Navigating the Holidays When You’re Recovering

by | Dec 27, 2016

Either way, the holidays are tough if you’re a recovering addict. If you’re with family and they make you crazy (and let’s face it, they always make you crazy to some degree), then you feel like you need a drink. Or if you have no family or are estranged, then you’re feeling alone at the holidays. And that calls for a drink. Or whatever substance you’re trying not to abuse.

To top things off, problem substances are everywhere during the holiday season, which seems designed to help you fall off the wagon. Here are some ways to cope:

  1. Avoid high-risk situations. Or at least minimize them. If you’re invited to a party with an open bar, and you need to attend, go early and leave early. Plan to drive yourself so you can stick to your plan without worrying about others. And since you’re driving, you will have added incentive to keep away from alcohol. Plan what you’re going to drink before you go, like sparkly water with a twist of lemon. A little festive, but safe.
  2. Keep triggers to a minimum. You know what causes you to relapse if you think about it. For most people it’s being hungry, lonely, tired or angry. If your Uncle Ted never fails to get under your skin, avoid him like the plague. If it’s someone you can’t avoid, pledge not to engage and only see that person if absolutely necessary. When you’re provoked, leave the room and find a quiet place where you can pull yourself together.
  3. Boost your blood sugar. When it gets low, it can make you irritable and anxious. That can make you impulsive and prone to indulge. Cut this whole unhappy downward spiral off before it starts. Maintain your blood sugar with healthy snacks. Plan out your day and prepare trail mix in baggies to take with you if you can’t get to your kitchen every three hours or so.
  4. Manage your stress. Alcohol or substance abuse is no longer the way you cope with stress. So what do you do instead? Give yourself a physical routine like exercise or meditation. It doesn’t have to take a long time and totally disrupt your day. But just have a something that will help you decompress, like breathing deeply or doing a yoga sun salutation. When you give your body something to do, and focus on it, your craving will pass. It usually takes about 20 minutes or so.
  5. Have your speech ready. Some joker will insist you have a drink or whatever it is you’re recovering from. He may be high himself or he’d know what an ass he is for repeatedly pushing a glass of scotch at you. Have something ready to say to him and everyone else who will want you to join them. Something like, “I gave it up, ’cause when I drink I behave like you.” Or you can think of something nicer.
  6. Lean on your support system. Now is the time to make sure you get to those meetings. And maybe a few extra. Don’t shy away from calling that friend who’s always there for you when you need him. You’re not bothering him. He is glad to help you. And if he’s not, find someone who is. Find a support group that you feel comfortable with and don’t hesitate to call.

Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here:


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