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The holiday season is often bittersweet. While it is often a time for family to come together and celebrate the joys of life, it can also be a time of great sorrow and anxiety. This may be especially true for individuals who are working to maintain their sobriety. For those in recovery, the holiday season poses challenging opportunities for triggers and relapse. Fortunately, there is still time to prepare to best protect your sobriety and ultimately prevent relapse.

Why Is Relapse So Common During the Holidays?

It’s no secret that the holiday season can bring about a lot of extra stress. Gatherings and gift-giving might require a lot of your time and make you feel like you’re stretched thin. You also might find that this season triggers you in unique ways, which could lead some to turn back to substances to cope.

Holiday Stress

According to former United States Surgeon General Boris Lushniak in Public Health Reports, the holidays can be filled with joy, but they can also be filled with a lot of stress. He states, “Whether it comes from entertaining guests, coping with loneliness, lacking the money to buy gifts, or feeling social pressure to spend more money than is comfortable, stress is a very real concern for many people as the holiday season approaches.” Continuing, Lushniak also explains that individuals often turn to alcohol and other drugs to cope with holiday stress. For those in recovery, this means there could be an even greater chance of relapse.

Holiday Triggers

The holiday season can bring about many different triggers for those in recovery. The season itself may be a trigger as well. If the holidays spark memories of using substances, you can utilize different methods to be even more vigilant in your recovery.

Family and loved ones may also be a trigger during the holidays. They may ask about your sobriety and recovery progress, which may be uncomfortable. Always remember that it’s okay to say “no” when you want to, and you should remove yourself from triggering situations if they come up. 

How to Prevent Relapse During the Holidays

Even though the holidays can bring about a lot of stress and even trigger you, there are methods you can utilize to avoid relapse. It’s important to set healthy boundaries, take time out for yourself, and even have an exit strategy when necessary.

Set Healthy Boundaries

During the holidays, people often use substances to celebrate. You can set healthy boundaries by telling your loved ones that if there are substances being used, you will not be present. When substances are widely used during the season, it can cause people to act out of character or even start arguments. You can set a healthy boundary by letting your loved ones know that you will not tolerate situations where substance use plays a factor. 

Take Time Out for Yourself

Even though the holiday season can bring about a lot of stress, there are still ways to enjoy this time. You should make it a point to take time out for yourself during this season, especially if you’re feeling overwhelmed or triggered. 

If you find yourself in a triggering situation, here are some ways you can disconnect from the overwhelm:

  • Go outside for fresh air
  • Meditate
  • Set aside non-negotiable time just for yourself each day
  • Journal
  • Lean on peers in recovery programs or outside groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) 

Have an Exit Strategy

Before the holiday season, you can create a strategy to deal with overbearing family, triggers, and stress. This will set your mind at ease and allow you to enjoy yourself instead of getting overwhelmed. 

You might want to make a list of people you can call when things start to get rough, like a recovery coach or sponsor. You can also make a plan to exit conversations that get too heated and choose not to participate. If possible, you can even create a backup plan to celebrate the holidays elsewhere.

If Relapse Occurs During the Holiday Season

If relapse does occur during the holidays, you can rest easy knowing that you have options. According to the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, “Relapse prevention is why most people seek treatment. By the time most individuals seek help, they have already tried to quit on their own and they are looking for a better solution.” You can best prevent relapse by engaging in continuing treatment throughout this season. Still, if a relapse does occur, there are ways you can quickly get back on track in your recovery.

Honesty Is Always the Best Policy

If you do experience a relapse during the holidays, it’s critical to be honest about it. The hardest way to sustain sobriety is when you try to do it alone. Be open and honest with those around you so that you can get to the root of your relapse and work to prevent it from occurring again.

If you experience a relapse during the holidays, you also need to be honest with yourself. Spend some time with your thoughts and emotions, and ask yourself what may have caused the relapse. When you take time out to explore your struggles, you will become much more confident in overcoming them.

Consider Returning to Treatment

In order to overcome a relapse during the holidays, you should seek out a quality outpatient treatment program. Outpatient programs with highly-trained staff will be equipped to help you through your relapse and get you back on the road to recovery. 

When seeking out a treatment program, find one that is aligned with your goals and values. It’s also important to find a program that will create a care plan completely individualized to you and your unique needs. If you experience a relapse, be gentle with yourself. Relapse is often a part of the process, but you can work to prevent it in the long term.

The holiday season is usually a time for celebration, but it can also be extremely stressful, especially for those in recovery. Many people in recovery may experience a relapse during the holidays because of high stress and triggering situations. At Lighthouse Recovery Texas, our clinically-trained staff is well-equipped to handle relapse and help get you back on track. Our outpatient programs are designed with the individual in mind and will be tailored to your specific needs, values, and goals. Each and every client at Lighthouse gets matched with a Recovery Coach who can be a strong pillar of support when you need it most during the holiday season. Call us today at (214) 396-0259.