Espinosa: Tips to help with addiction recovery during the holidays

Posted 11/17/22

The holidays are usually a time for celebration and feelings of joy. The idea of getting together with family, living out traditions, and taking much needed R&R are some of the best parts of the …

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Espinosa: Tips to help with addiction recovery during the holidays


The holidays are usually a time for celebration and feelings of joy. The idea of getting together with family, living out traditions, and taking much needed R&R are some of the best parts of the holidays. However, the holidays can be stressful and difficult to manage, especially for people in recovery.

People in recovery can struggle on multiple levels with the holidays. They may be confronted with interpersonal issues between family and friends, high-risk situations during holiday gatherings where alcohol is consumed or drugs are being used, and painful memories from past holidays that can bring up uncomfortable thoughts and feelings.

Relapse rates are already high year-round, especially within the first year of sobriety. The holiday season can heighten the issues that may trigger relapses, such as social pressures, loneliness or a bad financial situation. However, there are steps one can take to help make the holidays enjoyable and safe, as well as resources available to anyone looking for help during the holiday season.

Create a plan

Having a plan is imperative to sobriety, particularly a relapse prevention plan. Relapse prevention plans help you set boundaries for yourself during high-risk situations, develop appropriate responses during those situations, and be aware of your thoughts and feelings that may lead to relapse.

Seeing old friends and family over the holidays can be incredibly triggering if your friends and family are around drugs and alcohol. It is important to have a plan for how you will remove yourself from the situation if you notice any physical or emotional discomfort. Maybe you attend dinner with family and friends but have plans to leave early as drinking usually occurs later in the night. Bring a sober friend who can keep you company and help talk through any discomfort. They may also serve as a good excuse to leave early. Your sobriety should still be the focus of your decisions, even during the holidays.

Understand the family dynamics and your triggers

Family can be wonderfully supportive and loving, but it can also contribute to stressful situations. Understand your family dynamic and know which family members or situations may be triggers for you.

If you have a strained relationship with one of your family members or one of them also has a substance-abuse problem, then it is important to plan around how you will interact with them. Plan how much time you will spend with them and how you will remove yourself if you begin to sense any discomfort. Plan for what types of support you will utilize in these situations, so you have “go-to moves” to regulate both physically and emotionally.

It is important to learn how to be assertive towards peer pressure and not allow anyone to talk you into having a drink or using drugs. Friends and family can be the hardest people to say no to, but it is imperative you set boundaries ahead of time and practice saying no in several different ways.

It is good to note family members and friends that validate your sobriety and support you. Spending time with people that validate you — and avoiding those that don’t — can help you enjoy the holidays while maintaining sobriety.

Maintain a clear mind through healthy activities

Relapse is most likely to occur when you are neglecting your own needs and self-care, and one of the best ways to reduce stress and clear your mind is sticking to a balanced routine. The major categories of self-care are emotional, mental, social, spiritual and physical. Developing a good weekly routine where you attend to each of these categories at least once a week is vital to maintaining sobriety.

For example, exercise can help free the mind from negative thoughts and increase natural “feel good” endorphins and neurotransmitter. Meditation can help decrease anxiety and take us out of an uncomfortable physiological “flight or fight” state, where most relapses tend to happen. Cooking, reading, or watching movies can help us place our attention on healthy tasks. Praying or volunteering can also be good forms of self-care as they help us feel connected to something bigger than ourselves and provide a lot of meaningful connection. Committing to a combination of behaviors will put your mind and body in a good state and help you deal with the stresses of the holidays.

Go to meetings and counseling during the holidays

Just because it is the holidays does not mean you should avoid support group meetings. Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous and other support groups are great ways to connect with others who are also focusing on sobriety during a stressful holiday season. So, continue to attend your regular meetings if you are in town and find a local meeting if you are traveling for the holidays.

Most support groups are continuing to hold virtual meetings as well as in-person meetings, so access to these meetings is easier than ever. Also, make sure you stay consistent throughout the holidays with any counseling or therapeutic services you may be committed to. It is vital in sobriety, especially early stages of sobriety, to not take large breaks from counseling/therapy during the holidays.

Arizonans looking for a Narcotics Anonymous meeting can find one at arizona-na.org.

Arizonans looking for an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting can find one at alcoholicsanonymous.com/aa-meetings/Arizona.

Editor’s note: Evan Espinosa, Psy.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist with specialty training in health psychology and Cognitive Behavioral Therapies at Recovia, an outpatient treatment center in Arizona specializing in chronic pain, general mental health and substance use treatment. Learn more at recovia.com.

opinion, letters, recovery, holidays