Enjoying the Holidays at home can be both comforting but also challenging for those in early recovery and their families. There are many holiday traditions that can include alcohol and substance usage, but most importantly, family. Addiction is a family disease, and these relationships can often be emotionally loaded. This time of year can exacerbate hidden tensions and increase stress within a family system. Additionally, the great expectations that so many people have can often lead to disappointment. Answering the same questions over and over again can trigger intense emotions—Did you graduate yet? Are you still at that lousy job? Any kids? Are you still single? And comparing yourself to your seemingly “perfect” family members can be a recipe for the holiday blues.
Add these stressors to the steady flow of alcohol and substances present at most holiday events and sober individuals have the perfect storm for relapse brewing. In addition to family holiday events, work and social holiday parties are a constant reminder to those in early sobriety that they have to live and socialize in a different manner than they may have in the past. There are holiday functions that require attendance and it is important to have strategies in place that can help to prevent relapse and to minimize triggers.
Therefore, it is an important time for recovering alcoholics to secure a support network. The In-Home Addiction Treatment (IHAT) Institute and model are designed to provide innovative and comprehensive home-based care for individuals with substance-use disorders. The IHAT model is important for addiction professionals to be aware of and to gain training in implementing, because so those with addictive disorders need additional support in conjunction with therapy to help in navigating their family dynamics and in accessing community and clinical resources.
Here is a home Holiday “survival guide” for the sober alcoholics and addicts:
- Have an escape plan by bringing your own vehicle or figure out the available public transportation near the holiday event that will enable you to leave if you are feeling tempted to drink or uncomfortable.
- Ask another sober peer to be “on call” for you to check in with during the event for additional support.
- Let someone whom you trust at the holiday event know that you may need additional support during this occasion or time of year.
- Find a tasty non-alcoholic beverage you can drink that will give you something to hold and may prevent people from offering you an alcoholic drink.
- Volunteer your time and help others- research in the article below indicates it can improve your mood!
- Come up with a standard response as to why you are not drinking that may vary depending on the type of holiday event and if you want those in attendance to know you are sober: “I don’t drink anymore”, “I am not drinking tonight”, “I am on medication and cannot have alcohol”, “I am the designated driver tonight,” etc.
- Be choosy about the holiday events that you attend and avoid “people pleasing” by saying “yes” to events that you don’t need to nor don’t want to be at.
- Take care of yourself prior to these events: get enough sleep, eat regularly, exercise, relax, etc.
- Find new holiday activities and traditions that you may never have tried in the past which do not involve drinking alcohol (volunteer at a soup kitchen, go ice skating, have a sober get-together and gift exchange, see a movie, take a trip, etc.)
- Remember to create structure for yourself if you have time off (volunteer, exercise, make plans, got to mutual-help group meetings, therapy, etc.).
- Work extra hours if needed in order to distract yourself.
- Learn to say “no” if you do not want to attend an event.
- Put your sobriety first and realize that others may not understand what this entails, but that it is your number one priority.
- Attend extra mutual-help group meetings during this season (ie, A.A. has “alcathons” that involve 24 hours of meetings, food, socializing at designated locations on Thanksgiving Eve, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
- Be honest with loved ones if you are having a hard time and let them know how to support you.
- For “mandatory” work events: show up early, make the rounds to all the key people (ie, staff, co-workers, boss, etc.) and once the room has filled, you can easily leave early
- “Book End” the party: go to a mutual help group meeting (AA, SMART Recovery) before and/or after
- Remember that “this too shall pass” and there is life after the holidays.
- No matter how you are feeling, just don’t drink!
By Sarah Allen Benton, MS, LMHC, LPC, AADC