For those in recovery from drug or alcohol abuse, there are certain times that are more emotion-filled, leaving them at greater risk for relapse. Easing back into “real life” after treatment can be hard enough, but the holidays can bring reality crashing back in at top speed. Emotions can go into overdrive as a result of family functions, job stress and family stress.

This supposedly joyful season may be all about family and fun for some, but if you’re working hard to stay sober, it can also mean attending events that put you back in the path of locations where you used drugs. It’s certainly enough to make someone in recovery uncomfortable and trigger thoughts of returning to unhealthy activities as a way to silence those unwanted emotions. Fortunately, it is possible to become aware of triggers and learn how to defuse them – even during the holidays.

How to Avoid Relapse Triggers:

  • Practice patience. Impatience can be a huge trigger for those in recovery. It’s understandable that you want to make progress, but it takes time. If you begin to feel that you or others aren’t moving fast enough, stop and reevaluate. Are you being realistic about what you can accomplish when? Also, take some time out to remember how far you’ve already come.
  • Get plenty of rest. What does a good night’s sleep have to do with sobriety? Exhaustion can put you at risk of relapse because you won’t have the energy to deal with the issues that arise in a healthy way. Also, lack of sleep may be an indicator that you aren’t practicing good self-care. Focusing on nutrition and exercise are more important during stressful times too.
  • Identify underlying emotions. Loneliness, fear, anxiety or unreasonable expectations can turn events that should be happy and fun into dangerous for someone in recovery. Identify what you’re feeling and name it, so you can address it. Depression is rampant at this time of year. If you feel depressed, don’t just try to push through, look into options for treating it.
  • Face your feelings. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the barrage of unpleasant feelings. We’ve all wished at one time or another that we could just turn off our feelings, but this desire to numb can lead to big trouble. Instead, just take it a step at a time. Dealing with your feelings from a practical instead of an emotional viewpoint will help you to be more objective about what is going on.
  • Check your expectations. The holidays can bring back childhood fantasies of perfect family gatherings and Norman Rockwell images, but these aren’t realistic. No family is perfect and striving for perfection will only leave you disappointed. Instead, set real expectations for yourself, your interactions with family and your time with friends. This way you’ll create some new memories instead of being held hostage by unattainable ideas of perfection.
  • Be honest with yourself. Sobriety doesn’t take a holiday, so you can’t either. Don’t let complacency creep in. You need to keep working your program and being honest about where you’re at and how you’re doing. Take stock daily and make small adjustments now to keep from having a bigger problem later. There’s too much at stake.
    Woman hiking in woods
  • Have a back-up plan. When you can’t avoid triggers (stress-filled family get-togethers, travel far from your support system, etc.) make sure you have healthy distractions on hand and a back-up plan. How can you escape for short periods to regroup? Who can you turn to if you just need a break or some support? Don’t wait until the situation is out of control to think about these things.
  • Seek support. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Even the best-laid plans can go awry when you mix family members and holiday celebrations. Sometimes you just need to talk to someone who’s been there. An objective voice can speak calm and clarity into your situation, but first you have to pick up the phone and reach out.
  • There’s always room for improvement. Don’t forget to schedule time for reflection after the fact. Look at what worked and what might be better the next time, so each time you face triggers you’ll be more prepared than the last. Following these tips can help prevent relapse before it begins.
  • Keep sobriety as your No. 1 goal. Do whatever you need to do to remind yourself that your sobriety is the most important thing at all times. Stick inspirational messages on your mirror, keep a sober friend’s number handy in your wallet or in your phone’s speed dial, remind yourself about the negative consequences that resulted from your substance abuse in the past. Find what works and use it.

Treatment During the Holidays

The holidays can be hard, but by recognizing relapse triggers and planning ahead, they don’t have to be fraught with danger. It is possible to spend December celebrating the season – and your sobriety. If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction and a co-occurring disorder, call us today (frn_phone). We’re available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and can provide information on treatment programs, help with insurance and answer questions about the treatment process.


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Articles posted here are primarily educational and may not directly reflect the offerings at Black Bear Lodge. For more specific information on programs at Black Bear Lodge, contact us today.