Addiction and the Holidays

For most people, there are several reasons why the holidays may be a difficult time of year. Tense relationships with family members, unhappy home situations, or a lack of a home situation or family all together can make the holidays the complete opposite of a holly, jolly environment. It seems like before we’ve even entered into Fall, we’re stressing out about the holidays. Maybe your parents are divorced, or you have a tense relationship with your siblings. Even worse, perhaps you’ve been appallingly harmed by a member of your family, physically, mentally, or emotionally.

Additionally, there are other reasons for avoiding the holidays regarding the struggles with addiction, substance use disorder (SUD), or recovery. If you grew up in a family situation that faced the torment of addiction, you might be inclined to avoid home for the holidays. Suppose you’ve recently finished a treatment program and are in early recovery. In that case, you might want to avoid your friend’s annual holiday party because you know that there will most likely be a lot of alcohol present and a lot of alcohol consumption.

Whatever the reason, it’s essential that you not put yourself in any situations that may threaten you and your recovery. Sometimes that means taking precautions to avoid those situations. If you have a strong supportive relationship with your family, that might represent them making changes to help you during those hard times.

Holiday Triggers

When handling triggers during the holidays, it’s crucial to know what might trigger you and what trauma may come back to haunt you. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) states it best, “during the holiday season, the need for a trauma-informed approach is critical,” as for many individuals, it’s not always the “most wonderful time of year,” as the popular holiday song would suggest. SAMHSA expresses how the holiday season can come with several triggers, including songs, scents, rituals, and the “pressure to conform to particular social and familial expectations, increased presence of alcohol, and more interactions with family and friends.” For those struggling and without a home, feelings of loneliness, shame, and a lack of support can also be intense triggers.

Christmas is not the only holiday or special occasion that can reap adverse and detrimental emotional effects. Thanksgiving, birthdays, Independence Day, and even the holidays that may be considered “minor” or “lowkey” can trigger some people. There are a number of reasons that families get together to celebrate, whether it be holidays, birthdays, other celebratory events like a wedding, or even a job promotion. With that celebration comes encounters with family and friends that can impose a level of threat or danger upon a person’s emotional well-being.

Additionally, events such as these also increase the pressure for social conformity, including the pressure to drink alcohol. While the holiday season may be coming up, it is no secret that recovery can be difficult regardless of the time of year. Still, by maintaining a solid recovery, times like this can and do begin to get easier.

How to Handle the Holidays

There are some ways you can successfully get through your first holiday or celebration in recovery. For starters, if you know that your family is supportive and willing to help, ask them to make any celebrations a “dry event” to prevent the temptation of alcohol consumption. If dealing with difficult family members triggers you, bring a plus one, maybe even from your support group. Think strength in numbers. Instead of you both trying to struggle through the annual family Christmas party on your own, support each other and make it through together.

Another way you might handle these triggers is to be honest. Especially if you are newly out of treatment and just trying to find your footing with recovery, communicate that to your loved ones. That might mean passing on the celebrations for a while, at least while you are still learning to adjust. If you don’t have individuals to communicate these feelings with, don’t be afraid to reach out to those in your support group. Chances are, you may not be the only person feeling lonely around the holidays. Your support group acts as a family, and as a family, you should stick together as best you can to be pillars of support for each other.

If you or someone you love is approaching their first holiday or celebration post-treatment, check-in, offer any help they may need, and above all, treat them with compassion and kindness.

The holidays can be difficult for anyone struggling with addiction, substance use disorder, and, truthfully, any mental health condition. Celebrations, in general, can be difficult for individuals with any of these issues. Having to deal with difficult family members or friends, social pressures, and the presence of alcohol at these events can all become triggers. Learning what might trigger you is often the most critical step. The next is learning how to cope. First and foremost, being honest with those in your life about these triggers is essential. It’s also paramount that you have your support system by your side. That can include someone from your sober community or a trusted confidant. If these social interactions worry you, we encourage you to take advantage of our relapse prevention programs and counseling to learn how to tackle these stressors post-treatment. Call the Lakehouse Recovery Center at (877) 762-3707 today to learn more.