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How to Avoid Relapse During the Holidays

5 Tips On How To Avoid Relapse This Holiday Season

For recovering addicts, the holidays can be tough. Besides navigating complicated family relationships, ex-addicts also have to deal with occasions that are traditionally centered around drinking, like New Year’s. To protect your hard-earned sobriety, it may be useful to anticipate and plan for difficult or tempting occasions beforehand. If you’re in recovery, learning how to avoid relapse is essential. Read these relapse prevention tips that can help you survive the holidays.

1. Act “Normal”

Perhaps the most impotent element of successful sobriety and learning how to avoid relapse is building a routine that involves living your life to the fullest. Instead of focusing on what you can’t do, focus on what’s still available. Even better, recognize what is now possible because you’re healthy and sober. For example, you can work on building or restoring relationships with family members who you may have distanced yourself from while using. And just because you’re sober doesn’t mean you can’t have fun! New Year’s Eve may be the most alcohol-involved holiday in the US, but you don’t need to stay at home and hide.

In fact, part of building a “normal” life is finding ways to enjoy yourself in all kinds of situations without drugs or alcohol. Take some time to plan ahead for something special on New Year’s Eve, like going out to a nice dinner with family or friends and then watching fireworks or the ball drop. If you’re going home for Christmas and your family drinks, bring along some alcohol-free options—it’s not a big deal. You may even find that you can enjoy things like Christmas dinner, being with family, and decorating the tree more because you are present and clear-headed. Without drinking or drugs, you’ll actually be able to remember cherished moments with family!

2. Deal with Your Feelings

Sometimes, going to your childhood home can trigger complex feelings, especially if it was the backdrop to behavior associated with active addiction on you (or your family’s) part. Understand and anticipate what feelings may come up: guilt, anger, embarrassment, defensiveness, or even nostalgia and cravings. Use skills you’ve learned in therapy or AA: deal with feelings and urges as they arrive, instead of trying to squash them or pretend they aren’t there. Indeed, during recovery, addicts learn that a primary reason behind the appeal of substance abuse is escaping from emotions. As a sober person, you may experience very strong emotions, especially at first, because you’re no longer numbed out. Not dealing with emotions will only stress you out, which can weaken your resolve and become a trigger for relapse.

No matter what, keep things in perspective and remember how far you’ve come. Bring your running shoes, yoga mat, or whatever your favorite healthy method for centering and calming yourself down happens to be.

3. Draw Boundaries

Depending on what kind of relationship you have with your family and how long you’ve been sober, decide beforehand how much you’d like to talk about it with them. Your sobriety need not be the center of the conversation—remind family of this fact. If you made mistakes, apologize for them and move on. If your family is unwilling to respect your requests, give yourself permission to leave! Part of sobriety and knowing how to avoid relapse is surrounding yourself with loved ones who have your best interests in mind, and guilt-tripping or reliving toxic behavior patterns are not helpful for anyone involved. If your relationship with your family is not healthy, don’t let a sense of obligation to be with them during the holidays override what’s most important right now: your sobriety.

Follow a similar rule with friends. Remember that building a sustainable sober life depends on making things “normal” again. Friends who are unsupportive by trying to peer pressure you, or who simply drink or do drugs heavily, probably shouldn’t have a place in your life. Advocate for yourself and your future by removing yourself from the situation if people you know are making you uncomfortable.

4. Avoid Temptation

Especially if you’re newly sober or are still seriously struggling with cravings, don’t put yourself in tough positions. During the holidays, sober people may have to deal with tough requests, like friends asking you to be their Designated Driver on New Year’s Eve. Since you’re sober, it makes sense for you to drive friends around while they party, right? Not necessarily. Following friends from bar to bar and watching them get drunk will be irritating or possibly tempting. Either way, extremely intoxicated people are obnoxious. Plus, alcohol-soaked surroundings are not the healthiest place for a sober person to be. Especially if you’re newly sober or are “white knuckling” it, staying out of bars completely is probably for the best.

Likewise, don’t hang out with old friends you used with, unless they’re sober too. Most “using buddies” may even pressure you to use – something real friends would never do. You certainly won’t have much to talk about.

5. Work The Steps / Enlist Support

Finally, remember that it’s OK to lean on a sponsor or supportive loved one if you’re having a tough time. If you’re feeling temptation, the best way to deal with it and not relapse is to confront it head on by talking about it. Sponsors or good friends will listen without judgement and help you stay accountable. If you’re in AA, remember to work the steps and tell yourself “not today”.  Especially if you just got out of treatment, be sure to take care of yourself. Have an escape plan in case things get difficult.

Although holidays can be tough, remember that they can also be fun! Learning how to avoid relapse is all a matter of planning ahead and putting in the effort to take care of yourself. Learning to enjoy occasions like New Year’s Eve without drinking or using drugs is an important stepping stone to building a new “normal”.  Using your coping skills to successfully navigate difficult or tempting occasions will reinforce your resolve and help you build a successful sober life.

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