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Effective Holiday Relapse Prevention Strategies

The holiday season is ripe with joy, parties and fun, but it can also be ripe with anxiety and stress pushing recovering addicts to the brink of a relapse.  Regardless of how long you have been sober, it is essential for your long-term sobriety to revise and update your relapse prevention plan often.  Through the years, triggers will change and morph and you must recognize these changes and adapt your plan.  Also, the manner in which you deal with triggers may need to change.  Just as addiction recovery is a personal journey, so is the maintenance of sobriety.

Create A Holiday Trigger List

Now is the perfect time to update your list of triggers – emotional, situational, and physical and develop a new one focused on the specifics of the holiday season.  Start by identifying certain places or holiday events that may lead to a relapse.  Stress and anxiety over the holidays is not unusual; recovering addicts just like everyone else can feel overwhelmed, lonely, and blue.  Depression during the holidays is a significant health problem for many in the country, and as a result many turn towards self-medicating with addictive substances.  Perhaps your holiday trigger list will look something like this:

  1. Office Party – lots of alcohol, and peer pressure
  2. Family dinner – alcohol flows throughout the dinner and family drama is high
  3. Finances – I’m strapped for cash and the holiday season is going to be expensive
  4. Lonely – I’m alone and know that the holidays are going to be difficult for me emotionally
  5. Annual Christmas party with old friends – some don’t know that I’ve quit using; if I attend I am putting myself at risk of relapse

Devise A Holiday Specific Relapse Prevention Plan

Update your relapse prevention plan with specific activities and stress management techniques to help you get through the holidays.  Overindulgence – whether for food, shopping, drugs or alcohol is common during this time and it is important to set a schedule for healthy and active activities to combat any type of overindulgence.  Perhaps your Holiday Relapse Prevention Plan will look something like this:

  1. Exercise 5 days per week – in the morning before my day starts
  2. Maintain a healthy diet
  3. Reach out to support system for help when I need it
  4. Attend meetings 4 times per week, more if I need them
  5. Meditate every evening, or when feeling overwhelmed
  6. Avoid family, work and friend gatherings where alcohol or drugs are present
  7. Create a manageable budget and stick to it, so I don’t stress about finances
  8. Handle problems and emotions as they arise – don’t allow them to build up
  9. Reach out to others in the recovery community for support and substance free celebrations
  10. Say “No thank you” to invitations for events that may lead to a relapse

Often, the process of a relapse happens long before the first drink or use of a drug.  There is a buildup of emotions and physical cravings that if not handled immediately can lead to using once again.  Prepare yourself for this season by identifying triggers and the coping mechanisms you need to stay sober throughout the season, and for the rest of your life.


PsychCentral:  Relapse Prevention

Mayo Clinic:  Drug Addiction Prevention