By Thomas Tjornehoj
The holidays are supposed to be a time filled with joy and hope. But the truth is, special days on the calendar for getting together with family and friends can be very challenging. Emotionally. Physically. And nearly every other way.
Some people find refuge in alcohol or other drugs when holiday drama and stress get to be too much. If you’re in recovery from addiction, however, that’s not an option for you.
Guarding against potential relapse triggers can feel like a full-time job during the holidays. But with advance thought and preparation, you can fend off the temptations that may work to sabotage all your hard-earned achievements toward a life of abstinence, wholeness and happiness.1
Beat Temptation by Knowing What Can Trigger a Relapse
Those who are fighting to stay sober “should know their triggers for relapse and how to manage them,” notes Peter R. Martin, MD, professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at the Vanderbilt Psychiatric Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee. “The most common triggers correspond to the acronym HALT.”2
HALT stands for hungry, angry, lonely or tired. When you experience any of those feelings, you’re more likely to give in to temptation and self-medicate with a substance. So taking care of your mental, emotional and physical health is key to warding off the desire to return to alcohol or other drugs for comfort and safety.
Start With a Renewed Commitment Each Morning
In recovery, it’s critical to have a plan. Every day when you wake up, you need to clearly have in mind what your objective is. Your focus must be on living a life of sobriety, whatever it takes — determination, honesty, commitment to the plan — to reap the rewards of a clean life.
This may mean avoiding certain people, places or situations that remind you of past substance use. A life in recovery is a lifelong process. There’s no vacation from it. Coping skills must be continually put into practice until habit sculpts a new drug-free lifestyle.2
Tips for Enjoying Holiday Events While Maintaining Sobriety
You can still have fun in recovery (and not look like a party pooper) by following a few helpful suggestions:
- Secure a “safe” drink early on. Find a club soda or other nonalcoholic beverage as soon as you arrive — or bring your own from home — and cling to it throughout the night. This serves as a good excuse for not accepting other drink offers. You can even give your nonalcoholic drink the appearance of a cocktail or make it more festive by sticking a lime on the lip of the glass.3
- Kindly decline any off-limits drinks. State it simply and directly. Be firm and unwavering about it. This can be done without being ungracious. If needed, use a logical excuse. “I’m the driver tonight.” “Alcohol hasn’t agreed with me lately.” “I have to do some work later.” “I have an early meeting tomorrow.”4
- Arrive well-fed. As already mentioned, hunger is one way to increase the odds of failure. Low blood sugar can ramp up emotions. So eat a nutritious meal or snack about every three hours.
- Take occasional stress timeouts. To avoid too much buildup of stress during a social gathering, take a few minutes to calm down and get it together. Escape to silence. Meditate. Or listen to relaxing music.2
- Keep busy doing other things. Hosts and guests alike are generally most focused on everyone having fun. So hit the dance floor, sing karaoke or participate in charades or another interactive game. If you’re home with family, raking leaves, chopping wood, cleaning dishes or even taking a walk may be good preoccupations. Just don’t give others the opportunity to push unwanted substances on you. Show them having fun doesn’t have to involve alcohol or other drugs. (Remember to keep that safe soda beverage in hand if you expect hounding pressure.)
- Leave an out for departing early. If none of the other strategies do the trick, resort to a planned excuse for leaving when necessary. Whether “the sitter needs to get home early” or you “need adequate sleep for an early workday,” have a Plan B ready. If necessary, arrange for a friend to call during the event to add credence to your need to take off in a timely manner. And make sure a personal means of independent transportation is available for your getaway.1
Help for Relapse Is Just a Phone Call Away
If you’ve relapsed, it doesn’t mean a successful life in sobriety is beyond your grasp. Every day is a new chance to get back on the path to recovery.
Talbott Recovery offers top-notch medical staff and quality resources for treating addiction and related mental health conditions. Our convenient location in Metro Atlanta provides the opportunity for you to focus on healing and recovery — whether you’re seeking help for the first time or need to get back on track. Call us anytime, day or night, for information, advice or even on-site services. We care about your recovery and are ready to listen and help.
1 Hartwell-Walker, Marie, EdD. “In Recovery and Surviving the Holidays.” Psych Central, Accessed October 5, 2017.
2 Rodriguez, Diana. “10 Ways to Avoid Holiday Addiction Relapses.” Everyday Health, November 12, 2015.
3 Gonzalez, Irina.“Teetotal Like a Boss: Tips for Enjoying a Party When You’re Not Drinking.” The Kitchn, April 17, 2017.
4 Bowen, Alison. “When to Say No at a Holiday Party.” Chicago Tribune, November 24, 2015.