Despite the figgy pudding and silver bells that usually accompany the holiday season, the holidays can be a difficult time for people recovering from addiction. The holiday season invites exacerbated triggers and temptations to relapse. Since it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas and your neighbors are ready to deck the halls with boughs of holly, it’s time for recovering addicts to wrap up the important details of their relapse prevention plan!
Holiday Season is Prime Time for Relapse
Everybody knows a turkey and some mistletoe help make the season bright. Yet alcohol.org states that the holiday season is prime time for alcohol and drug usage for several reasons.1 Even people who have been sober for several months face unfavorable odds during the holiday season.
Some of the unique triggers or temptations during the holidays might come as a surprise. That’s why it’s vital to prepare your holiday relapse prevention plan if you haven’t already. As somebody who has decided to be sober, gone through detox and maybe even completed an addiction recovery program, a holiday relapse could mean you’ll have a blue Christmas.
Extra Holiday Triggers and Stressors that Encourage Relapse
During holidays like Christmas and New Year’s Eve, it’s normal even for people who ordinarily don’t drink to use alcohol and go along with the celebration. Increased family time can uncover stressful relationships or conversely make others feel lonelier.
The holidays parade into our lives accompanied by high expectations for fun parties, gift-giving, and general holiday cheer. When things don’t go as well as we hope, and the holiday season falls short of our high expectations, it’s easy for discouragement or disappointment to set in.
One of the most prevalent stressors of the holiday season is the financial strain that will make you wish that you could be run over by a reindeer instead of Grandma! The pressure to buy gifts and holiday decorations can be taxing when you’re already struggling to pay the bills. According to Forbes.com, 1 in 4 people who used credit cards for holiday spending in 2017 are still paying back that old holiday-induced debt as we begin a new holiday season.2
Creating a Relapse Prevention Plan
Plan as if you are going to face these triggers and stressors this holiday season and create a relapse prevention plan to avoid a holiday relapse! As you create your relapse prevention plan, consider these tips from Everyday Health:3
Start Each Day with a Plan to Avoid Relapse
Think about how to stay sober today. Staying focused on your goal of long-term sobriety and anticipating temptations will help you get through the day.
Evaluate Each Situation
In early recovery, try to only place yourself in low-risk scenarios. If you find yourself in a medium or high-risk scenario for holiday relapse, such as a New Year’s Eve party with an open bar, arrive early and leave a little early. Drive yourself so you can have an “escape” when ready or if the temptation gets high.
Bring the Party With you
If the champagne and the Christmas party is going to be a temptation, bring your own sparkling apple cider or sparkling grape juice to sip on so you don’t miss out!
Know Your Triggers
Know your own triggers and be aware of the extra holiday triggers and stressors. Common triggers are identified in HALT – when you feel hungry, angry, lonely or tired. Take good care of yourself physically to prevent these basic triggers.
When stress builds up, take a few minutes to meditate or decompress instead of turning to alcohol or drugs. Just because you have a thought or feeling does not mean that you must act on it. Since the urge to use drugs or alcohol can be a physical feeling, regular exercise will help release stress and give your body something else to do that relieves the craving.
Rehearse a few different responses for when you are offered an alcoholic drink at a holiday party or dinner to diffuse social pressure. Being prepared will lower the stress of staying sober in the face of temptation and help you avoid a holiday relapse. If nothing else, just tell people that you wouldn’t touch that drink with a 39-and-a-half-foot pole!
Use the 20-Minute Rule
According to addiction.com, cravings and urges typically dissipate within about 20 minutes.4 If you feel an urge to use, find a way to distract yourself for 20 minutes so the urge can have time to fade away.
4 Rules to Prevent a Holiday Relapse
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has given five rules that will help you stick to your relapse prevention plan and have a sober holiday season. First, change your life. Your relapse prevention plan is not just the backup plan if you get triggered. Relapse prevention is a new lifestyle and there may be situations or people in your life that you need to replace with more positive ones. Second, be completely honest with yourself. If you’re feeling tempted to relapse, be careful to avoid thoughts that justify or minimize the harm that a relapse could cause.
Next, ask for help. If you need to, take a buddy with you to holiday parties. Having someone else who will help you stay accountable for your sobriety can make a big difference in moments when you feel the urge to relapse. Finally, practice self-care to avoid the four basic triggers: HALT – hungry, angry, lonely, tired.5
Don’t Bend the Rules!
Your relapse prevention plan may need to be adjusted over time, and that’s normal. However, if you find yourself contemplating ignoring or changing your plan in the moment because you’re feeling tempted to relapse, stop! Don’t throw all your progress out the window when things get hard, remember everything it took to get sober and begin recovery.
If you experience a relapse during the holiday season or anytime afterward, check out our blog: Relapse: Stepping Stone to Sobriety for help to know what to do next!
1 Binge Drinking during the Holidays: Statistics & Data. (2018). Alcohol.org. Retrieved 20 November 2018, from https://www.alcohol.org/statistics-information/holiday-binge-drinking/
2 Hardekopf, B. (2018). This Week In Credit Card News: Many Still Paying On Last Year’s Christmas; Easing Your Daily Commute. Forbes. Retrieved 26 November 2018, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/billhardekopf/2018/11/09/this-week-in-credit-card-news-many-still-paying-on-last-years-christmas-easing-your-daily-commute/#199f3bfe32fa
3 10 Ways to Avoid Holiday Addiction Relapses. (2018). EverydayHealth.com. Retrieved 26 November 2018, from https://www.everydayhealth.com/news/ways-avoid-holiday-addiction-relapses/
4 Tips to Get Past Cravings and Urges | Addiction.com. (2015). Addiction.com. Retrieved 26 November 2018, from https://www.addiction.com/13046/tips-to-get-past-cravings-and-urges/
5 Melemis, S. (2015). Focus: Addiction: Relapse Prevention and the Five Rules of Recovery. The Yale Journal Of Biology And Medicine, 88(3), 325. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4553654/