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Staying Sober During the Holidays [2021 Guide and Tips]
There are several holidays from the end of October to the last day of December. They bring with them get-togethers, parties, and triggers for addictive behavior. Though they are intended to be times of celebration, they are often stressful and bring about intense feelings of depression in those who are in recovery from drug and alcohol abuse.
While it can be difficult, staying sober during the holidays is possible, and there are several holiday relapse prevention tips and tricks. Mental health conditions should also be taken into account during this time and made a priority.
Give us a call today at 1 -888-906-0952 to learn about all the options for treatment for addiction in your area. Let us make this challenging journey a little easier for you so you can focus on enjoying your holiday season.
- Understanding Holiday Mental Health Data
- Tip #1: Avoid Risks at All Costs
- Tip #2: Always Have a Plan!
- Tip #3 Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help and Support
- Tip #4 Host or Attend Recovery Safe Parties
- Holiday Relapse Prevention is Possible
Holiday Mental Health Data to Know
Mental health and addiction are closely correlated. While the Holiday blues are different from actual mental health diagnoses, they can bring about conditions of anxiety and depression. Research has shown that the holidays have the ability to bring about intense of feelings of depression and anxiety.
According to studies:
- the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reported that approximately 24% of people with a diagnosed mental illness find that the holidays make their condition “a lot” worse and 40% “somewhat” worse.
- In another survey, approximately 755 of the respondents report that the holidays bring about feelings of sadness and dissatisfaction. 68% of individuals felt financial stress, 66% felt loneliness, 63% felt an overall increased sense of pressure, 55% found themselves comparing the happier past to their present situation, while 50% stated that they were unable to spend the holidays with loved ones.
For someone who is in early recovery, this can all be a disastrous combination. It’s important to anticipate the difficulties that may lie ahead during these times and make a foolproof plan to avoid relapse.
Tip #1: Avoid Risks at All Costs
Staying sober during the holidays requires several relapse prevention techniques. However, a simple thing to avoid as much risk to your recovery as possible, especially if this is your first sober holiday season. According to research published in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, individuals in early recovery have difficulty identifying high-risk situations.
They are also likely to think that avoiding high-risk situations makes them weaker. This is the opposite! It takes far more willpower to recognize a hazardous situation and walk away from it than it does to ignore the warning signs.
The same research also outlines that many individuals experience relapses during the holidays, partly because they do not avoid risks and bargain with themselves, claiming one drink or hit cannot hurt.
From this, it’s best for those in early recovery who are experiencing their first holiday season sober to avoid as much risk as possible. It is also a great recommendation for more experienced individuals in recovery.
Minimizing risk minimizes the chances of relapse at any time of year but especially during the holidays. If you have any concerns about a party or an event, it may be best to avoid the situation entirely.
Being in a risky situation, surrounded by triggers, can begin the mental bargaining to unravel one’s sobriety.
Hope With Alex: How to Stay Sober During the Holidays
Tip #2: Always Have a Plan!
Of the many tips on staying sober during the holidays, one of the most helpful is to have a plan. The holidays are the craziest time of the year; from packed shopping centers to family gatherings, the business and stress can be overwhelming.
Unfortunately, this stress can trigger addictive behavior. However, having a plan will help you cope. It doesn’t have to be specific or even completely thought-out; it just needs to provide a suitable alternative to an event or activity that could lead to a trigger for addictive behavior.
How to Make a Plan for Staying Sober During the Holidays:
Know your triggers: Identifying what triggers your addictive behavior is the start. Try making a list of things to avoid based on past behaviors and what you do during the holidays. However, do not dwell too heavily on the list – if necessary, make a list with a sponsor, counselor, or friend.
Anticipate: No one knows the future. But, patterns can be identified, and predictions can be made. For example, if you know that your uncle’s holiday party has involved lots of drinking in the past, take that into account. Use that information when deciding whether or not to attend the party.
Consider alternatives: There are plenty of enjoyable activities you can do while sober, even during the holidays. Find which activities interest you most and keep them in mind. Fun, healthy alternatives can make sobriety easier.
Whatever plan you make does not need to be entirely thought through; it just needs to be a conscious effort to identify your triggers, anticipate what may set them off, and give yourself some healthy alternatives to commit to instead.
Tip #3 Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help and Support
Support is often the key to coping with stress, triggers, and staying sober, especially during the holidays, whether from a sponsor, counselor, friend or loved one. In a post on the Harvard Medical School Health Blog, Dr. Peter Grinspoon explains this fact, stating,
“Recovery, if about anything, is about connecting with other people. It is about far more than just the absence of drugs or alcohol. Addiction slowly robs you of your relationships, as you become emotionally obsessed with your drug of choice. With recovery comes a blossoming of human connection, interaction, meaning, and hope. In order to recover, we learn tools to keep ourselves centered, such as humility, compassion, listening skills, and mindfulness. We learn to ask for help, and not try to internalize and fix all of our problems on our own. The holidays present a perfect opportunity to reach into your recovery toolbox and use any and all of these tools.” – Dr. Peter Grinspoon
Overcoming addiction means you must learn to ask for help when you need it. While it does take personal commitment, recovery is not something you have to or should do alone. As Dr. Grinspoon explains, recovery is partially about reclaiming relationships.
The people you connect or reconnect with during recovery often shape the person you become going forward. Their support, encouragement, and understanding can make a world of difference, which is why they can be the best people to turn to, especially during the holidays.
As Grinspoon mentions, many who undergo substance abuse treatment learn to acknowledge that everyone needs help, and the holidays can be the perfect time to ask for it.
Tip #4 Host or Attend Recovery Safe Parties
Although the holidays can be hectic, part of the fun is the parties and gatherings with family and friends. However, parties frequently present the greatest danger to one’s sobriety.
Typically, various alcoholic beverages are served, and in some cases, drugs can be present. But, even when one is striving for holiday relapse prevention, one can attend and enjoy parties.
The best way is to host or attend a recovery-safe party – where triggers can be taken out of the equation.
The Elements of a Recovery-Safe Party
Focus on Entertainment: Unfortunately, the focus of a party can often be on drinking. In a recovery-safe party, the focus should be on entertainment such as games, movies, conversation, and food.
Nonalcoholic beverages: A recovery-safe party should always have nonalcoholic beverages. These may include mocktails; however, the Host or hosts should check with those attending on whether or not mocktails are a safe, trigger-free option.
Allies: Whether one is hosting or attending a recovery-safe party, it is important to bring or have an ally or allies present: someone immediately available for support if needed.
Considerate Host (s): Hosting a recovery-safe party requires a lot of communication. The Host of a recovery-safe party should reach out to those attending beforehand to understand what to have and not have at the event.
While it requires hard work and careful planning, a recovery-safe party can be an amazing source of joy and fun for those staying sober during the holidays. After all, the holidays are about getting together with friends and family to have a good time.
Holiday Relapse Prevention is Possible
Holiday relapse prevention is not always easy; the holiday season is filled with triggers and stress. To safeguard your recovery, you should avoid as many risks to your sobriety as you can.
While it’s impossible to identify all potential risks or risky situations, avoiding as many as possible will help ensure sobriety and steer you away from temptation. It is also useful to plan to cope with triggers by engaging in healthy, alternate activities.
However, you should always ask for support; having a friend to encourage and reinforce recovery is always beneficial. Lastly, if possible, you should attend or host a recovery-safe party, allowing you to enjoy the holidays without the temptation for relapse.
If you or a loved one live with an addiction, you know just how much it can impact life. It can consume almost everything. But, sobriety is possible; all it takes is the right treatment.
Ready to seek help? Have questions about addiction treatment for a loved one? Give us a call at (888) 906-0952
Sources of Information
- NAMI Holiday Mental Health Study
- Whitehouse.gov Archives: Celebrating Holidays With Recovering Family and Friends
- Health Harvard: Navigating the Holidays in Recovery
- NIH Study
- Psychologytoday.com – Addiction During the Holidays
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