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9 Ways to Avoid Relapse During the Holidays

There is no doubt that recovery from drug addiction and alcoholism can be challenging. Anyone can become addicted to any drug after experiencing an unexpected event or emotion that triggers a craving. However, for many, this is especially true during the holiday season.

During the holidays, you may experience the following triggers;

  • Family relationships that are tenuous

  • Being alone during the holidays

  • Managing holiday season stressors like shopping and traveling.

  • Constant contact with those who are under the influence of alcohol, drugs, and other substances during the holidays

So how can you help to protect yourself? Listed below are 9 tips to help you stay focused on your sobriety during this holiday season.

1. Start a plan each day to fend off a relapse.

“An alcoholic needs to wake up each morning thinking about how to stay sober that day,” Peter R. Martin, MD, a professor of psychiatry and pharmacology and director of the Vanderbilt Addiction Center at the Vanderbilt Psychiatric Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee, told Everyday Health. “Once they have a plan, they should be fine for the rest of that day.”

Remember, to remain sober, you must stay focused on your goal.

2. Be aware of possible triggers.

Identify the places or people that make you uncomfortable and can lead to relapse. If you are going to an activity that may cause you to relapse, bring a sober friend. If you will be in a stressful situation or with stressful people, limit the amount of time that you spend there or find ways to cope like through breathing exercises.

Remember it's okay to leave if you start feeling uncomfortable. Refusing an invitation and saying “no” is also acceptable. Consider attending a meeting before the activity or "bookending" it by calling someone in recovery before and after.

3. Avoid situations where alcohol and drugs may be present.

Relapse is more likely during the holiday season than any other time of year. For example, American adults who choose to drink on New Year's Eve consume an average of 4.4 drinks each. There is a high probability of alcohol or drugs being consumed at most holiday parties.

What should you do? Try to avoid drinking and taking drugs at holidays parties. If this isn’t possible, consider the following;

  • Rehearse your responses. Develop a script to help you decline off-limits offers.

  • Bring your own non-alcoholic beverage. When we already have a drink, we won't have to turn someone down.

  • Leave a situation when you’re not comfortable. You may feel awkward, but relapsing is far worse.

  • Bring a sober friend for support. When we feel triggered, we can turn to them for support.

Leaving the party sober is a great achievement that keeps us motivated to remain sober. Also, go ahead and treat yourself to a safe prize such as a pint of ice cream.

4. Avoid H.A.L.T. (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired).

It’s mandatory for pilots to complete an in-depth systems check of the plane from the inside out before they leave the tarmac. The pilot must thoroughly check the plane before takeoff. And, it’s their responsibility to keep an eye on the gauges throughout the flight to ensure that everyone safely arrives at their destination.

Regularly checking your recovery system is your responsibility. Specifically, you’ll want to conduct a H.A.L.T. check.

The acronym H.A.L.T. stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired and is a tool for self-care. H.A.L.T.checks are like pilots making sure their planes are operational. As well as ensuring you are taking all the necessary precautions, it guarantees your well-being.

By using the HALT recovery tool, you can stay safe and enjoy the holiday season.

5. Don’t be a Scrooge.

Use this holiday season to focus more on living life with gratitude -- if you don't already. For example, when you wake up, celebrate the fact that you aren’t hungover or anxious about how you’ll fill your next Oxycontin script. Not only will this make you happy, but it will also put things in perspective if you’re struggling with your recovery.

Express your gratitude to others outwardly as well. Make a point to send holiday cards thanking loved ones for their support. Show your appreciation to your wife, husband, children, friends, sober peers, and recovery coach through personalized notes or mindful presents.

Another way to show your gratitude? Be of service to others whenever possible. Spend time with a loved one or neighbor who is elderly, serve a meal at a homeless shelter, or chat with someone new at a meeting. Giving back, paying it forward, and being of service are all ways to live a life free of anger, fear, and guilt.

6. Take care of yourself.

In order to feel good physically and emotionally, you need to take care of yourself during the holiday season. Make sure you engage in healthy habits like getting enough sleep, eating well, and taking part in the activities you enjoy. You should also make time to connect with loved ones and relax.

7. Be mindful of what you’re you’re thinking -- and drinking.

Don't forget to bring your favorite non-alcoholic beverage to family celebrations and social events. You won't be tempted to accept drinks, and people won't feel inclined to coax you into drinking.

You should be mindful when asking others to grab you a drink. You might be misunderstood or they might forget that you won't be drinking alcohol. Do not be alarmed if you accidentally sip an alcoholic beverage. It's just a sip and it does not mean you have relapsed. In fact, you shouldn’t even entertain the thought of relapsing if this happens.

However, as soon as your rationalizations start creeping in, shut them out immediately. You did not learn to control your drinking through abstinence since abstinence did not rewire your brain to be non-addictive.

You can't undo what's been done. Consult your sponsor or friends who are sober. Mistakes are not relapses, and mistakes won't land you in rehab, but secrets may.

8. Lean on your support system.

Take time out of your holiday schedule to attend a few extra meetings if you're a member of a support group. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence offers a list of organizations you can contact if you need assistance in finding one. You may have to miss the celebrations of your friends who abuse substances this year if you are close with them and have met them during your recovery journey.

9. Out with the old, in with new traditions.

If old traditions are a trigger, consider starting new traditions. Invite your recovery coach and your new recovery peers to your house to celebrate the holidays with you. Establish new traditions with those in your recovery community if you find yourself alone during the holidays.

For those in recovery, it is critically important to surround themselves with other peers, especially during the holiday season.

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