Staying Sober Through the Holidays


The Holidays are always a tough time of year for anyone who suffers from any addiction: process addictions, substance abuse, and alcoholism. It’s a time where memories, feelings, and emotions are intensified. There are many triggers that lead individuals who have been in recovery from addiction for different periods of time to relapse.

Triggers for Relapse During the Holidays

Past traumas, circumstances, events, shame, guilt, loss, anger, anxiety, and other factors that can be set in motion through the senses. This can involve one or more of the five senses: smell, sound, sight, touch, and taste. There are many different triggers that lead to relapse: there are the emotional variety which usually have fear, anxiety, stress, and depression in common. There are triggers from people, places, and things which often involve memories of addiction and using habits.

 Opportunity for Self-empowerment

It’s important to look at relapse as an opportunity not an exception. Relapse helps to identify patterns of addiction and relapse so that it can be prevented in the future. Relapse is always a possibility in recovery; however, it should not be expected. By identifying triggers, relapse can be avoided through self-empowerment.

There is a seven-week period, starting just before Thanksgiving and ending just past New Year’s Day where it seems as if the mental obsession goes into overdrive for some individuals. Perhaps it’s just wanting to feel normal, or the euphoria that drive the emotions during this period? Maybe it’s the desire to feel pleasure and numb out the pain that leads recovering people to forget all that they’ve been through?

Goal Setting and Planning to Succeed

Any person in recovery has already gone through Hell! Relapsing during the Holidays seems to be more lack of planning, and not thinking things through more than anything else. If a recovering person wants to maintain their sobriety, they certainly can with just a little thought and action. It is about being prepared before you execute.

For any situation, a person needs an action plan that sets them up for success. An example would be: Mary has been clean and sober for two years; she has a new job that she has been working at for six months. The company is having a Holiday party with open bar! Mary needs to set a goal. Her goal is that she wants to go to the party and stay sober. Now, what actions can Mary take to achieve her goal? She can take a sponsor or person from her recovery group with her to the party. She can hire a sober companion or recovery coach to escort her to the party. The main thing is that she does not go alone and that she takes another recovery support person with her. When at the party, she can drink a club soda with a lime in it so that others won’t ask why she’s not drinking. She can plan two or three lines of script to say to co-workers if they ask any questions that make her uncomfortable. Mary must be specific in her action plan with timetables and follow up.

Increase Recovery Support During the Holidays

Those in recovery should increase their support network during this Holiday period because of the high risk for relapse. Increase recovery meetings, increase sessions with recovery coaches, counselors, or therapists. Use the telephone more and communicate with other sober friends and support people. Should you feel as if you may relapse, get honest, learn to tell on yourself with your support network.

Give Yourself a Gift for the Holidays!

Consider scheduling a clean and sober retreat or vacation during this high-risk period. There are many retreats around the country for individuals in recovery. Give yourself a gift for the Holidays! Perhaps you can schedule a retreat to work on a certain area of your life that you know needs work! Should you decide to travel, take a sober friend or companion with you. What a great way to use your Christmas club money!

Have an Exit Strategy

Should you find your recovery in jeopardy in any situation over the Holidays, be prepared with an exit strategy that gets you home safe and sober! Perhaps working on some scripts that you can use under certain circumstances would be wise here. Remember, if there is an event that puts you or your recovery in harm’s way, don’t go! An example of a script: I’m sorry Jane, I have to leave, I have an emergency at home. I’m sorry George, I am going to have to leave early, I’m not feeling well. I’m sorry Amy, I won’t be able to attend on the eighth, I have a prior commitment; however, I’m sending a gift.

There are a million and one reasons that you can come up with to protect yourself without disclosing any information that you’re uncomfortable to disclose.

Slippery People, Places…

Remember that bars, casinos; drug dealers are all out for themselves! You take care of yourself and your recovery. Stay away from slippery people, places, and things, especially during the Holiday season.

Utilize all of the tools that you have built up in recovery. Surround yourself with a wall of sober support people.


“At the center of your being you have the answer; you know who you are, and you know what you want.

– Lao Tzu


Service Work Works!

The facts are that many people need help during the Holiday season. I can’t think of a better time to do service work, especially if a person is struggling in their recovery. “Move a muscle, change a thought!”

The best way to break away from the mental obsession is to stay busy. Yoga, working out, running, walking, anything that keeps you busy!

Holidays are Only a State of Mind

Remember that the Holidays happen every year! They are more a state of mind than anything else. For some, they are no big deal.  For others, they are like an unpassable mountain of unbearable pain and suffering. There is nothing more important than your sobriety. Without it, you lose yourself. The Holidays will come and go, but there is only one you!

Dr. Estes specializes in addictions coaching, addictions therapy and a concept called mobile rehab. She works with high profile clients: NFL, NBA, CEO’s, Actors, Musicians and more. She can be reached at 1.800.706.0318 ext 1.

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