No matter how committed you are to maintaining sobriety, the holiday season can surely throw a monkey wrench into the plan. This is mostly due to force of habit, as the holidays had always meant partying, and those parties usually involved substances. It is hard to rewire your expectations for the holidays in early recovery.
With this in mind, try to approach the season as a strategist. Since you know these temptations and triggers will surely cross your path, why not prepare now to manage them deftly. As part of that process, it’s important to know what trigger could threaten your sobriety. Let’s start with some of the most common warning signs for relapse..
What are the warning signs of a relapse?
It helps to acknowledge the fact that a relapse doesn’t just happen in an instant. When you feel confident in your recovery, the sight of a glass of champagne at a gathering isn’t going to send you over the edge right away. If it does, then the relapse process was already well underway in advance of the exposure to alcohol. In fact, some estimate that the process, from the first signs to the actual relapse, may take weeks to months.
There are several signs that are recognized as precursors to a relapse. These include:
- Abandoning new healthy routines: After establishing a new healthy diet, a regular workout routine, and a daily sleep schedule, regressing to old habits is a warning sign for relapse.
- Avoiding your sponsor: Avoiding contact with your sponsor or others in your support network would be a sign that your recovery is in danger.
- Isolating behaviors: As relapse draws near you begin isolating from friends and family, which reduces accountability in recovery.
5 methods to avoid relapse during the holidays
To avoid a possible relapse during the holiday season, consider these 5 tips:
- Reduce holiday stress: We all know how crazy and busy the holiday season can be. In recovery, it is important to manage stress — holiday stress is no exception. Practice self-care to help keep stress levels under control. Take some yoga classes, practice meditation or use deep breathing techniques to reduce holiday stress.
- Volunteer: The holiday season is all about expressing love and giving, so why not shift your focus toward doing some type of charity work? Volunteer to help a needy family, take up a collection for a toy drive or help out at the local soup kitchen. Helping others can reinforce sobriety.
- Have a plan: Prepare for any gatherings you plan to attend by practicing in advance how to respond when someone offers you a drink. Once there, be sure to keep a nonalcoholic beverage in your hand. Most importantly, have an exit plan in place should you find yourself tempted.
- Take in extra meetings: Attending extra recovery meetings during the holidays provides inspiration and fellowship when you need it most. The meetings are an excellent source of peer support during a challenging season. Mostly, the meetings help you stay accountable, and keep your mind on recovery.
- Stay active: Regular exercise offers many protective effects for individuals in recovery, so don’t let your workouts slide during the stressful holiday season. A body engaged in exercise produces endorphins plus the stress-reducing neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine. Getting regular exercise also improves mood and sleep quality.
What if, even with all your planning, you still manage to slip up? Relapse does happen — a lot. It is estimated that about half of those who have completed a treatment program will experience a relapse within the first year of recovery.
If you do relapse, the best action to take is to redouble your efforts. Call your sponsor, get to a meeting, schedule a therapy session and carry on — one day at a time.
Ashley Addiction Treatment, formerly Father Martin’s Ashley, is a nationally recognized nonprofit leader in integrated, evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders. Our programs are accredited by The Joint Commission, and result in frequent publications of ongoing research into effective treatment methodologies. We offer holistic care that encompasses the mind, body and spirit through inpatient and outpatient treatment, provide drug detox, relapse prevention plans, family wellness programs and a variety of other services tailored to each patient’s unique needs. Our driving principle — “everything for recovery” — reinforces our mission to transform and save lives through the science of medicine, the art of therapy and the compassion of spirituality, and is complemented by our philosophy of healing with respect and dignity. For information about our comprehensive programs, please call 866-313-6307.