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Holidays and Relapse Prevention

The holidays present many challenges to people in recovery with family stress, parties and for some, painful feelings.  Actual statistics support the notion that Holiday Relapse is a real concern. A study performed by Mark Goldman and colleagues that was published in Psychology of Addictive behaviors sought to track young adult drinking for a full 52 weeks. They then plotted the data and showed that there was a marked increase in drinks taken on Thanksgiving and an even more dramatic increase on New Year’s Eve. There was a small spike right before Christmas as well (Goldman M. et al., Psychology of Addictive Behaviors. 2011 Mar; 25(1): 16–27.). New Year’s Eve brings another time of concern. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that about 36 fatalities on average occur each day as a result of inebriated drivers. This number jumps to 45 per day around Christmas time and almost doubles to 54 during New Years.

Recovery is a priority and it needn’t be knocked down by predictable situations and temptations.  Parkside’s expert on Substance-use Disorders and treatment, Stevi Harper, LPC, LADC was asked for a few suggestions on maintaining recovery through the holidays and offered the following:

First, recognize those situations that come with risk.  Choose any holiday parties wisely. Stay off those “slippery slopes” and avoid situations you know will have free-flowing alcohol or old friends who may not be supportive of your recovery.  Be mindful of triggers that lead to drinking.

Second, have a plan.  If you must be in a situation with alcohol risk, try to bring a sober friend to hold you accountable.  Have an exit plan. You can be prepared to extricate yourself if the situation is becoming stressful or you find yourself at risk of relapse.  Be prepared to effectively deal with family stress.  You might also consider making and bringing your own non-alcoholic beverage to avoid any temptations and have predictable refreshment.

Finally, cope with it.  Addiction relapse doesn’t need to be a part of your holiday story or memories.  Surround yourself with people who support your recovery and who are also staying sober over the holidays. Choose to attend recovery meetings.  Be prepared to deal with lonely or stressful situations by having a trusted person to call.  Keep busy with volunteer activities, working out and taking care of yourself.   Keep a healthy schedule, eat right, get good sleep and create good holiday memories that supported your recovery. If you do find yourself in the situation where you have relapsed, pick yourself up and get back to working your relapse prevention plan.  Parkside is here to help and can get you back on plan if need be.