Relapse prevention during the Holidays

The holidays are a dangerous time for relapse amongst addicts. This time period is supposed to be about joy and celebration but often turns into a stressful time filled with anxiety, tension and sadness. The period from Thanksgiving through New Year’s is overwhelming for everyone. It can be especially difficult for those with addictions and the people who care about them. The holidays are all about excess – eating, drinking, shopping, celebrating and gathering. Finding a balance is important so you can enjoy the true pleasures of the season. What can you do at this time of year if you are battling an addiction or have someone with an addiction in your life?

For Those With Addictions
If you are battling an addiction or if you are in recovery, the holidays provide the perfect excuse to engage in excessive behavior as this celebratory season encourages overindulgence. Most holiday events revolve around food, alcohol and shopping. Try to make your holidays as stress-free as possible by identifying and avoiding your personal triggers. Be selective – it is okay to say “no” to certain invitations or too many invitations. If you can’t avoid a stressful event, take along a supportive friend or sponsor who will help you in your recovery efforts. Have an exit strategy if you attend an event and feel uncomfortable. If you sincerely feel you can’t attend an event without falling back on addictive behavior, avoid the event completely.

If your battle with addiction is public knowledge, be prepared for questions from family and friends at social gatherings. While you may be tempted to throw a fruitcake (that has probably been re-gifted & circulating around since the mid-80’s) at the next person who asks you how you are doing with your recovery, resist the urge. The person asking the question probably has good intentions and is sincerely interested in your well-being.

Addiction recovery is about knowing your triggers, understanding your addictive behavior and staying alert. The holidays are not an excuse to take a “break” from your recovery efforts. Attend a support group meeting if you are feeling susceptible and might relapse. Designate a support person in advance and let them know you might call during the holidays. Make that call when you feel vulnerable. It is vital to maintain ties with supportive loved ones during this challenging season. Avoid toxic people and those who encouraged or enabled your addiction in the past. If you must speak to someone toxic, practice the “60 second rule” – do not engage in conversation for more than 60 seconds to avoid a potentially unhealthy interaction.

The most important gift you can give to yourself and others this season is the gift of recovery.

Friends and Family of Addicts
If you love someone who is in recovery from an addiction, try to understand what he or she is going through at this time of year. There are many potential minefields for recovering addicts throughout the holiday season. A tableful of food carefully arranged by a hostess may be terrifying for someone suffering from an eating disorder. A punchbowl filled with spiked cider or eggnog may be too irresistible for an alcoholic. Friendly bets placed on various games may trigger an unwanted desire in a recovering gambler. Holiday “deals” and a long shopping list may prove to be the tipping point for a shopping addict. The stress brought on by unrealistic seasonal expectations may cause someone to turn to substance abuse.

Obviously, everyone wants holiday gatherings to go well. In order to accomplish this, certain seasonal situations must be handled with finesse. Offer non-alcoholic beverages as well as alcoholic beverages to all of your guests. Never offer an alcoholic beverage to a recovering alcoholic. Have sensible food choices on hand as well as indulgent holiday goodies so there is something for everyone to enjoy. Don’t push anyone to eat at your event. Avoid comments on appearance – instead say, “We’re so happy to have you here with us!” To prevent stress over money and eliminate excuses for a shopaholic, place a spending limit on holiday presents or agree to just exchange cards. Place your prescription medications in a locked cabinet. If you can tell a guest is clearly high or drunk, take their keys away and call for a taxi or provide them with a safe place to sober up and spend the night. If you suspect someone has overdosed, call 911 immediately.

Having an addict amongst your family or friends does not mean the holiday fun has to end; it means that new traditions and sources of joy need to be found. Focus on neutral activities. Take a pleasant walk outside together. Play board games. Do yoga (Sting does it, hence it must be cool). Go to a skating rink. Head to the movies. Write down questions or conversation starters on pieces of paper, fold them & place them in a bowl – have each person pick a piece of paper, then discuss the topic with the group.

When all else fails, realize that almost everyone is struggling through this season in one way or another. You’re not alone. You’re not a freak. You’re not the only one sick of hearing “Hear Comes Santa Claus”. The holidays are not perfect for anyone. Real life is messy, unpredictable and often unpleasant. Avoid wildly unrealistic expectations and don’t expect to mimic the perfect images you see in the media. Instead, focus on the good moments and take pleasure in the fact that January 2nd is just around the corner.

If you find yourself or a loved one unable to get through the holidays without the alcohol, piles of food, betting on games, using drugs, endless shopping (past what you need or can afford) or surfing the Internet to infinity – you need to seek help for addiction recovery. Please call Shades of Hope for a free private consultation.

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