Tips For Staying Sober During the Holidays
Staying Sober During the Holidays
Table of Contents
Maintaining sobriety over the often stressful holiday season takes insight and planning whether someone is newly sober or has been in recovery for some time.
Returning to homes and families where painful memories exist leaves sobriety vulnerable and subject to physical and emotional triggers that may bring forth relapse.
The Stages of Relapse
Relapse doesn’t usually happen in the spur of the moment but over time when emotional, psychological, and physical influences build. Physical relapse progresses through three distinct stages.
Stage One: Emotional Relapse
The first stage is called emotional relapse, which can occur due to an emotional event, vulnerability, or less vigilance about abstinence and sobriety. This stage can last a few months before stage two kicks in. Some of the circumstances that can bring on stage one are:
Practice emotional wellness by being mindful of what is going on in your present. The past holiday gatherings involving drinking are in the past, and the future has yet to happen.
Prioritize what is most vital for you to accomplish. The holidays are stressful enough without the added pressure of thinking you have to do everything and do it perfectly. Be realistic in your holiday goals, and remember that you can’t control what is outside your control.
Stage Two: Mental Relapse
Stage two finds that alcohol or drug use is thought of with regularity. It’s an internal tug-of-war that keeps the user struggling with the decision to use substances again. Whether stage two lasts a day or a couple of months, relapse isn’t likely far behind. Stage two can be thought of as the Jekyll-and-Hyde, an angel on one shoulder, a devil on the other side, where bargaining occurs:
The old saying that “one drink is too many and a thousand is never enough” is attributed to many sources, including Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). It means that you won’t be able to stop at one drink, and no matter how many you have on a binge, it will never be enough to fill whatever void you are trying to fill. Yet many make that decision to drink.
Stage Three: Physical Relapse
Stage three is the return to substance use after a period of abstinence. You may feel you are once again at step one of your alcohol use disorder. These feelings can lead to self-loathing, inability to trust your judgment, anger, and regret. Those who relapse may feel even more isolated as admitting to family and friends that you have relapsed seems inconceivable.
Communication and support are necessary after relapse.
Addiction is a journey – sometimes the journey of a lifetime that may include multiple relapse episodes. While relapse isn’t inevitable, it is possible, especially during the stresses of the holiday season.
Do More People Relapse During the Holidays?
Many people simply stop drinking but have unrealistic expectations about their lives and how those around them affect their lives. They try to shape their recovery to their lives and not their lives to their recovery.
Relapse is common, especially when someone is new to sobriety – and up to 60 percent relapse at some point during their recovery. It is prudent to H.A.L.T. and take the time to identify the triggers that can be a precursor to relapse.
H.A.L.T. and Understand Your Triggers
The H.A.L.T. acronym stands for Hunger, Anger, Lonely, and Tired. Developed by Alcoholics Anonymous and used by many rehabilitation and 12-step programs, H.A.L.T. helps those in recovery better understand and identify potential relapse triggers.
Think of H.A.L.T. as a tool that helps those in recovery focus on self-care. Some people may require interventions beyond H.A.L.T., such as medication and behavior therapy, as well as continued support from local 12-step programs. Planning for the holidays is essential to reduce those triggers that can induce relapse. Winging it through the holiday season is not the best practice if continued sobriety is the goal.
Nutritional deficiencies are common when managing substance abuse, a substance use disorder, or alcoholism. These terms are not synonymous. Someone abusing alcohol may wonder if they can get through the holidays without drinking too much.
Someone with a substance use disorder has graduated from abuse to struggling. If someone ingests alcohol instead of food, their nutritional needs can become unbalanced, leading to similar cravings. Listening to hunger signals can help determine whether what is wanted is actually food or alcohol.
When someone drinks alcohol to excess, they don’t always eat. Therefore, they don’t get specific nutrients bodies may need to reduce relapse symptoms.
These vitamins include:
Alcohol abuse can lead to malnutrition as alcohol impairs the digestion of food and nutrients. Malnutrition can lead to metabolic disorders such as pancreatitis, liver disease, and diabetes. Stomach ulcers, impotence, and a higher risk of heart disease and cancer are also linked to poor nutrition due to alcohol abuse. Mental health issues are common due to malnutrition.
On the flip side, drinking too much alcohol can also lead to an unexpected weight issue (obesity).
Anger flare-ups that seem to come out of nowhere are common during the holidays. Anger and resentment are two very normal emotions. Still, many people with substance use disorders have difficulty using their anger constructively, channeling their anger into destructive actions toward others or themselves.
There’s a difference between being alone and lonely for most people. Many people drink and use drugs alone. This can lead to struggles with isolation, guilt, and an inability to face the outside world. Loneliness from using alone or being ostracized by family and friends can lead to anger and exhaustion.
You can be lonely in a crowd of people celebrating the holidays. Feeling left out is common, especially if you choose not to follow the crowd, whether it is by drinking or using drugs.
When the body doesn’t get sufficient rest, it is harder for the mind to remain focused and easier to become complacent with keeping sober. Tired minds are much more susceptible to the power of suggestion and to being overwhelmed. If someone offers you a drink, you may accept it without thinking. So rest up your mind, body, and spirit before the holidays, especially if there has been too much stress in your work and personal life.
Tips for Staying Sober Over the Holidays
The holidays are rife with office and work parties and family and friend get-togethers. Alcohol is a staple at most parties and family gatherings. Trying to live life socializing at the usual haunts with drinking friends while attempting to abstain from drinking or maintain sobriety may work once or twice. Still, eventually, alcohol tends to win out over mindful strength.
Soldiering through the temptations of the season isn’t realistic. Experienced drinkers know that one drink is never enough. There are ways to stay sober during the holidays. Remember that everyone’s sobriety plan should be tailored to each individual’s life.
Below are some tips to get you started:
Draft a Sobriety Plan
Also known as a relapse prevention plan, sobriety plans require some forethought. Write down what triggers must be watched for and what needs to be done should one of those triggers arise.
This includes family and friends who encourage “just one drink.” Have support numbers handy and plan for an exit if needed.
Follow Your Plan of Treatment
No matter where you are on your recovery journey, it is imperative to continue following your treatment plan tailored to your medical conditions.
Attend a 12-Step Meeting
Some locales do host meetings during the holidays. Find a meeting and note the schedule. If there is a sponsor to talk to, call them when you feel triggered. Many meetings are offered online. Plan accordingly, especially if travel is in the cards.
The online portal can help sort out meetings through various options like time zone, language, and meeting type. Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous are two common 12-step meeting types typically available during the holidays, whether in-person or online.
Recognize Your Triggers
If gatherings make your emotions run rampant, settle for smaller gatherings or meet with people after the holidays for brunch. Many people appreciate that you want to spend more intimate time with them.
If pent-up stress and anger prevail this holiday season, find a non-substance use release like service work, a faith gathering, or exercise. Loneliness can be a deal-breaker when you tell yourself you won’t drink over the holidays. A tired mind and body can lower inhibitions and resolve to maintain your sobriety.
Take Time for Self-Care of Mind, Body, and Spirit
The physical and emotional tolls of the holiday season can leave one feeling spent. Don’t run on empty. Eat well, but also keep a healthy diet.
It can be tempting to fill the emptiness of hunger with alcohol. Know your limits. That includes partaking with family and friends who don’t understand why abstinence and sobriety take precedence over partying.
Family gatherings can be incredibly stressful, especially when people travel at length to attend. Avoid any family in-fighting by taking a walk should things get heated.
Carry a Comfort Item to Hold When Emotions Take Over
Carry a trinket of importance that helps bring comfort when emotions like anxiety, anger, or sadness envelope you. Pocket-size wooden comfort crosses, pictures of loved ones, AA birthday coins, a piece of cloth, or small stress toys can bring comfort with just a touch – a reminder to step back and relax.
Retreat and Renew
If temptations become too intense, leave early. Better yet, plan to arrive early and leave early. Keep goodbyes simple when leaving a gathering. No explanations are needed. Most heavy drinking and calls to continue a party at a bar usually happen later in gatherings.
Channel holiday anxiety into something productive. If leaving early isn’t an option, find someplace quiet to pray, call a friend or sponsor, play games or read on your cell phone.
Don't Make the Holidays About Drinking
Consider that if drinking is the sum of your holidays, you’re not focusing on building or rebuilding relationships with people. Connections are important.
Isolation and being consumed by the thoughts of alcohol can lead to relapse. Don’t be subject to the expectations of others. It is not selfish or self-serving to think about yourself and your sobriety.
Just Say No
It’s okay to say no to gatherings. Maintaining sobriety is not being antisocial. It is self-preservative to decline invitations to places where you don’t feel comfortable.
Be True to Your Faith and Spirit
The world wants you to believe that happiness is found in revelry and drinking. Make your holiday one of service and spirituality—volunteer at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter.
Spend time with shut-ins who have no one to celebrate the holidays with. If there’s inclement weather, spend time checking on elderly neighbors. Make blessing bags to give to the homeless. Service fills the spirit.
What to do in the event of a Relapse?
Many who relapse feel like they have failed themselves, family, and their friends. If relapse occurs, you have plenty of options. Stop drinking and think back to the circumstances before the relapse.
Reach out to your support network and those involved in your treatment plan. Consider that you may need to change up your treatment program, adding different types of therapy or more aggressive treatment.
Alcohol relapse doesn’t mean that you or your treatment program has failed. Relapse often occurs during the recovery process, and options are available to you if you relapse.
Stay Sober This Holiday Season
Maintaining sobriety can be a challenge over the holidays, even if you have gone years without a drink. Sometimes it happens by accident. Someone hands you a drink, and you take a sip. Someone at an after-hours office party may spike the punch.
Often there is no rhyme or reason for the choice to drink, or you just feel it is okay to test the waters. It is often a conscious choice, no matter the reason.
Wellness Retreat Recovery can help create a relapse prevention plan unique to your personal needs. Our interdisciplinary care team will meet with you, evaluate your concerns, and help you through the holidays. Relapse prevention is about identifying your emotional triggers and teaching you how to cope with them should they present themselves.
There Is No Need to Face Relapse Alone
Your tolerance for alcohol isn’t the same as it was before treatment. People often, therefore, mistake their current tolerance levels and end up drinking more than ever before. You don’t need to face the challenges of maintaining your sobriety alone. You don’t have to face relapse alone.
Contact us if you need help staying sober or have had a relapse. Maybe you have been through rehab before. Your relapse prevention strategies are no longer working.
You’ve changed since becoming sober. Your relapse prevention plan should be updated to reflect those changes in your life.
If you have relapsed, Wellness Retreat Recovery treats just six patients at a time so contact us as early as possible for a consultation. We serve the San Jose area. There is never an inappropriate time to enter rehab, even over the holidays.
Obesity Medicine Association. (2022, November 22). Alcohol and Obesity. https://obesitymedicine.org/alcohol-and-obesity/
Emotional Wellness Toolkit. (2022, August 8). National Institutes of Health (NIH). https://www.nih.gov/health-information/emotional-wellness-toolkit
How to Find an Alcoholics Anonymous Meeting. (2022, April 11). Alcoholics Anonymous. https://alcoholicsanonymous.com/find-a-meeting/
Reed, S., PhD. (2022, March 9). How Using the HALT Concept Prevents Alcohol Relapse. Alcoholics Anonymous. https://alcoholicsanonymous.com/how-using-the-halt-concept-prevents-alcohol-relapse/
Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. (n.d.). https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000771.htm