It’s that time of year again! Time for celebrating with family and loved ones, remembering what you’re grateful for, exchanging gifts, overindulging in food, and making resolutions for the year to come. And while all this sounds wonderful, the reality of the holiday season today is that it can be filled with a lot of stress, anxiety, and worry. If you’re in recovery from alcohol or drugs the holidays can be one of the most challenging times of year to navigate—and stay sober!
According to data, people drink more and use more drugs during the holiday season. When it comes to those in recovery from alcohol or drugs the holidays can mean white-knuckling it and clinging to sobriety. And, sadly, during this time of year, more people relapse than at any other time of the year. Research also reveals that more people die from drug overdoses and alcohol-related deaths in the month of December. In fact, data revealed that since 1999 more than 91,000 Americans died from substance-related issues in the month of December.
Why Do the Holidays Trigger Relapse?
So why are the holidays—that are supposed to be a time of joy and celebration—a time when relapse and overdose deaths increase? Stress! From being overscheduled to financial concerns, the holidays can cause a lot of stress on everyone. And, stress is one of the main contributing factors for relapse. When an individual is stressed out and overwhelmed they are more vulnerable to not only seek relief from the anxiety they are often in situations, like holiday parties, that make alcohol and drugs readily available. Learn more about ways to reduce holiday stress here.
In addition, for some, the holidays bring along with it a lot of triggers. For example, if you have a family that drinks a lot and you are with them during the holidays this can trigger you to want to drink too. What’s more, family relations can often be stressful and strained which can also trigger old feelings and emotions which make a person with an addiction to alcohol or drugs want to seek relief by drinking or using.
When an individual is stressed out there are some physical changes in the body that contribute to a relapse. Dopamine activity in the brain can be increased during times of elevated stress. This neurochemical in the reward center of the brain may make a person seek out drugs or alcohol even more during these high-stress times.
It’s also important to note that when the brain is under chronic stress executive functioning can be compromised. Executive functioning includes impulse control, self-monitoring, and learning. This can make it even more likely for someone to relapse. However, relapse during the holidays isn’t inevitable, in fact, many thousands of people in recovery stay sober during times of extreme stress—including the holidays.
So how do you stay sober during the holidays? There are a few tried and true tips that can help you safely navigate the holiday season and best of all stay sober.
- Pray or meditate
Taking time each day to pray to your Higher Power or wherever your faith lies is vital to remaining centered and decreasing stress. Starting the day with prayer or meditation can help set the tone for the day and keep you focused on what matters. In addition, saying a prayer during the day and in moments of stress or temptation can make the difference between picking up a drink or drug and staying clean and sober. If you aren’t sure of your faith, you can simply send up short words of prayer and not worry about exactly what or who you believe in right now. In 12-Step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous having faith in a power greater than yourself is key to staying sober and enjoying a good life.
- Protect your sobriety
It’s important to realize each day that staying sober and clean is your priority. Oftentimes when individuals get sober they want to make up for lost time and pain they may have caused others. During the holidays this desire to ‘do better’ can become paramount. However, it’s vital to understand that if you lose your sobriety, you’ll lose everything. One saying in 12-Step rooms is as follows;
“Whatever you put before your sobriety you’ll lose.”
This has been found to be true by many. You must—at all times—make your sobriety and maintaining it your number one goal There are those who won’t get it—that’s okay. Only you have to get it. This is another reason why attending support group meetings is crucial to maintaining sobriety. People in the meetings can relate to what you are going through and many have tips on how they survived the holidays and stayed sober.
- Make a plan
When going into any potentially triggering situation or undergoing increased amounts of stress it’s important to have a plan in case you are tempted. This plan should include reaching out to a trusted sober friend or a counselor who supports and understands addiction and sobriety. You can plan where you’ll go, who you’ll go with, when you’ll leave, what you’ll drink, how you’ll respond to questions about your sobriety, etc. For many in recovery, the holidays can be very difficult but having a plan and foreseeing triggers and difficult situations can make a big difference.
- More meetings
Increasing your attendance (in-person or virtually) at support group meetings like AA or NA can be a huge help during the holidays. As mentioned, people there can not only relate but may be going through it themselves. It helps with eliminating the feelings of isolation, gives you extra support specific to your addiction, and also there are many in the rooms of AA with many years of sobriety who have traversed difficult times and can share with you what they did to stay sober through it. Many who attend AA meetings say that it’s one of the only places they are able to feel peace of mind and like they belong. This is important during the stressful and triggering holiday season. What’s more, sharing about what’s going on with you will help enormously too. Not only will you get it off your chest, but you’ll also undoubtedly receive support from other sober people. Find an AA meeting near you here.
- Addiction treatment alumni groups
Many of the best addiction treatment centers have alumni groups that are very active. Staying connected with these groups can make a big difference. The professionals from the addiction treatment center know how difficult the holidays can be and often have special meetings and outings to support you during this time. If you lost touch with this group after rehab, consider reaching back out and reconnecting.
The holidays can be a difficult time for many in recovery—particularly early recovery. Taking a few of these steps can make all the difference. The most important thing to remember is that your sobriety comes first. If others in your family or social circle don’t get it that’s okay. You get it. Getting sober isn’t easy and staying sober can be even more challenging especially during the holidays. But, you can do it! Lean on the support that’s out there. If you haven’t connected with support groups now is a great time to start. They are welcoming, supportive, and always happy to see all newcomers.
If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction to alcohol or another substance, Futures Recovery Healthcare can help. If you or someone you love is struggling with staying sober we can help too. Contact us online to learn more or call us at 866-804-2098.