit your exposure to potential relapse triggers. Be aware of an exit strategy if everything simply becomes too much to handle. Don’t be embarrassed about your struggle. As we all know with addiction, the struggle is a lifetime battle and you should have your exit strategy thought out well in advance. You should spend time thinking about your plan because your sobriety is absolutely worth the extra effort.
Having a concrete plan can help build your personal confidence that you can successfully stay sober. This plan should include:
- Having someone to call for help in case you experience relapse triggers.
- Take a sober friend with you to events, so you don’t feel like you’re the only sober person at the party.
- Formulate a confident, solid response when someone asks why you aren’t drinking or using drugs. *Hint: your answer is more for yourself than it is for them.
- If you know you are going to feel uncomfortable, let the hosts know you can only stay for a short time. This will take pressure off of yourself and you won’t feel like you need to stay to please everyone else.
- Have a non-alcoholic beverage in your hand at all times. Bring your own drinks if you have a preference. Don’t rely upon others to cater to your personal needs.
- Do your best to surround yourself with supportive, loving, caring people. In many instances, reinforcement from family members can be a great help on your path to recovery.
- Eat something sweet to temporarily nullify a craving. This has been shown to be effective in distracting your brain, although temporarily.
- Try to eat healthy and feel healthy. Maintaining a positive, healthy mindset and lifestyle will greatly reduce your urges and cravings. Feeling good is crucial in maintaining sobriety and a sustained recovery.
- Be honest with yourself. Tell those who you trust about your recovery. Let them know if you feel pressure to use again and use this plan to help you stay away from a relapse.
Most importantly, be constantly aware of your own mental health and the physical needs associated with your recovery journey. Never be afraid or ashamed to ask for help. If you feel challenged by a family member or loved one, take a step back. Think about your life. Think about your choices. Know you are on the right path and walk away if you feel that your personal well-being is in danger. Knowing these risks will help you know yourself. This will strengthen your perspective and hopefully it will help keep you on the right path.
If you encounter a relapse, or run into an old friend or family member who needs help with their substance abuse, know that help is always just one phone call away. Call us anytime. We are available 24/7, 365 days a year to help.