10 Tips For Avoiding a Relapse During The Holiday Season

holidayDrinkingThe holidays are a joyous time, but the season can be extremely difficult on recovering addicts. Between office parties, cocktails, and the stress of extended family, the temptation to relapse can feel overwhelming.

“The holidays are a stressful time, and many people find that using a substance is a way of coping with stress,” says Kate Rhine, LCSW, a licensed clinical social worker and certified addiction counselor with Kaiser Permanente in Colorado.

Extended family time can also be emotional, Rhine tells Everyday Health. On the other hand, those without close family ties can struggle with loneliness.

The good news is that you can make it through this holiday season without a drink or smoke. You just have to follow a few tips.

1.) Start each day with a plan – “An alcoholic needs to wake up each morning thinking about how to stay sober that day,” says Peter R. Martin, MD, a professor of psychiatry and pharmacology and director of the Vanderbilt Addiction Center at the Vanderbilt Psychiatric Hospital in Nashville. “Once they have a plan, they are fine for the rest of that day.” The key is staying focused on your goal of sobriety.

2.) Evaluate each situation – Take time to evaluate the scenarios you are likely to encounter and rank them as low, medium, or high risk for you. In early recovery it is best to spend more time in low-risk situations and to avoid high-risk events as much as possible. Further into recovery, you may find yourself in more high risk situations, but a plan can save you. Rhine suggests to arrive early and leave a bit early. You may also want to drive yourself so you can leave when you need to.

3.) Bring the party with you – Bring food or safe drinks you enjoy to prevent being left with dangerous options. For example, New Year’s parties are often scarce on non-alcoholic drinks, but you can bring a flavored sparkling water to help prevent the temptation of champagne.

4.) Know your triggers – It is important for every addict to know their triggers for relapse and to know how to handle them ahead of time, according to Dr. Martin. The most common triggers go with acronym HALT — for when you feel hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. Take care of yourself, mentally and physically, to ward off these triggers.

5.) Be sure to eat – Rhine warns that low blood sugar can leave you feeling anxious or irritable, which can lead to feeling impulsive or tempted to return to substances. Prepare by having a nutritious snack or meal about every three hours.

6.)Manage stress – Alcohol or illegal substances are often a means of coping with stress, and the holidays are one of the most high stress times of the year. When the stress sets in, take some time to breathe and decompress. You can even meditate to help keep your mind away from stressful thoughts or desires for substance use.

7.) Bring support – Bring along a friend who does not drink or use substances to help keep you sober at social functions. They can help you stay away from the bar and keep conversation.

8.) Rehearse responses – If you’re not prepared to tell every aunt you rarely speak to or cousins encouraging you to indulge, have a script prepared ahead of time. Use a discreet strategy so you can politely decline drinks without having to expand upon your reasons.

9.) Learn to move past cravings – Cravings typically only last about 20 minutes, so you only have to stay strong for a short period. When the cravings kick in, try to move to a different setting or clear your mind with meditation or breathing exercises. Rhine encourages talking yourself out of acting on the urge with phrases like “The reality is. I cannot stop at one drink, and I can choose to have something non-alcoholic instead.”

10.) Trust your support group – If you are a part of a support group, you can up your involvement during the holidays or attend a few extra meetings to keep you sober. If you need help finding a support group, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence offers a list of support organizations you can contact. Make an effort to stay close to supportive friends and family and those who are helping you on your path to sobriety.

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