For most of us, the holidays evoke fond memories and nostalgia. Singing Christmas carols, sledding with kids, sipping hot chocolate by the fire, attending parties, sampling delicious treats, giving gifts, and spending time with family and friends are all things that come to mind when pondering the holiday season. For recovering alcoholics, though, these same moments of joy can be tests of sobriety.
Unfortunately, this picture of a perfect cozy winter is not always in tune with reality. For some, the holidays can be a time of severe loneliness – especially in the face of depression, when coping with the loss of a loved one, or while dealing with the end of a relationship. Other triggers for relapse include stress, family disputes, and the sheer availability of alcohol during these times of celebration.
Since alcohol is often used as a means of escape and self-medication for addicts, it is easy to understand why many turn back to its comforts when faced with these triggers. For high-functioning alcoholics, in particular, it may be easier to hide the extent of their addiction because they do not let it affect certain aspects of their lives. For this reason, friends and family face the danger of downplaying its severity or possibly even the existence of the problem itself.
Because there is a higher chance of relapse during the holidays, recovering alcoholics need a strong network of support as we enter the holiday season. The best way to avoid the pitfalls of relapse is to approach this season by being proactive. The National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism offers some tips for staying sober during this holiday season.
First of all, have a system of accountability present, whether that be someone you know or possibly even a member of AA. Second, avoid likely situations of temptation. Be aware of your surroundings and have an escape plan ready if necessary. Next, know your triggers and set manageable boundaries for yourself. Finally, have an attitude of gratitude – focusing on what you are thankful for instead of what you lack will help bring you back to a place of optimism.
Experts have a few suggestions and recommend getting enough sleep, exercising, and eating properly as means of prevention. They also promote being honest with loved ones and letting them know when their assistance is needed. Finally, they advocate creating new, non-alcohol-centered holiday traditions such as ice skating, going to the movies, or volunteering at the soup kitchen. For example, recovering gambling addicts should not go anywhere gambling might occur. If you do slip, do not let it cause negative beliefs that stop your hard work. Concentrate on what you have achieved and will achieve, not on how you may have failed.
Following these tips will help in the fight to stay sober. No one has the picture-perfect life painted by the media at holiday times; every family has issues, and every person has problems they must face. Recognizing this and learning to be thankful for the life we are given will help kick start the New Year with positive momentum.