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10 Tips for Avoiding Relapse During the Holiday Season

Christmas tree ornamentRecovery from drug addiction and alcohol use disorders can be a struggle. At any time, an unexpected event or emotion can trigger cravings for the drug of choice and make someone want to drink or get high. During the holidays, recovery can be even trickier than usual.

Some common triggers during the holidays include the following:

  • Dealing with tenuous family relationships
  • Having no one with whom to share the holidays
  • Managing all the pressures of the season (e.g., parties, presents, travel, etc.)
  • Constant interactions with alcohol, drugs and those who are under the influence in a holiday environment

So how can you help to protect yourself from falling victim to the trappings of the season and avoid rationalizing having “just one drink” at the next holiday gathering? The following are 10 tips to help you stick to your sober principles during this holiday season:

  1. Stay healthy – Avoid overexertion, late nights, or getting away from your usual routine of exercise and other healthful choices. Instead, make sure that you’re getting a good night’s sleep every night and eating healthfully as much as possible.
  1. Manage your recovery schedule – Often during the holidays, therapy sessions will be canceled when the therapist goes on vacation or attends family events. Similarly, groups may not meet on a regular basis or your sponsor may be unavailable. If this is the case for you, find out in advance, and plan to fill those gaps accordingly.
  1. Bring a buddy – If you have someone with you who is also staying sober, someone you trust to yank you out of those stressful conversations and make you laugh and feel comfortable when you start to sweat the situation, then you’ll more easily sidestep that urge to drink or get high. Additionally, there’s power in numbers; if both of you are drinking sparkling fruit juice and avoiding the champagne, then you are less likely to feel pressure to imbibe in something a little stronger.
  1. Just say “no” – In the spirit of holiday celebration, well-meaning friends and coworkers may try to push a beer in your hand or offer you to join them in snorting a line. Don’t expect that everyone will know that you’re sober or understand when you say “no” the first time that you mean “no.” Prepare to stand your ground without making it into a big deal.

  1. Look out for your sober friends – If you’re looking out for someone else and making sure that they aren’t drinking or drinking too much, it will be easier for you to stay sober. If you don’t have a sober buddy, consider being the designated driver for someone else so that other people have a vested interest in you staying sober throughout the night.
  1. Pick your alibi – It’s recommended that you not dig into the deep and dirty details of your past every time a well-meaning person offers you a drink. In addition to being tiresome for you, it can be a bit of a downer for the conversation. Instead, come up with an alibi that’s easy or keeps things light. “I’m the designated driver” is a great alibi whether you are or not, or simply say that you have an early morning commitment.
  1. Volunteer – During the holidays, no matter how difficult things seem, nothing can remind you of how lucky you are than volunteering at a local shelter or food bank. Putting together food packages or gift packages for the troops or for families in need reminds you that, if nothing else, you’re safe and you have hope.
  1. Pick your favorite beverage—non-alcoholic beverage—and bring it with you – Fend off those offers of beverages by simply BYOB (beverage). Whether it’s a couple of Red Bulls, a hot coffee, or sparkling apple cider, bring some for the host and some for yourself.
  1. Don’t isolate – It may be tempting to avoid dealing with the madness of holiday parties and gift exchanges by staying home. While it’s perfectly fine to turn down some offers, make sure that you don’t spend too much time in isolation. Pick and choose the events you’ll attend, but make sure that you spend time with close friends and family or make an appearance at work parties and other events where you’re expected to show up.
  1. Have fun – Even if it’s an obligatory gathering, there’s no reason to be miserable before going or while you’re there. Enjoy yourself. Meet new people. Spend time connecting with others in attendance who you run into regularly, and bring some of your nearest and dearest so that you can connect and have a good time.

If you struggle with staying sober during the holiday season, you’re not alone. According to the US Health and Human Services, as many as 17 million Americans struggle with alcohol use disorders alone.[1] Reaching out for extra support during the holidays with a few extra meetings a month, a new course of therapy or extra sessions at your current therapy is a great option. End the year by revving up your recovery instead of allowing the holidays to pull you off track.

If you or someone you love would like help for alcohol or substance abuse struggles, please call us at our 24 hour, toll-free helpline at 760.548.4032. We can connect you with the best recovery resources available and even check your insurance coverage. Please call now.