Six Reasons Why the Risk of Relapse Is More Common During the Holidays
Men and women recovering from substance use disorders will always face some risk for relapse. Holiday observances and the events associated with them can be a trigger for these unfortunate developments, especially if those in recovery aren’t aware of the risks and their own personal vulnerabilities. Holiday-related relapses are all too common, but they can be avoided if smart risk avoidance strategies are adopted.
The holidays evoke strong emotional reactions in almost everyone. Those emotions can be positive, negative, or a combination of both. Depending on your personal or family circumstances, you may welcome the arrival of the holidays or view them with dread.
Regardless of how you feel about Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year, Hanukkah, or other observances, you should know that the holidays are prime relapse season. At a time when most plan to celebrate, some will be losing their sobriety, giving in to temptations that caught them by surprise and overwhelmed the self-defense systems they’d worked so hard to create.
As you prepare for the holiday season, you should be alert to the potential dangers. If you’ve been through professional care for alcohol dependency or a drug use disorder, the best way to protect yourself against relapse is to be aware of the risk factors, so you can identify your vulnerabilities and make choices that reflect your deep commitment to sobriety.
Identifying the Factors that Can Make You Vulnerable to a Holiday-Related Relapse
Are you wondering if you’re really at increased risk of relapse during the holiday season? You might very well be, if any of the following six factors apply to you:
#1 Your Self-Confidence Is Sky High
You know you’ll be attending events or celebrations where alcohol is freely available. Drinking will be going on all around you (and perhaps some drug use as well), and some of the people you’re closest to will be participating in this activity.
But rather than being on alert and viewing this as a dangerous environment, you’ve convinced yourself that you’re ready to handle anything. Your sobriety has been going so well that your self-confidence has grown. You’re absolutely certain you won’t relapse, and you aren’t concerned about any potential risks.
This reflects a complacent attitude, which is never appropriate for men and women in recovery. It’s important to remember that healing from addiction is an ongoing process. Your guard should never be down, no matter how successful you’ve been at overcoming your substance abuse patterns. One moment of weakness or rationalization could be all it takes to trip you up, and you should know that before you attend any holiday-related event.
#2 Attending Holiday Events Can Mean Reconnecting With Former Drinking or Drug-Using Associates
People in recovery often have to sever their relationships with friends or family members who share their substance abuse issues. If you can’t convince these individuals to join you in your commitment to sobriety, keeping your distance could be your wisest course of action.
But holiday gatherings may make it impossible to avoid the people who helped support your alcohol or drug habit. If you see and interact with these people, everything may turn out just fine, but there is no guarantee that will be the case. Being in their presence may make you forget, for just a moment, about how far you’ve come and how much further you have to go.
#3 Your Social Support Network Is Unavailable or Lacking
The holidays can be delightful. But they can also be nerve-wracking or depressing. During the holidays, people can feel overwhelmed by loneliness, or by regrets about all the things they wished they’d accomplished. Or, they may feel stressed out by the thought of spending time with people who haven’t always supported them or accepted them.
Regardless of your personal circumstances, you should be aware of the potential complications that the holiday season can bring. One of the best ways to stave off such difficulties is to seek out the company of your most trusted confidants. They may be loved ones who can accompany you or stay close to you when you attend celebrations or parties. They may be sponsors from support groups whom you’ve learned you can depend on. They may be new friends who need some support themselves and would like to share their holidays with someone who understands their situation.
The point is to not go through it alone if you can help it, so you won’t be tempted to escape from your stress or pain by going back to drugs or alcohol.
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#4 You’d Be Attending Family or Other Social Events Out of a Sense of Duty
Your assessment of your situation might be brutally honest. You might realize that seeing certain people or entering particular environments could put your health and welfare at risk during the holiday season as you continue to work through the issues that led to your substance abuse problems.
Nevertheless, you may still plan to visit those people or enter those environments out of a sense of obligation. Perhaps you’re afraid if you say ‘no, I’m not ready yet,” you’ll hurt the feelings of someone you cherish. If they call you up and invite you over the phone or do it during an in-person visit, you just know you won’t be able to turn down the invitation, even if you feel like you should.
One of the worst things someone in recovery can do is not listen to their own instincts. If that inner voice is telling you ‘stay away,’ you should definitely follow that advice. When you don’t, the risk of relapse will almost certainly be elevated. You should have faith that if you explain your situation honestly to your loved ones, they will support your decision to put your sobriety first.
#5 You’re Still Feeling Guilty and Self-Conscious About Your Past Substance Use Problems and History
The loved ones of people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol suffer greatly. Men and women with substance use disorders often put their friends and family members through the wringer, which can leave them feeling guilty and ashamed for a long time, even after they’ve finally embraced sobriety.
This is a burden you will have to deal with as you attempt to make amends to the people you’ve hurt in the past. It can take some time for you to do this and to gain their acceptance and forgiveness. If this process has yet to be completed, and you’re still struggling with these emotions when the holidays come, it can put you in a vulnerable position if you’re planning to attend family events.
Carrying these negative emotions with you can undermine your commitment to your recovery. Your addiction developed because you sought escape from painful feelings and situations, and anything that causes you immense emotional upset could sabotage your sobriety. If at all possible, you should try to resolve your ongoing issues with your loved ones as soon as possible, so if you see them during the holidays it won’t be difficult or stressful for anyone.
#6 It’s Simply Too Soon, and You Know It
In the first few weeks or months after you leave residential care, you’ll still be adjusting to your newfound sobriety. You’ve worked hard to overcome your addiction and develop better coping habits, and the changes you’ve made are still in the process of converting to a more permanent lifestyle.
While relapse can occur at any time, your greatest vulnerability will be during the early stages of your recovery. You’ll be more sensitive to potential triggers at this time, meaning you may be less prepared to resist temptation. Troubled relationships could push you toward a relapse, as could exposure to drinking or drug use or spending time with people who shared your bad habits in the past.
If you think it might be too soon and that you’re not ready to handle holiday gatherings right now, you should stay away; it is as simple as that. The people who care about you the most will certainly understand and support your choice since their love is unconditional.
Aftercare and Restoring Your Sobriety
Ideally, you’ll take extra precautions during this upcoming holiday season to protect yourself against the potential loss of your sobriety. But if the unthinkable happens, and you or someone you love suffers a holiday-related relapse, it shouldn’t mean the end of sobriety forever. In fact, relapse is common with addiction, and it, too, can be overcome with the support of addiction recovery specialists, peer support groups, and loved ones who’ve agreed to stand by your side during difficult times.
Aftercare or continuing care programs are an essential part of the recovery process and will remain so after a relapse has occurred. These programs help you maintain your healing connection to the greater addiction recovery community, which will always be there for you and your family in your time of need. After a relapse, you’ll need a new beginning, and new beginnings are always possible when you maintain your dedication to long-term wellness.