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How to Navigate the Holidays When You’re in Recovery

If you’re in recovery, the holiday season can throw a lot of challenges your way. From interactions with your family to social celebrations to a change in your routine, this time of year can be stressful.

Two Banner Health experts, Daniel Brooks, MD, medical director of the Banner Poison and Drug Information Center at Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix, and Christopher Luke Peterson, DO, a Banner Health addiction medicine specialist at Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix, shared their advice for navigating the season’s demands.

Try to identify your triggers

Triggers can be people, places, things or emotions. Think about when you might encounter these triggers during the holidays and how you can cope.

  • If being around your parents is triggering for you, you might not be able to avoid them during the holidays. What strategies can you use to lessen their effects on you?
  • If holiday activities take place at locations where you’re more likely to use alcohol or drugs, can you avoid or minimize those activities? Can they take place elsewhere?
  • If things like bottle openers, syringes and needles, tin foil, etc., trigger you, can you avoid them? Can you ask people close to you to help keep them from you?
  • If you’re bored during the holidays because you’re working less and not keeping your regular schedule, what can you do? Can you fill that time with activities, meetings, sponsors and a person who can hold you accountable?

Issues with money, travel and family can add stress to the holiday season. “It’s important for people to acknowledge what pushes their buttons and how they react to those triggers,” Dr. Brooks said. “Issues are a part of the holidays, and if you’re in recovery, you need to expect them and prepare for them.”

And keep in mind that you might not always know what triggers you. “You may get so caught up in certain situations that you don’t even recognize your triggers,” Dr. Peterson said. Talking to a counselor or family member can help you pinpoint the triggers you struggle with. Think about your past experiences, and when you identify triggers, write them down. That way, you’ll be able to make a plan for minimizing them or dealing with them.

Your emotional state can also be an obstacle to your recovery. The holidays can heighten your feelings of depression, anxiety or stress and make it harder to manage your triggers. Dr. Peterson recommends extra journaling during the holidays to help you cope.

Build strategies for managing social situations

Dr. Peterson suggests asking yourself a few questions if you think social situations will pose challenges to your recovery:

  1. Do I expose myself to this right now?
  2. How do I manage the situation if I do go?
  3. Who can I trust at the social gathering to help me and keep me accountable?

You might decide that you aren’t in the right stage of your recovery to attend these events. If your loved ones and colleagues drink a lot, be honest and tell them it’s healthier for you to stay away from alcohol.

If you decide to go, ask a sponsor, coworker or friend to go with you so you can enjoy the event but stay sober. “Surround yourself with people who support you and understand you and will help you feel safe,” Dr. Peterson said.

Dr. Brooks recommends focusing on what makes you comfortable—lean on relaxation techniques or meditation if they help.

Make a plan for saying ‘no’ to alcohol

Dr. Brooks said to make up your mind not to drink and to choose a nonalcoholic beverage to stop people from asking you if you would like a drink.

Some people say they aren’t drinking because of a medical procedure or medication. Dr. Peterson said honesty is better. You can use phrases such as:

  • I don’t drink.
  • No, thank you.
  • I’m not drinking anymore.
  • I’m in recovery.

“It is a very empowering mindset to be public about your recovery, but it is hard to get to that point,” Dr. Peterson said.

The bottom line

If you’re recovering from addiction, the holidays can be a challenging time. But by identifying your triggers, managing social situations and making a plan for saying “no,” you can enjoy them and stay sober.

Don’t face your addiction alone. To find the resources and support you need to manage your addiction and recover, reach out to a Banner behavioral health specialist or call our appointment line at 800-254-4357. You can also call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) at 800-662-4357 for free and confidential information on support and treatment facilities.

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