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Dealing with Addiction During the Holidays

Thanksgiving is right around the corner, marking for many the official start to the “holiday season.” While it’s generally seen as a period of celebration and togetherness, it can also be a time of great stress and even depression, even for those not dealing with addiction.

And for those that are dealing with addiction?  It can be the toughest time period of the year.

The holiday season brings with it many temptations, expectations, and stressors that can make recovery difficult even for those who are well down the road to recovery.

Relapse During the Holidays is Common

Relapse during the holidays spike as much as 150% compared to the rest of the year, and it’s not difficult to see why. Parties are being thrown regularly, often with alcohol as a central theme. This can create a scenario where an addict is being faced with temptation almost constantly for several months. According to some new studies by the American Psychological Association (found here), willpower itself may actually be more of a finite resource, meaning it’s entirely possible to “use it up” and find oneself depleted of willpower by the end of the season.

So how can one combat this constant temptation? Well, one way is to avoid it altogether. Depending on where a person is on their road to recovery, being around any substance at all may be out of the question. However, this concept of a finite willpower is more pertinent to those who are well down their road to recovery and believe that they are capable of being around certain triggers without succumbing to temptation.  While this may be true, this new concept put for by the APA suggests that even those that are in recovery will not be able to maintain this willpower forever given constant temptation.

For those people, it may be wise to spread out their holiday festivities.  Not every party needs to be attended, so even after a successful get-together where the addict has resisted temptation, a “cool-down” period afterward is advisable before they dive right into another situation filled with temptation.

Depression During the Holidays

Another issue that the general public deals with during the holidays but is felt more strongly by addicts is depression. Depression is a major issue for addicts all year long, but the holiday season can feel like it’s bombarding him or her with constant images of cheery people and impossibly perfect families. This can create a ideal that an addict may see as entirely unattainable given their current situation.

In these cases it’s important for the person to remember that he or she is not alone. There are always people rooting for the recovery of an addict, even if it doesn’t seem like it. No one is harder on an addict than they are on themselves, and that goes double during the holidays. Reaching out to loved ones, even those that a person may have lost touch with, can help immensely with the feelings of isolation and loneliness.  A little hope can go a long way toward making it through the holidays.

Awkward Family Encounters

So what happens when an addict doesn’t necessarily want to see family and friends during the holidays? It’s an old stereotype that Thanksgiving dinner is fraught with awkward conversation and bickering, and an addict may feel like he or she is going to take the brunt of it as the “black sheep” of the family.  There may also be a situation where an addict is trying to hide their addiction and feels that it will be difficult in such a large group setting. Or they may just adhere to the age-old belief that it takes booze to get through the holidays with your family.

Whatever they might think, none of it is true. If a person is open and forthright with their family about their struggles and their desire to get better, they’re going to find that almost every time they’re going to have the full support of those around them. Family and friends rarely want to see an addict NOT seek recovery. If they’re still trying to keep it secret – well, it’s probably not a secret anyway. Addicts tend to think that their disease is known only to them when it’s usually fairly obvious to those around them. Finally, no one needs booze to get through the holidays. In fact, if there are family issues, alcohol is usually going to just make them worse, especially when an addict is involved.

Have a Plan

No matter where a person is on the road to recovery (or if they haven’t even started down it), they should have a plan for the holiday season.  They should know what parties are going to entail ahead of time, make a calendar, spread things out, and plan for safer alternatives like bringing their own drinks or food. They can make a plan to reach out regularly or just check in with someone, even if nothing is currently threatening their sobriety.

And finally, if it seems like the holiday season might be an insurmountable obstacle to recovery, a person can remove themselves entirely. A 30- 60- or 90- day inpatient visit will assure that a person makes it through the holidays sobriety intact. It’s a better option than not making it to the new year.