Q: I’m in recovery for addiction. How can I stay sober during the holidays?
A: The holiday season brings with it plenty of opportunities for celebration. But for those in recovery from alcohol or drug addiction, it can be hard to navigate social commitments where former triggers can be present. In addition, stress, fatigue, financial strain, or an estrangement from friends or family during this season can be powerful feelings that could cause a person in recovery to succumb to temptation as a way of dealing with those negative emotions.
If you are in recovery during the holidays, here are some things to keep in mind to try to prevent a relapse:
1. Make a list of all the primary reasons you want to remain sober and keep them on a card in your pocket, wallet, or purse, as a tool to use when you feel as if you might give in to your cravings.
2. Find creative ways to distract yourself from your cravings, and be ready to implement them. This could involve some deep breathing, calling a sober friend or family member, taking a hot shower, or even doing some exercises. Smartphones have very good mindfulness and meditation apps that can work well in these situations. Their tips can also be added to the card you carry with you.
3. Avoid challenging situations that may serve as a trigger for you. As you progress through recovery, you will learn to adapt and cope with higher-risk environments, but early on, it’s best to steer clear of those types of circumstances. They might include gatherings at bars or a party at a friend’s house where there may be alcohol or other substances you’re trying to avoid.
4. Prepare your response to offers of alcohol or other substances. In recovery, a failure to plan is a plan for failure. Know ahead of time what you’ll say, whether it’s complete honesty (“No, thank you, I’m not drinking anymore”) or something less direct (“No, thanks, I’ve got to get up early tomorrow”). Know what to say in advance, and stick to the script.
5. Feel free to leave a gathering if you are too tempted. Though we can sometimes catastrophize leaving early and believe that we’ll stand out or be considered rude, the fact is people leave parties early for all sorts of reasons: kids; work in the morning; a long drive. No one will hold it against you. Leaving a situation where you feel uncomfortable and that may compromise your sobriety is absolutely OK and will likely have many more positive than negative repercussions.
6. Contact a sober sponsor or trusted support. Having a friend, loved one, or sponsor at the ready can be a huge help in talking you down from a craving.
Following these six steps can help ensure you have a happy — and healthy — holiday season.
David Festinger, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology and director of substance-abuse research and education at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.