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How the Holidays Can Trigger Relapse

How the Holidays Can Trigger Relapse

The holidays are supposed to be a joyful time to celebrate with family and friends. But for many, this time of year can bring up some difficult emotions. For those in recovery, certain triggers can make you vulnerable to relapse. Recognizing the main stressors during the holidays that can lead to relapse is the first step in helping to keep you safe and on your recovery path.

Common Holiday Stressors that Can Trigger Relapse

Social gatherings.
The holidays bring an influx of parties and social gatherings. Social gatherings are one of the most common relapse triggers for those in recovery, especially if drugs and alcohol are present. If you’re at a party where people are using and it’s challenging for you—leave. Don’t be afraid to remove yourself from a situation that could interfere with your recovery. And if you feel like a particular event may be too much for you to handle, its ok to politely decline.

Negative emotions.
The holidays can bring up many emotions—including difficult ones. Feelings of sadness, loneliness, guilt, anxiety and depression are common for anyone during this time. For those suffering with an addiction, it may increase your cravings for drugs and alcohol in order to cope. Make sure to stay close to your treatment team during this time. Keep attending 12-step meetings and arrange to meet with your sponsor as much as possible. They are there to keep you strong and support you through the tough times.

Stressful family dynamics.
Reuniting with family members can be a huge stressor during the holidays. The reopening of old wounds combined with the possibility of alcohol being served at family dinners can bring on the urge to use again. It may be difficult to avoid family during this time, but you can set healthy boundaries. If you need some alone time, then take it. Give your sponsor a call or practice some self-soothing strategies such as meditation or relaxing breathing techniques.

Financial stress.
The holidays can make you feel like you’re breaking the bank. The extra gifts and bills that come along with it can be very stressful to manage. Succumbing to financial pressure can make you vulnerable to relapse. It’s a good idea to plan ahead and put yourself on a budget that feels manageable. Don’t overdo it with expensive gifts. The extra financial burden just isn’t worth pushing you off your recovery path.

Changes in routine and schedules.
Changes to your normal routine and daily schedule is a common trigger for relapse. Travel, family functions and other holiday events can disrupt regular meeting attendance, work schedules and exercise routines. It’s important to attend meetings as often as you can during this time and if possible, schedule other sober activities. Carve out time to spend time with family and friends who are supportive of your recovery.

Staying committed to your recovery doesn’t have to be a source of anxiety during the holidays if you avoid triggers and set healthy boundaries. Understanding how to effectively cope with situations that could lead to potential relapse is key to sustaining a happy, healthy life of sobriety.

Read more about relapse prevention.

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