How to Avoid a Relapse During the Holidays


For many people, the holidays and drug or alcohol used to go hand-in-hand, which can make this season tricky to navigate for those in recovery. Fortunately, relapse-free holidays are possible, and the following sobriety tips from the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and other recovery experts can help.

Think ahead: Before the holidays hit, take a time out to think through your typical holiday experiences. State Technical College of Missouri encourages people to ask themselves questions like, “Have the holidays been a trigger for you in the past?” and, “Who will you call if you feel like using?” By thinking through these questions ahead of time, you’ll be better prepared to deal with such issues when they arise.

Keep stress in check: December can be a whirlwind of activity. There are parties to attend and cookies to bake, cards to mail and gifts to wrap. The more full your schedule, the higher your stress level will rise, but keeping stress under control will help you to avoid a relapse. You don’t have to do everything. Pick just a few activities that are meaningful to you, don’t feel bad about saying no to the rest.

Rely on your medication: Your healthcare provider may prescribe medication that can help you avoid relapse, particularly if you haven’t been in recovery for very long. Prescription drugs that might be useful to you include Antabuse, Vivitrol and methadone.

Also, if your addiction is related to depression, keep in mind that the National Institute of Mental Health reminds people that suddenly discontinuing antidepressant use can lead to a return of depression symptoms. The holidays can be busy, but don’t let your schedule get so full that you forget to take your medication. Set a daily reminder on your phone if you need to.

Go to meetings: Are you part of a support group? Keep up with meetings, even during the busy holiday weeks. Meetings will keep you from feeling lonely, and the support you receive from your group will be well worth the time you invest in going. Keep in touch with your sponsor, too. In fact, it’s best to touch base with him or her both before and after a holiday event.

Be careful about where you go: If you know that the other people at a gathering will encourage you to drink or use, then just don’t go. Put your own sobriety ahead of the expectations of others. Be honest with family and friends about your struggles, and encourage them to put the focus of the celebration elsewhere. Ask for their help in forming an escape plan if you find yourself in a tempting situation.

If all of your usual holiday gatherings are big on drinking and drugs, find new places to go instead. For example, instead of attending a Christmas party at your local bar, drive around town to see holiday lights.

Lend a hand: Volunteering is a powerful medicine for the soul. Serving others provides a sense of purpose, encourages positive interactions with other people and fills your time in meaningful ways. Of course, not overbooking yourself is another key to preventing relapse, but it’s still good to carve out one block of time during the holiday season that you can dedicate to volunteer work.

Let it go: The holidays are a season of expectations, and when those go unmet, resentment and negative feelings can build up. Unfortunately, resentment is a top reason why people experience relapses. For the sake of your sobriety, adopt the mantra, “Let it go.” It’s better to let hurts and disappointments slide than to allow them to derail your recovery.