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Understand and Avoid the Temptation to Use Drugs During the Holidays

While media portrays the holiday season as a time for family togetherness and joyous revelry, not everyone feels like celebrating. If you struggle with drug addiction, the temptation to use may feel even stronger during the holidays as added stressors impact your mental health. At the same time, social events can trigger cravings as those around you use recreational substances. Explore the factors behind the uptick in drug abuse over the winter holidays and plan strategies that can help you abstain.

Understand the Scope of the Problem

If you dread the holidays, you’re not alone. Research has documented the effects of the holiday season on mental health disorders and substance use. Consider these statistics from the National Alliance on Mental Illness:

  • 1 in 8 emergency room visits in the United States involves an adult impacted by substance use disorder or another mental illness.
  • 2 million individuals in the U.S. have a dual diagnosis of substance use disorder and mental illness.
  • 64% of people who have a mental illness report that their condition worsens during the holiday season.

Many people experience new or increased stress, depression or anxiety as the holidays approach. Contributing factors often include the unrealistic expectations of the season, associated financial stress, loneliness, disrupted routines, busy schedules, and overindulging in food and drink.

In addition, millions of Americans suffer from seasonal affective disorder, including 20% of people who also have clinical depression. This condition causes sadness, fatigue, loss of energy, sleep changes, feelings of hopelessness and other symptoms of depression during the winter months. Many people affected by SAD benefit from 20 to 30 minutes a day of phototherapy with a special light.


Prioritize Your Sobriety

Make a decision to say no to triggering situations and stick to that boundary. That could mean avoiding the friend you always use with when he’s in town for the holidays or skipping a family celebration where everyone has a drink in hand. Make alternate plans with sober friends and family members instead of putting your health at risk. 

Try categorizing events as low-risk, medium-risk or high-risk. Low-risk events are those you can attend with little fear of temptation. At medium-risk events, you may want to have your sponsor or a trusted friend with you so you can leave if you feel uncomfortable. High-risk events should be avoided at all costs. 

It can be difficult to tell family members and friends that you won’t be celebrating with them this year. If you feel nervous about having those conversations, try role-playing what to say with a trusted friend or therapist.


Have an Action Plan

When you decide to attend a holiday event, think through possible scenarios and plan your reaction. For example, your action plan could include these strategies:

  • Asking a sober friend to come to the party with you
  • Bringing nonalcoholic beverages to share
  • Texting a friend who will call you with a fake emergency if you need to leave the party
  • Having a friend on alert who can call for a ride if you can’t get home
  • Keeping your sponsor’s number handy so you can text or call for support
  • Role-playing your response when someone asks why you aren’t drinking or initiates a conflict
  • “Bookending” the event by attending a support group meeting before and after to bolster your reserves against relapse

Avoid taking a position where you feel responsible for others. Let’s say you decide to be the designated driver so you won’t use drugs or alcohol. You feel triggered at the event, but you can’t leave because you need to wait to give your friends a safe ride. This type of situation puts your own sobriety at risk.


Acknowledge Your Feelings

If you feel overwhelmed by forced cheer, it’s OK to admit that you don’t feel like celebrating. You might be surprised to find that others struggle during the holiday season as well. Pushing the negative feelings down can be isolating, which increases your risk of relapse. If you don’t feel like you can talk to anyone about your feelings, try attending a support group meeting or visiting a therapist if you don’t already take those steps. Limit the consumption of media that pushes a fake agenda of holiday joy for all. 

Some of the unrealistic expectations surrounding the holidays may come from within. Give yourself permission to let go of the need for perfection that surrounds this time of year. Focus on spending time with those who love you and giving small or homemade gifts that come from the heart. 

Avoid people who expect you to put on a false display of holiday glee. In fact, you can celebrate the holidays in any way that feels good to you, whether that means your favorite home-cooked meal and a Netflix marathon or a Zoom call with your sober network. Remember that the days following a celebration can be just as difficult as the day itself, so have a strong support plan that lasts through the new year.


Practice Self-Care

Few days during recovery will be easy, but caring for your body and mind can help you weather the ups and downs of life as you live with addiction. Help keep your body healthy and your mood calm and stable with these tips:

  • Eat a nutritious diet with lots of fruits, veggies, lean protein and low-fat dairy.
  • Drink about eight 8-oz glasses of water each day.
  • Engage in relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation or breathing exercises.
  • Get some form of exercise every day; even just a 30-minute walk can increase your heart rate and boost your mood.
  • Spend 20 minutes in the sun each day with SPF to protect your skin.
  • Aim to get eight hours of sleep on a regular schedule each night.
  • Spend time doing something you enjoy every day, whether that means taking a long, hot bath or watching your favorite reality show.
  • Step up attendance at your 12-step meeting or support group of choice, especially if you have a limited sober network.
  • Maintain a daily routine with regular activities. 

Pay attention to the signs of growing stress, depression, anxiety or other feelings that increase your risk of relapse. Seek help if you find yourself withdrawing from friends and activities you previously enjoyed, behaving impulsively, having difficulty concentrating, or experiencing uncontrollable mood swings.


Develop Distractions

Dwelling on the difference between today and the way holidays used to be can lead to sadness, depression and regret. Instead, distract yourself by starting new traditions, learning new hobbies and reaching out to loved ones who support you just the way you are. For example, you could volunteer at a local church, join a singing group or bake cookies for your neighbors. Spending your time in a way that brings positivity into the world can help you stay busy enough to avoid cravings, triggers and unsafe situations for your sobriety.

If you or a family member needs help with substance use disorder, consider connecting with Clean Recovery Centers this holiday season. We have a range of programs that provide clinical and therapeutic treatment for drug and alcohol addiction. While many people struggle with the idea of being away from family in a rehab center on Christmas, those who feel depressed and have concerns about relapse may benefit from entering treatment this time of year. 

Our Medical Detox and Residential Treatment Program includes medical detox from substances, medication management for underlying health concerns, individual and group therapy, family therapy, and follow-up care. We also treat dual diagnoses that often arise with substance use disorder, such as depression and anxiety. Our clients benefit from a structured environment with full medical supervision and a focus on maintaining a sober lifestyle after graduating from treatment.

With both inpatient and outpatient programs, you can pursue the treatment program that meets your needs. Schedule a consultation with the team at Clean Recovery Centers and give yourself the tools to manage life’s challenges without substance use. 

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