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21 Tips for Avoiding Relapse During the Holidays

avoiding relapse during the holidays

Understanding the Risks: Relapsing During the Holidays

When you are in recovery, the holiday season can bring more than joy and presents. It can also cause feelings of dread, stress, and fear, due to all the alcohol-soaked events, the pressure to attend parties and gatherings, and the many stresses that come with gift-giving, travel, family dynamics, and complex social situations involving old friends, traditions, and triggers. Avoiding relapse during the holidays can be stressful, but if you prepare yourself, and stay connected to professional and peer support, it will be much easier to get through.

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Developing a Strong Relapse Prevention Plan

A strong relapse prevention plan is key to staying sober this holiday season. Some strategies you may want to consider include:

  • Reduce stress wherever possible. Let party hosts know you may have to leave early, skip events that may be overwhelming, stay in a hotel rather than in your friend’s spare room, don’t leave anything to the last minute, etc.
  • Be aware of your boundaries and limitations, and stay within them. Don’t push yourself too hard, take on too much responsibility, or ignore your body
  • Practice saying “no”, or find a way you are comfortable with explaining your lack of consumption
  • Practice acceptance, flexibility, and mindfulness. It won’t go perfectly, because nothing ever does. The holidays are loud and busy, but if you focus on the positives, like creating new fun memories with the family, then you will feel less stressed, and enjoy yourself more
  • Put your recovery first, no matter what. Remember that your health is more important than anything

Recognizing and Managing Seasonal Depression

Seasonal depression (or “SAD” Seasonal Affective Disorder) is also known as the “winter blues” and usually takes place during the dark and cold months of the year. If you have noticed yourself feeling more negative, tired, depressed, hopeless, guilty, or helpless, with difficulty concentrating, changes in sleep and appetite, or losing interest in life’s little pleasures over the winter months, you may be experiencing seasonal depression.

If you start to notice these symptoms, there are some things you can do, including:

  • Getting as much sun as possible during the day and supplementing your vitamin D intake
  • Taking care of your body and mind with good sleep, exercise, and eating habits
  • Using light therapy to boost your mood
  • Talking to a doctor, who may prescribe antidepressant medication
  • Psychotherapy sessions (cognitive behavioral therapy is especially helpful)

Navigating Social Events: Strategies to Avoid Binge Drinking

relapse prevention plan

When you simply cannot miss out on the next holiday party or social event that you know will involve binge drinking, you can try the following helpful strategies to help you avoid relapsing:

  • Bring your own soda or non-alcoholic drink of choice to the party
  • Tell friends and family you are staying sober, and ask them not to offer you any substances
  • Bring a sober companion with you to big events so you have someone “on your side”
  • Let the host know beforehand that you may need to leave early if things become overwhelming
  • Avoid engaging in fights or awkward conversations with those who push your boundaries, instead simply walk away

Dealing with Triggers: The Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline

Alcohol withdrawal is a difficult process that can become dangerous if not overseen by a medical professional, and it is recommended that you detox inside a safe detox center or hospital setting to be safe. The alcohol withdrawal timeline begins the minute you take your last drink. While everyone is unique in how they experience detoxification, it generally progresses similarly. The first symptoms will show up within a few hours as the nervous system begins to react to the lower dopamine levels, with nausea, headaches, anxiety, and difficulty sleeping.

These symptoms will gradually increase over time, with more anxiety and discomfort, generally peaking at around 72 hours. For people experiencing serious withdrawal symptoms, this would be when seizures, delirium tremens, and other dangerous problems may arise. Medical intervention will likely be required at this stage. After the peak, the symptoms will slowly fade, you will be able to rest more easily, and you will feel a little bit better every day until you are ready to begin the next phase of your treatment, a customized inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation program.

Staying Connected: The Role of an IOP Program During the Holidays

An Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) can help anybody avoid relapsing during the holidays. These types of programs are flexible, allowing you to attend work functions and family gatherings, while giving you the full support you need, with therapy, groups, and sober activities provided on a reliable schedule you can count on. There will always be somebody there to talk to and to hold you accountable for your actions, which can make all the difference when you are avoiding relapse during the holidays.

Building Healthy Habits: Alternatives to Substance Use

Substances like drugs and alcohol are not only physically addictive, but they are also psychologically addictive and can become a mindless habit you go to when you don’t know what else to do. Being addicted to substances takes up a lot of your time, so when you quit you may find yourself unsure what you should be doing. Some people throw themselves into work and hobbies, some get into exercise, and others join clubs or volunteer to fill their time. If you are newly sober and are trying to figure out what your ”thing” will be, we recommend trying:

  • Exercise –  Hit the gym, go for a walk, try swimming, go hiking, dance, or join a sports league
  • Art – Explore your creative side by taking a drawing class, learning to knit, or trying sculpting
  • Work on your mind – read books, join a college class, or upgrade your work certifications
  • Try a new hobby – try cooking, horseback riding, skateboarding, creative writing, or learning chess, whatever interests you
  • Work on your mental health – schedule therapy appointments, join group sessions, research addiction and recovery, try mindfulness and meditation techniques, and reduce stress whenever possible
  • Build connections – join support groups, attend sober gatherings, or volunteer in the community

These activities, combined with good sleep hygiene, good eating habits, taking your medication, and sticking to your prescribed treatments will help you stay sober.

Planning for Success: Setting Realistic Goals and Expectations

Nothing is more discouraging than being unable to meet a goal you have set for yourself, so make sure you keep it realistic. Rather than volunteering to host the big family dinner at your place, buy every family member an extravagant gift, and attend all 15 parties you were invited to, let somebody else take on the big burdens, spend less, and join in on the activities that are most important to you. The people around you will not judge you, they will be glad to know you are taking care of yourself, and most will be more than willing to step in and lend a hand.

Embrace a Sober Holiday Season with Resurgence

During the holidays, some of the main issues you may run into include triggers, enablement, and stress, along with the health issues and psychological issues that can come with experiencing addiction. The team at Resurgence Behavioral Health is dedicated to helping those with a substance use disorder, no matter what stage of recovery they are in.

With Resurgence Behavioral Health, you can access a full continuum of care, including detox, inpatient rehab, IOP program options, and outpatient programs, in a customizable care plan that will be put together to best suit your individual needs. Our team offers full support to anybody who is living a drug- and alcohol-free life. While in treatment, you will gain important recovery tools and relapse prevention skills, and we provide connections to helpful professional and peer-run aftercare support.

Alumni can also book one-on-one therapy appointments or find a local support group at any time after their program is completed, even if it has been months since your last contact with us. We are here for you.

Please call Resurgence Behavioral Health today at (951) 708-7961 to learn more about our programs, and how we can help you navigate this tricky celebratory season. 

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Josh Chandler
Josh Chandler
After growing up in Chicago and North Carolina, Josh chose to get help with substance use disorder and mental health in California because of the state's reputation for top-tier treatment. There, he found the treatment he needed to achieve more than five years of recovery. He's been in the drug and alcohol addiction rehab industry for four years and now serves as the Director of Admissions for Resurgence Behavioral Health. Josh remains passionate about the field because he understands that one phone call can alter the course of a person's life.


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