With the holidays around the corner, people’s focus should shift to relaxing and enjoying their time with loved ones. However, for some, it can be a trying time–especially for individuals in recovery from an addiction to alcohol or drugs. Relapses are more frequent during the holidays, and re-admit rates of patients into treatment spikes. Here are some triggers to watch out for and some practical tips for staying healthy during the hectic holiday time.

Why do people in recovery relapse at higher rates during the holidays?

·     Family Dynamics & Conflicts: Extended families come together during the holidays, potentially bringing family conflicts and resentments to the surface. Anger and frustration caused by these situations are some of the biggest drivers of a relapse.

·      Money Problems and Gift Giving: Charges incurred while people abuse substances can drain them financially, preventing them from returning to their former income level. Consequently, buying gifts can cause financial pain, and, when coupled with the stress of finding something for everyone, could trigger relapse.

·      Holiday Loneliness: One of the basic tenets of staying sober is to change the people, places and things one associates with. As a result, people may need to adjust their social calendar from the one they had while using. The holidays can also bring back childhood memories or even memories associated with broken relationships due to overindulgence. This melancholy, combined with loneliness, could trigger a relapse.

How can Individuals in Recovery Stay on Track?

·      Focus on the “Self”: The first priority for individuals in recovery is to safeguard their sobriety. They need to shield their vulnerability by being with like-minded people. Options include going to AA Alkathons before and after a family or social event they attend, ensuring their sponsor is available for support, and having an escape plan that enables them to leave a gathering at any time. 

·      Discount Others: Delving into other people’s business seems to be the primary sport at family gatherings. Recovery, however, should not be a topic of conversation–but it can become one. It is hard for an individual with a past history of drug or alcohol abuse to escape residual anger or resentment caused by their past behavior. Ideally, the individual has a conversation with the people he or she may have hurt before a family event, so that it is not brought there in front of others. If that is not possible, it is important to maintain composure and let go of anger when confronted at such events.

Be Busy: It is important not to isolate yourself during the holidays. Try to plan activities that take your recovery into account. It may be an AA/NA event or some activity with the individual’s sponsor, so that the individual is socially active during the holidays. Loneliness can be a trigger.