Staying sober during the Christmas season can be a challenge. While the Christmas season is an exciting time of year, it can also be an overwhelming and emotional time. For those in an addiction recovery program, this is especially true. Whether you are new to sobriety, or have been in a program for a few years, this season has a history of testing those who are trying to maintain lasting sobriety. Christmas and New Year's Eve celebrations often include more than the company of friends and family, they include drugs and alcohol. Celebrations fueled by alcohol can be a dangerous environment for those in an addiction treatment program. The combination of your closest friends and family using alcohol, mixed with heightened emotions may trigger you to relapse.
Staying sober during the Christmas season can challenge anyone in recovery, especially those in the early stages. If you are new to recovery, chances are you are trying to rebuild your life from the harm alcohol or drugs have caused. When you return home for the holidays after your first time in rehab, you may feel confronted by inquisitive family members and old friends. Returning home also means you may encounter people that enabled your addiction, such as friends you used to buy drugs from, old bars you used to frequent, and other local triggers.
Sometimes a life of addiction takes everything away from you. You may not have a home, family, or any real friends to call your own. The burden of reflecting on your past transgressions while you were using is commonplace during the holiday season. While many are looking forward, you are looking back at a life that could've been more fulfilling if you hadn't gone down the wrong path. These types of thoughts lead you to depression, and depression can bring you right back to the very thing that got you there to begin with - drugs and alcohol.
No matter your story or situation, you must hold on to your desire to stay clean. You must look deep inside yourself and find the determination to resist temptations offered by the holiday season.
Christmas Stress and Addiction
If you have a history of mental health issues or a substance abuse disorder, being in a stressful situation where alcohol or drugs are being consumed is not recommended during the holidays. People managing addiction are learning how to live life without drugs and alcohol. Staying sober through any holiday season is much easier said than done.
Addiction is a neurological disorder that affects the reward system of the brain. Most alcoholics like to think that one day they will be able to drink again, without suffering the negative consequences like in the past. Battling these self-destructive thought and behavioral patterns requires effort each day. If you know you have a problem with alcohol, and occasionally fantasize about drinking again, avoid the temptations that holiday gathering offer. Don't go to the party in the first place. If you know a loved-one in recovery that is more stressed out than usual during the holidays, take extra care and caution and help them avoid temptation.
The Holidays Can Trigger A Relapse
Triggers are defined in mental health as an external event or circumstance that produces uncomfortable emotions such as anxiety, fear, depression, or anger.
Below we look at some potential triggers people in recovery face during the holidays. We have also included some helpful tips to make this holiday season more enjoyable and memorable for anyone in recovery.
Here are some common difficulties that impact those trying to stay sober during the holidays:
- Pressure to Fit In - In times of celebration it’s most people’s goal to fit in rather than stand out. Nevertheless, trying to fit in for an addict could create an unhealthy situation where drinking or using becomes all too tempting. Peer pressure to drink a glass of wine at midnight or to hit a joint outback before Christmas dinner is so common that even those who do not have a drinking problem, drink when they didn’t plan on it. Don’t offer a drink to someone in recovery and if you offer someone a drink and they say no, move on. What might seem like a harmless sip of beer to you is the single greatest danger to a person in recovery. The pressure to fit in includes justifications the addict might make for themselves “maybe I can drink just tonight’ or “I’ll only have one drink” - these justifications are common and unbelievably dangerous. The reality is that addiction is a brain disorder which disrupts the reward center of the brain, making bad ideas seem like good ideas. Once an alcoholic has had the first drink, the brain lights up and the compulsion to drink just one more drink is now back. Fully admitting and conceding that one is an addict / alcoholic will help to remind you that regardless of others ability to drink successfully throughout the holidays, you can’t - and that’s okay!
- Feeling Alone - Although Christmas is supposed to be a time of enjoying each other’s companies, it can be a very lonely time for people suffering from varying substance use disorders. Sometimes the wreckage of the past has created a holiday away from their families. Shame and guilt over past mistakes can creep in and trigger mental health issues like depression and anxiety. On the flip side traveling for the holidays also puts distance between those in recovery and their primary support groups. Seeing old friends and family members for the first time in sobriety can be stressful or even embarrassing. To avoid these feeling some will isolate which obviously increases the feelings of loneliness and self-pity.
- Focusing on The Past - Old people, places and things are often told to be avoided but sometimes it’s not that easy. Christmas can be an easy and appropriate time to rebuild new memories for those whose family members offer a strong support network. For the other addicts, Christmas can be among the reasons as to why they fall backwards into the dark pit of addiction. At the time of celebrations, old memories can potentially come into surface, some people will obsess about what they could have done different in the past and think about where they “should” be. This negative self-talk can lead to all sorts of negative emotions and without the proper tools to handle these emotions many will drink or use to stop feeling them. An important tip for those in recovery is to remember the reason for the season. It’s important to replace old bad memories with new good ones. If you’re thinking about drinking or using, remember you owe it to yourself and those that love you to just spend some quality time together. Reach out to your support network and if you’re traveling look for meetings in the area you’re going to beforehand.
How to Support Someone in Recovery This Christmas
If you are spending this holiday season with someone who is affected by behavioral illnesses or disorders; you can offer your support and help to promote comfort for them. Before the beginning of the celebrations, offering a listening ear which can do a lot in curbing their anxious feelings. Talk openly about emotions and possible triggers and try to see things from their point of view.
Offer rides to meetings and help create fun new ways to celebrate the holidays that don’t involve drinking. Play some board games, brew a pot of coffee and wear some ugly sweaters. Starting new healthy traditions is not only a positive way of supporting someone in recovery but it also grows the bond between you and your loved one.
In addition, it is important to allow your recovering loved one to do the things that help them stay sober. These things could include church, meetings, calling their sponsor, meditating, reading, working out, eating healthy and getting enough rest. If they are uncomfortable in a situation, they should not have to stay- the most important thing is their health and well-being.
Ways to Overcome a Challenging Christmas
Here are some tips for all those trying to stay sober during the holidays:
- Locate A Support Group - If you are traveling for the holidays, do some research online about support groups in your destination area. Make sure you have the phone numbers and contact information of people in your support system. Chances are, they will need support too.
- Find A Safe Place - Avoid contact with any person or place that enabled your addiction. Staying home is nothing to be ashamed of. Don't let old "friends" take you back to a time when using drugs or drinking was a part of your daily life.
- Take Care of Yourself - Take care of your physical, emotional and mental health. Attending an AA or NA meeting can help ease the stress of the holidays. Share any concerns you have with your sponsor or talk to a trusted family member about any temptations you may experience.
- Take A Break - If everyone around you is drinking, take a step back from the festivities and spend some one-on-one time with your children. If you have pets, a nice long walk with your dog can give you that much needed break from watching others partake in holiday drinking.
- Have an Exit Strategy - If you’re attending an event make sure you can leave if you feel uncomfortable. Driving yourself to a party can help ensure you have a way out, and it will also give you a good reason to tell yourself you cannot have a drink. Nobody wants a DUI during the holidays.
- Start New Healthy Traditions - Going to parties where people drink and use drugs does not have to be your annual holiday tradition. Find new ways to spend your holidays with like-minded people. Start a new tradition that will get you excited for the holidays each year.
- Practice Acceptance - Have fun, relax and remember to take life one day at a time. The only thing you can control is yourself, and your reactions. Find the humor in aggravating situations and enjoy your time.
- Keep an Attitude of Gratitude - Stay grateful for your new life in recovery. There is no problem you have today that is worse than your old solution to everything. Keep that in mind.
Wishing You A Merry and Sober Christmas
Hopefully the tips above will help you, or a loved one, stay sober this holiday and many more holidays to come. Recovery is a life-long process that takes a lot of adjustment, changes, and patience. If you are new to recovery and this is your first sober Christmas, take advantage of our tips, call your sponsor, go to a meeting, or simply enjoy some time to yourself. Anything that will get you away from the temptations of the holiday will help reduce your stress and prevent a relapse. We hope you have a very merry Christmas, and a healthy New Year.