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Why is Relapse Common During the Holidays?

The holidays are meant to be a joyous time for people, but it can be an extremely hard time of the year especially for those in recovery from addiction and alcoholism. In recovery, you are taught to change your people, places, and things, but sometimes this is difficult during the holiday months. People attend more parties and social gatherings where alcohol may be involved. If you are expected to be at a family gathering, but they are not sensitive to the fact that you are in recovery, that could be a huge trigger.

Emotions During the Holidays Can Lead to Relapse

Some people are also estranged from their families due to their addiction. This can cause extreme depression, sadness, and feelings of guilt. It’s really hard knowing that your entire family is getting together to celebrate, but you aren’t welcome or wanted. Another potential trigger is the financial strain and stress around Christmas, trying to buy gifts for everyone, or if you don’t have the means to buy any gifts. There is no worse feeling than receiving a gift when you don’t have anything to give in return.

More People Return to Addiction During the Holidays

Some of the other common holiday stressors and triggers can include traveling, dealing with difficult relatives, busier schedules and time constraints, pressure to prepare a big meal or host a party yourself, dealing with grief if you lost a loved one in the past during the holidays, holiday shopping and large crowds, or extra unwanted work or family obligations. Overcoming the surge of emotions that often comes during the holidays is not always a piece of cake. From the Surgeon General’s perspective, the holidays as a time of greater stress and anxiety for many individuals:

As much as people may view the holidays with fondness, they are often filled with stress. 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. The winter season can also bring on other health concerns. Seasonal affective disorder (aptly called SAD) is a real health issue that is caused by a lack of sunlight. The lack of light affects the body’s internal clock and circadian rhythms, resulting in hopelessness, increased appetite with weight gain (conversely, weight loss is more common with other forms of depression), increased sleep (conversely, too little sleep is more common with other forms of depression), less energy and ability to concentrate, loss of interest in work or other activities, sluggish movement, social withdrawal, unhappiness, and irritability. (NIH)

Winter Months and Higher Relapse Rates

The winter months are already hard enough for those with existing depression and other mental health disorders. Adding the holidays onto that, especially if you are not taking good care of yourself, only makes things worse and increases the risks of a potential relapse. Relapse is very common during the holidays, but there are ways to prevent it from happening. Let’s go over some tips to help you maintain your sobriety while enjoying the holiday season.

  • Focus on yourself and make sure you are practicing good self-care.
  • Have a plan in place in case you are put into a bad situation (be prepared with a good excuse in case you need to leave a party early).
  • Know what triggers you so you can avoid them and can cope.
  • Surround yourself with supportive people (have a good support system you can turn to if you need to talk to someone).
  • Find good activities to do that are healthy for your recovery. Isolating is not good for someone in recovery; loneliness is a huge trigger.
  • Attend extra AA/NA meetings, especially before a big event.
  • Look for ways to serve others. Give some of your time by serving a meal at a homeless shelter, or by buying a meal or gifts for a family in need. There is no greater feeling than being able to help someone in need.
  • Start a new sober holiday tradition.

Remember, you are not alone in this fight. There are millions of people around the world in recovery that struggle to stay sober during the holidays. Reach out to friends, family, and others that are in recovery and talk about anything that worries, triggers, or stresses you out. Getting things out and off your chest a lot of times is a huge relief.

Addiction Recovery During the Holidays

If you or someone you love is struggling with an addiction, our addiction specialists are available around the clock to assist you. Evoke Wellness MA offers evidence-based addiction treatment. Our solution-focused addiction treatment will lead you on a road to long-lasting recovery. You don’t have to suffer any longer, call us today for more information about our unique services.