The holiday season can be challenging for those in recovery from addiction, especially those in early recovery or attending holiday gatherings after inpatient detox and rehab. Avoiding relapse triggers during the holidays can be difficult due to family obligations and high expectations. However, you can get through the holidays this year by planning to manage or avoid relapse triggers before celebrating.
Why Do People Relapse During the Holidays?
People generally relapse when they are triggered by external factors or internal feelings. A common relapse trigger could be walking past a bar on your way home to work when recovering from alcohol addiction. You can avoid this trigger by finding a new route to work or walking with a sober friend who will intervene if you feel tempted.
However, avoiding triggers during the holidays is more complex. You might need to limit your time with family, turn down invitations, or set boundaries in the moment with loved ones and others. Conversely, your addiction might have created rifts in your relationships that are unmended, and you find yourself alone while it seems that everyone else is celebrating.
You might have family members or friends asking questions about rehab or sobriety that you’d rather not talk about. Others might hand you a drink without knowing or say, “It’s okay just to have one! After all, we’re celebrating!”
Compounding these social pressures could be re-entering environments triggering on their own. If you were abused as a child, returning to your family home could be distressing on its own, without all the social pressure you need to confront all at once. Overall, the holidays can be draining, overwhelming, and upsetting for many in recovery.
Tips to Avoiding Relapse Triggers During the Holidays
Your situation might be different from others, depending upon your support system and family acceptance of your recovery. You also need to consider where you are in your recovery. If this is your first sober holiday, you might be more likely to relapse than others who have developed coping skills. However, if you follow or modify some of the following tips, you can find more success avoiding relapse triggers during the holidays.
#1. You don’t need to go anywhere you do not feel comfortable or safe
- If you don’t feel ready to face family, go to your childhood home, or be around others who might be drinking or using, remember to do what is best for you.
- Your family members might be disappointed, upset, offended, or even angry, but you might need to find alternative ways to celebrate.
#2. Go to support groups meetings during the holidays
- Your peers in support groups might have some of the same reservations about the holidays as you do.
- You might be able to attend a meeting on that day or bring up the idea with your support group.
#3. Have a planned excuse to leave if you feel triggered or overwhelmed
- You might go to a gathering and feel triggered unexpectedly.
- Always have a backup plan just in case because you might underestimate how you feel until you get to your event.
- Some excuses include:
- “I have another friend to visit today.”
- “I have a lot of traveling to do, and best get going.”
- “I can’t be away from my pet for very long and need to get home.”
#4. Volunteer at a shelter or other place in your community
- Volunteering can help you feel good about yourself during the holidays and keep your mind occupied.
- Staying busy and helping others can help you avoid relapse triggers.
#5. Do something for yourself
- If you choose to avoid celebrating with others, plan something for yourself.
- You might cook for yourself, get take-out, watch your favorite movies, focus on hobbies, or go on a hike.
Warning Signs of a Relapse
Relapse usually doesn’t occur suddenly or without any warning signs. You will likely feel cravings or urges before physically using or drinking. During the holidays, you might go through these stages while surrounded by others drinking or using, which could put your sobriety at risk.
According to the Yale Journal of Biological Medicine, relapse occurs in three stages: emotional, mental, and physical. If you catch your relapse in the emotional or mental stages, you can avoid a physical relapse.
- Emotional relapse:
- You start bottling up emotions, stop sharing during meetings, cancel therapy appointments, focus on other people’s problems, or stop self-care activities.
- You aren’t thinking about using during this stage, but you are no longer participating in your treatment and ongoing recovery.
- Mental relapse:
- You might start thinking of ways to use or drink again during the mental stage.
- You could have thoughts about past behaviors and people associated with your addiction.
- You might glorify or minimize the consequences of your drug or alcohol use.
- Physical relapse:
- During this stage, you might drink or use drugs when you find the opportunity or cannot manage your triggers.
- You might just “slip” and make a one-time mistake; however, you are at a high risk of continuing your addiction if you minimize this slip.
If you are worried about relapsing during the holidays, create a plan, have a supportive friend or sponsor on standby to talk to you, or find other activities that will help you avoid relapse triggers.
Addiction Treatment in Nashville
Relapse prevention is crucial for success in recovery; however, a relapse is not a sign of failure. Even if you have been in recovery for years, you might face new challenges and triggers. Brentwood Springs Detox of Nashville, TN, is here for you if you need to return to treatment after a relapse. Call us today at (615) 560-7545 to learn more.