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Relapse Triggers to Avoid This Holiday Season

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Many of us view the holidays as a happy and joyous time to celebrate the season with family and friends. However, the holidays can still bring unwanted stress and anxiety from feeling overwhelmed with too much to do. For someone in recovery, navigating the holiday season can be challenging as there are many relapse triggers to avoid maintaining sobriety.

What Is Relapse? 

Relapse is when someone in recovery starts drinking or using drugs again. When it is a one-time occurrence, it is called a lapse. On the other hand, when a person takes a detour from their recovery and returns to former alcohol and substance use for a longer period, it is considered a relapse.

Are Lapses and Relapse Normal?

Lapses and relapses can be a normal part of one’s recovery journey. Some people never lapse or relapse, and that is wonderful. However, between 40 and 60 percent of people will experience a relapse often within the first year after rehab, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

However, the longer someone maintains sobriety, the risk of lapses and relapses continues to decline. So, rehab is worth the time and effort, even when you have a lapse or relapse. 

Common Relapse Triggers to Avoid During the Holidays

Whether this is your first holiday season sober or you have been sober for years, it never hurts to be prepared for the holidays by reviewing these relapse triggers to avoid.

  • Feeling like you have to commit to every holiday party, event, and gathering. It is better only to accept a few invites where you know drugs and alcohol will not be present. 
  • Attending family gatherings where alcohol and drugs will be present, or there is unresolved conflict. You should never put yourself in harm’s way when you know it will threaten your sobriety. You must put your needs, health, and well-being first, even during the holidays.
  • Taking on too much then you can handle. It is easy to get swept up in the spirit of the season and want to help others. However, when we take on too much, we will start to feel pressure, stress, and overload. It is okay to politely say no and only commit to a few things or none at all. 
  • Overspending on holiday gifts. We can feel obligated to get everyone a gift which can lead to spending too much money. Then we can feel guilty about it, which can make us feel anxious and can lead to a relapse. Instead, limit the number of people you will purchase gifts for, set a budget, and stick to it. 
  • Isolating away from others until the holidays are over. Being alone during the holidays, when we are used to being around others, is never a good idea. If you want to avoid family, at least plan to spend time with some of your sober friends. 

Tips to Reduce the Risk of Relapse During the Holidays

  1. Decide what you want to do for the holidays, and do not feel pressured to change your plans.
  2. Continue to attend group support meetings, individual counseling sessions, and other aftercare programs. 
  3. Have a sober buddy you can spend the holidays with and help support each other. 
  4. Plan a sober holiday party with your sober friends. 
  5. Skip big holiday gatherings and family events when you are uncomfortable or worried you will relapse. 
  6. Volunteer to help different organizations where you can be around others but not around alcohol or drugs. 
  7. Contact your drug detox and treatment center to see if there are alum events planned during the holidays. 
  8. Plan a holiday vacation and take along a sober companion where you can escape and not worry about any family drama, unresolved conflict, or other holiday stressors that could trigger a relapse. 
  9. Remember you are not alone, and millions of people in recovery face the same struggles each holiday season. 
  10. Scale down your holiday celebration to just a few close family members and friends that support your sobriety. 
  11. Take care of holiday shopping online to avoid large crowds. 
  12. Spend time outdoors doing activities you enjoy, like ice skating, skiing, viewing holiday lights, or walking. 
  13. Practice mindfulness and meditation to help alleviate stress and anxiety. 
  14. Reach out to your sponsor or sober buddy whenever you feel overwhelmed.
  15. If you know there is a high probability you will relapse, consider spending the holidays at a rehab center or sober living facility. 

What If I Lapse or Relapse During the Holidays?

The first thing to remember is it does not mean your recovery is over. Rather, it is part of your recovery journey. So instead of feeling guilty and ashamed because you slipped up, attend a meeting, call your sponsor, or talk to your sober buddy and talk about it. 

Next, take the time for some personal reflection to determine why you lapsed or relapsed. Uncovering the cause of it and the related trigger can help you develop better coping mechanisms. Most importantly, if you need to go through detox and addiction treatment again, get the help you need. 

Holiday Relapse Prevention and Treatment in Orange County, CA

At Pacific Sands Recovery Center in Orange County, CA, we understand the holidays can be challenging when you are in recovery. Our team offers relapse prevention and relapse treatment options in a caring, supportive, and safe environment. Contact us today.


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