The Christmas season may be the most wonderful time of the year, but it doesn’t come without its pressures— especially for people who are still in the early stages of addiction recovery. In fact, Christmas is ripe with relapse triggers, probably more so than any other time of the year.
The Most Common Relapse Risks of Christmas
A relapse trigger is anything— whether it’s a person, a place or even a memory— that brings back unwelcome thoughts or feelings about addiction for you. Triggers, when left unaddressed, can lead you to resume addictive behaviors. Twelve relapse risks, in particular, make Christmas the most horrible time of the year for people in addiction recovery.
Anxiety and Stress
Stress is one of the most common addiction relapse triggers that anyone at any stage of recovery can experience. However, stress tends to skyrocket into anxiety during the Christmas season, for a variety of reasons. With so much shopping, preparation and finances for you to keep track of, the stress of keeping up with the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season may very well trigger a relapse. You can avoid this by keeping in touch with your sponsor and other members of your support group during the holidays. Doing this will keep you calm and grounded.
Busy Schedules and an Overwhelming To-Do List
This particular trigger is one that can snowball into other triggers, like anxiety. If you use an addiction recovery program that includes a personalized schedule as part of your treatment, any substantial deviations from your established routine can pose a significant risk to your progress. Getting swept up in the mayhem that comes with Christmas and prioritizing your to-do list over your treatment plan can trigger a relapse if you’re not careful. Remember to make time for yourself and keep your recovery as your top priority.
Benjamin E. Mays once said, “The tragedy of life is often not in our failure, but rather in our complacency.” This idea is especially true in addiction recovery. Complacency, or feelings of over-confidence, is a too-comfortable state of mind that very often leads to relapse, even outside of the holidays. While there’s nothing inherently wrong about being confident about your progress, it’s important to stay objective and focused on your recovery. Turning all of your attention to the demands of the Christmas season— and away from group meetings or counseling— may compromise your sobriety. So, don’t allow yourself to be lulled into a false sense of security. Stay on top of your treatment plan, even during Christmas.
Depression and Loneliness
This may come as a surprise, but depression always seems to spike around the holidays. Christmas may be a time to spend with family, friends and loved ones, but for some, it can breed feelings of loneliness and isolation. This is especially true for people in the early stages of recovery who are still in the process of making amends with their loved ones. Remember, addiction is a disease that affects the whole family, not just the person addicted. Relationships that were damaged by addiction are going to need time to heal. So, if some of your relationships haven’t been mended yet, Christmas might feel lonelier than it should. This is a trigger that should be addressed sooner rather than later. If you’re still at odds with your loved ones in the early stages of your recovery, just remember that you’re not alone; your support group, your counselors and your sponsors will all be there to support you.
Exhaustion is a severely underrated relapse trigger. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), exhaustion is an especially dangerous relapse trigger because it demands relaxation and limits your willingness to refuse a substance that offers it. For example, if you are exhausted from cooking, cleaning, hosting parties, attending parties, and working extra hours to add to your holiday shopping budget, your first thought might be to unwind with a glass of wine or a couple of muscle relaxers. If you find yourself in this position, reach out to your support group. Christmas is exhausting, but don’t let it compromise your hard work to stay sober.
Excuses and Enabling
Making excuses is one relapse trigger that can be easy to get tricked into during recovery. While it does tie into other triggers you may face alone— like anxiety, exhaustion, and complacency— there may also be times during the holiday season where others may try to make excuses for you to get you to use again. You may hear things like “it’s just one drink” or “come on, it’s a party,” and unfortunately, the people in recovery who spend time with these kinds of enablers are more likely to relapse— especially around Christmas. The best way to avoid this trigger is to plan ahead. Rehearse thoughtful responses and prepare to say no.
Every family Christmas comes with drama, which is easily one of the worst relapse triggers. Being trapped in a space with people who stress you out is challenging, even if it is for Christmas. This, coupled with the likelihood that alcohol (and maybe some other addictive substances) will be made available at parties does a lot to threaten your sobriety. The best way to avoid relapsing during family conflict is to prepare a relapse prevention plan for yourself ahead of time. Use the healthy coping skills that you learned in rehab and be sure to reach out to your sponsor if you need to.
Finding financial stability can be a challenge for anyone, but people in early recovery tend to have a particularly hard time with employment, legal issues, and other money-centric issues as compared to others. Financial difficulties, especially around the holidays, can very easily cause feelings of stress, guilt, and shame— all of which are acute addiction relapse triggers.
One relapse trigger that most people don’t stop to consider is romance. Whether you’re just starting a relationship or just getting out of one, the feelings associated with love tend to intensify around Christmas; and if left unchecked, they can spiral into other triggers that might threaten your sobriety. The best defense against this is to follow your relapse prevention plan.
Like depression and loneliness, self-pity rears its ugly head during Christmastime for a variety of reasons. In a lot of cases, people who pity themselves during Christmas do so out of the false belief that they didn’t accomplish as much as they would have liked in the past year. For people in recovery, self-pity can take many forms. You might feel bad that your recovery is taking so long. You might think that your treatment plan isn’t working. You might even beat yourself up for having become an addict in the first place. But it’s important to remember that pitying yourself is one of the worst things you can do at any point in the recovery process. Self-pity and other self-destructive feelings are detriments to your mental and emotional health that can easily trigger a relapse if you’re not careful.
Shame or Guilt
When you’re surrounded by the people you’ve wronged, you might feel guilty or ashamed of what addiction has done to you and your loved ones. While anyone might feel the same way in your position, these types of emotions do more harm than good. Guilt and shame are notorious for pushing recovering addicts back into the habit of substance abuse. So, instead of dwelling on the past, focus on moving forward. The best way to battle these negative feelings is to make amends with those you’ve hurt— and what better time to do that than Christmas?
Recovery is an ongoing process that shouldn’t be prioritized below anything— not even Christmas. The holiday season is already ripe with addiction relapse triggers. The best way to avoid them is to keep up with your treatment plan.
TTC Is Here to Help You Get Through the Relapse Risks of Christmas
Christmas isn’t always the most wonderful time of the year. For people in addiction recovery, it can be one of the more stressful times. If you or someone you care about is struggling to maintain your addiction treatment and relapse prevention plan this holiday season, call The Treatment Center at (866) 295-6003. We’re here to help you stay sober so you can enter the New Year with both a clean slate and a clean bill of health.