[How to] Stay Sober During the Holidays
Staying sober during the holidays is often challenging for an alcoholic or addict. It seems that everyone else is full of cheer and glad tidings, but for those struggling with addiction, holidays are a dangerous and difficult time of year.
Every holiday is tough when others are celebrating and you feel unable to. Even a simple party or a social outing with friends who still partake in drinking or using can be a slippery slope for those in recovery.
During the holidays, many people deal with unrealistic expectations, unhealthy eating habits, over-commitments, financial strain, and physical fatigue which can unleash powerful emotions. Not to mention busy schedules and travel complications that can overload any normal person. These things can add great stress and anxiety to what’s supposed to be a relaxing time.
If you are worried about dealing with an upcoming holiday, or even everyday life, due to addiction, we can help you. Please give yourself the greatest gift possible and call us at 614-502-6247 for help.
Read on for more ideas about staying sober during the holidays, and be sure to get in touch with our recovery experts for advice and treatment resources that can help.
Tips on Staying Sober During the Holidays
Make sober strategies:
Ahead of any holiday event that could be a trigger, make a holiday relapse prevention plan. This may mean going to a 12-step meeting before or after the event. You should consider bringing your sponsor or a sober friend along. Also, make sure you can leave the gathering at any time, and do not depend on someone else for transportation.
Your plan for holiday relapse prevention could include speaking with someone else in recovery before and after your activity. Do not be afraid to limit your time in stressful situations or around difficult people. Always have an escape plan. Much of relapse prevention is having an awareness of the people, places, or things that could trigger you. Plan to stay sober and know these situations will arise.
Address your attitude:
Speak with your sponsor or a friend who understands addiction recovery. You can even talk to a professional counselor about the emotions and expectations you have wrapped up in the holidays. Discuss the difficulties you may be experiencing. Give yourself a reality check as holidays draw close.
Emotions and stress can easily lead to relapse if left unchecked. Remember that your loved ones, coworkers, and friends are probably feeling tired and stressed during the holidays, too. This realization will help you approach the holidays with the right mindset. It will allow you to lower certain expectations and be forgiving of yourself and others.
Avoid Known Risks:
Perhaps someone will be attending the event who you know will try to hand you a cocktail. You might anticipate a particular person grilling you about rehab. The office New Year’s party might be guaranteed to be full of drinking or drug use.
It is unrealistic in all these scenarios to say, “I can handle it.” That is what the first of the 12 steps addresses: “We admitted we were powerless.” Don’t test your ability to resist temptation if you don’t feel prepared for it. Intentionally placing yourself in an uncomfortable or risky situation can be a recipe for disaster. If you can’t think of a way to safely navigate an event, don’t go. Throwing your sobriety away just to appease someone or conform to a set of expectations simply isn’t worth it.
Harms of Holiday Drinking
The consequences of overindulging go beyond a bad hangover. Substance abuse can lead to risky decision making, not to mention the potential for embarrassing yourself in front of others.
Frequent binge drinking is a signifier of alcohol abuse and it can have detrimental effects on your organs. This can include your liver, pancreas, intestines, heart, and brain.
Binge drinking during the holidays has even specifically been linked to a phenomenon known as “Holiday Heart Syndrome.” This is a cardiac arrhythmia (or irregular heartbeat) that occurs in people without a history of heart problems. Added stress on the heart–from food, drink, or mental distress–can cause irregular and sped-up heartbeat. It can leave you feeling tired and short of breath. Sometimes, this event can lead to a stroke. If you start feeling this way seek medical attention immediately.
Struggles may emerge from two common scenarios:
If you are in active addiction, you may attempt to hide the problem from friends and family. The resulting stress can intensify addictive behavior. Gathering with family and old friends may force someone to face the underlying issues that may be the cause of their drug addiction and compulsive behavior.
To break this down, all families are dysfunctional in their own unique way. Some families can be judgmental, enabling, angry, or otherwise bad for a person’s mental health. This can set off self-destructive patterns of behavior in addicts. For some recovering addicts, there may be family-imposed secrecy around the recovery itself. This can be trying at a time when the whole family is joined in the holidays to celebrate.
Avoiding Risk is Not a Weakness
Clinical experience has shown that addicts often have a hard time identifying high-risk situations. They may not perceive them as high-risk or be unwilling to acknowledge their potential harm. Around the holidays, it can be easy to dismiss your worries about a situation because it is “normal” or “traditional,” when in fact it is a relapse risk. However, acknowledging and avoiding these situations shows the strength of judgment and clarity of thought; it is also among the best relapse prevention techniques you are likely to find.
Holidays and the Stages of Relapse
Some researchers believe that relapse can break down into three stages. The first, emotional relapse, simply means you are feeling unhappy in recovery. The second, called mental relapse, is where you start fantasizing about using drugs again and telling yourself that it would be ok. Most people call this rationalization; among recovery veterans, it’s known as bargaining.
In bargaining–or rationalizing–individuals come up with scenarios in which it would be OK to use their drug of choice. Holidays or special trips are perfect examples. Airports, hotels, resorts, and new cities offer excitement, but can also be potential triggers. The same can be said of going home for the holidays and getting together with old friends or attending a celebration.
Another form of bargaining is when people start to think that they can relapse periodically and be fine, or that they are over their problem and can now enjoy substances without overdoing it. Regardless of the exact thought process, if you are in this frame of mind you are in serious danger of entering the third and final phase of relapse: using again.
Holidays and other special occasions make it all too easy to think as described, and while there are many holiday relapse prevention tips out there, none are more important than staying alert and being honest with yourself.
Keep Your Holidays Happy
If you are spending the holidays away from your addiction recovery support system and sober routines, be aware that you will be more vulnerable to a relapse. Staying sober during the holidays, especially those that are linked in any way with drug or alcohol use, is no easy task. All sorts of things can pull at your emotions and put your recovery at great risk, from the smell of a Christmas tree to the sight of an old friend you used to drink with.
It’s best to acknowledge your situation, know when to use the emotional tools you learned in treatment, and have plans in place if situations pose a threat to your sobriety. If you take these steps and make the right choices, you can be assured of a safe, healthy holiday season.
If you are concerned about an upcoming event or holiday affecting your sobriety, please call us. We can offer advice for staying sober and point you toward treatment that may ultimately better your life.
Written by Susan Way
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