Holiday Relapse Prevention Planning – Staying Sober for the Holidays!

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Overcoming Addiction During the Holidays

The holiday season is a time of merriment, family, and above all else – booze-fueled social events. Whether it be Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Years, alcohol is almost always present (unless you’re attending a sober event, of course). Because of this, it can be an exceptionally tricky time for those new to sobriety. Additionally, the holidays can be an emotionally triggering time – visiting with your family of origin can be emotionally distressing, no question. You may also have some unpleasant memories attached to the holiday season – maybe you grew up in a household where the holidays weren’t the happiest time, or you lost someone close to you. Regardless of your personal circumstances, the holidays can be tough. Fortunately, there are numerous methods of relapse prevention planning that can and will come in handy during this time of year. Take a careful look at the following holiday-related challenges, and how to successfully avoid relapse during the holiday season.

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Holiday Challenges to Addiction Recovery

First of all, there are all of the holiday-related social events – office parties, reunions, ugly sweater parties… the list goes on. While avoiding these events altogether is always an option, there are likely some events that you won’t want to miss out on. If you decide to go to a party where you know alcohol will be present, make sure you flesh out a plan ahead of time. Assume that other partygoers will offer you alcohol, and figure out what you’re going to say. There are several viable methods of rejection. Try saying:
  • “No thanks, I don’t drink.”
  • “I’m designated driver tonight, thank you, though!”
  • “No thank you, I’ve got an early morning.”
  • “No thanks, I’m in recovery.”
Of course, what you say will be determined by how much information you want to divulge. If you’re at an office party, for example, you might say, “I don’t drink,” rather than, “I’m in recovery.” But if you’re amongst friends, it’s probably an important thing for them to know! And remember – there’s absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. Recovery has become pretty mainstream, with celebrities from Russell Brand to Demi Lovato speaking out about their personal struggles with alcoholism and addiction, and their long-term relationships with sobriety. 9 times out of 10, as soon as you tell someone you’re sober, they’ll meet you with nothing but respect – and they won’t push the subject any further! If you’re at a party with a designated bartender, try asking for a seltzer and lime (or whatever other non-alcoholic beverage) water in a highball glass. If you carry a drink around all night, chances are no one will ask you if you’d like another one. And finally, plan an escape route – if you feel uncomfortable, there’s no sense in staying! Make sure you’ve got some available sober supports on speed dial, and if you feel triggered or overwhelmed, excuse yourself from the festivities and give one a call. If you still feel the same after the call – get out of there! While holiday parties can be fun, and you may not want to ‘miss out’, most parties are the same – let’s be honest. Sugar cookies, small talk, and Santa hats. The sense of satisfaction you’ll have waking up sober the next morning will definitely trump anything else.

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Family and the Holidays

Next, let’s discuss family – oftentimes, family proves to be one of the biggest holiday challenges to addiction recovery. Going home for the holidays has become as much of a tradition as decorating the Christmas tree. However, returning home isn’t always a pleasant experience. This could be due to a number of factors, some related to traditional family dysfunction, and some related to something else entirely. Everyone’s family is dysfunctional to a certain degree, and there are many coping strategies to employ when dealing with standard family issues. These include:
  • Excusing yourself from the situation.
If you start to feel overwhelmed or irritable, remember that it’s completely okay to take a break. Excuse yourself, say you need to get some fresh air, and take a walk around the block. Step away if you need to – don’t worry about upsetting anyone else. If you aren’t calm, cool, and collected, you won’t be able to present for your family members. Take care of you! It can be easy to fall off track when you’re in a different environment. If you’re heading home for the holidays, make sure that you look up a meeting schedule ahead of time. Plan out meetings before you even get there – this way, not only will you have some structure to fall back on, but you’ll have a very valid excuse to step away and take a breather!
  • Knowing what to expect before you go in.
One of the nice things about your family of origin – they’re likely pretty predictable. Expect that patterns will stay the same. For example, if your grandma always gets on your case about being single, plan a response in advance. Say she always asks, “Why aren’t you married yet, when are you going to get married? I want grandkids!” You know she’s going to go there – so prepare yourself! “I’m working on it, grandma. Right now I’m focusing more on my career – but I know how important to you this is, and I’m doing my best!” Try and remember that your family members probably mean no harm, even if they tend to ruffle your feathers quite a bit.
  • Having some sober supports on speed-dial.
Make sure that you’ve got some of your sober supports – friends, your sponsor, counselors, etc – on speed-dial! Let them know that you’ll be home with family, and make sure you’ve got a rough idea of who will be available, and when. Just because you’re away from your support group doesn’t mean you have to get disconnected!
  • Practicing meditation.
Few tools are as useful as mindfulness meditation. Take a few minutes out of your day to sit alone in silence, and either follow a guided meditation or just breathe and relax.

Of course, coping mechanisms are limited to these five things – find what works for you, and make sure you’re dealing with your stress in the healthiest way possible.

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Family-Related Relapse Triggers

Returning home can also be difficult if you’ve spent ample time away, because your family may (unintentionally) try to fit you into a past box. You used to be a certain way, and your family got to know that person – but that isn’t who you are now! Rather than try and fight them or prove that you’ve changed for the better, reassure yourself that your personal growth is valid. Understand that you have changed, and you are continuing to grow, and that it may take time for your family to ‘catch up’. The ability to validate yourself is crucial. Additionally, this time of year may be difficult because you recently lost a loved one (or you lost a loved one a while ago – one that you shared happy, holiday-time memories with). If this is the case, other members of your family are probably feeling similar things. Rather than hide from unpleasant emotions, do what you can to support one another. You have the ability to help; nothing heals emotional wounds quite like a supportive family unit.

No matter what your holiday relapse triggers are, make sure you acknowledge them and map out ways to cope with them successfully. For more information on relapse prevention or how to stay sober through the holidays reach out to us today we are available 24/7 at (888) 483-1517.


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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave


Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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