The holidays are a time for family, celebration, and gratitude. Unfortunately for those that battle addiction, they are also a time of indulgence for many people, and this means extra challenges for those staying sober during the holidays.
Alcohol and other intoxicants are popular holiday staples, and it can be hard to enjoy the moment without risking your sobriety. This could be due to families not fully grasping the nature of addiction or the individual underestimating the risk of relapse. Whatever the reason, no one wants to miss out on valuable memories with their loved ones due to addiction.
Here we will provide you with some tips on staying sober during the holidays. For families with loved ones suffering from addiction, we will also provide you with strategies to navigate having a loved one in early recovery.
Ultimately, if you are having trouble managing the stress of the holiday season, give us a call at 405-583-4390. Our experts can connect you with the resources you need to maintain your recovery and enjoy many sober holidays to come.
What Families Need to Understand About Addiction
Knowledge is a powerful tool for creating a holiday season that everyone can enjoy. Your family may discuss addiction, but to know how it works on every level can help you truly prepare a safe space for your loved one.
Addiction is a complex disease, and understanding how it impacts the individual is important to understand how it can impact your entire family. If your loved one suffers from addiction, you may not realize that the problem is far more than just a lack of willpower. Drugs and alcohol have dramatic effects on the brain and body. When drugs or alcohol are misused, they can completely rewire how they look, behave, and feel.
According to DrugAbuse.gov, “our brains are wired to increase the odds that we will repeat pleasurable activities. The neurotransmitter dopamine is central to this. Drugs produce much larger surges of dopamine, powerfully reinforcing the connection between consumption of the drug, the resulting pleasure, and all the external cues linked to the experience. Large surges of dopamine “teach” the brain to seek drugs at the expense of other, healthier goals and activities.”
This powerful process spills into every aspect of the sufferer’s life, and if you are an addict, you know that most of this fight is invisible. Individuals battling substance abuse get caught in a toxic cycle that makes everyday pleasures far less appealing. Recovery requires finding new ways of navigating important relationships, such as with family.
A lot of the individual’s environment can become a trigger, and the holiday season is a great example of this. There are added stressors and potential emotional baggage, but special occasions carry an added risk of relapse by nature. While it can be difficult for the family, at every stage a strong support system is a necessity.
Treats or Triggers?
One major term to understand as the holiday season approaches is “triggers.” These are the main culprit as to why addicts may feel immense stress around the holiday season. Triggers are simply anything that urges you to use. They may include things such as:
- Being in withdrawal from drug use
- Experiencing stressful life events
- Seeing people, places, or things that remind a person of drugs, such as returning to a place connected to past drug use
It is easy to see why huge events like holidays can be potential triggers. Perhaps your family does a lot of drinking, or you have another family member with untreated addiction. This can be a challenging time for the individual that is in recovery.
A lot of triggers are also linked to emotional lows like depression, isolation, and exhaustion. Triggers do not always lead to relapse, but they are an easy gateway. Relapse is often a means to escape from the negative emotions you are faced with. This is part of the vicious cycle of addiction.
Drugs and alcohol are so powerful that if a trigger does turn into relapse, the brain then repeatedly repeats that negative behavior. The problem is that once you have entered recovery, you have lowered your tolerance. That lowered tolerance means your body cannot handle the same dosage you were taking during active addiction. This can lead to a life-threatening overdose.
As you may notice, stress can be thought of as the umbrella that all triggers live under. Now let’s learn what you can do to manage it during the holidays.
Coping with Stress During the Holidays
A major tool you will need for staying sober during the holidays is a plan. Whether it is an office party or Christmas dinner, going in unprepared leaves you vulnerable to triggers. When you have a plan, you can balance enjoying the moment with protecting the sobriety you worked so hard for. It will be far less stressful to prepare as much as possible than to be hit with unexpected obstacles.
Another major way to minimize stress during the holiday season is to keep your priorities in order. Remember that above all else, recovery is the greatest gift you can give to yourself and your family. As an article by Harvard Health puts it, “recovery, if about anything, is about connecting with other people. […] Addiction slowly robs you of your relationships as you become emotionally obsessed with your drug of choice. With recovery comes a blossoming of human connection, interaction, meaning, and hope.”
This is a great thing to keep in mind. You are not missing out on any bonding or connection by remaining sober. Even if you feel out of place at points, you have to remember the bigger picture. Sure, taking a celebratory sip may seem harmless at the moment, but what about the binge it could lead to? The money wasted? The nausea and physical pain? The disappointment of your loved ones? It hurts, but sometimes remembering the lows can help you see past the urges. Using again may sound appealing, but there is a reason you left that place.
Tips for Staying Sober During the Holidays
Now, here are some specific ways you can minimize the risk of relapse during the holiday season:
- Learn to say no. Politely decline drinks when they are offered, without feeling like you have to explain yourself.
- Have an alternative. If you know certain places may be particularly triggering, opt for healthier alternatives. Examples could be anything from volunteering to going to a holiday lights festival instead.
- Stay in touch with your support network. Maintain communication with the people who are there to help you stay sober, whether friends, sponsors, or other family members.
- Stick to and even increase the number of recovery meetings you attend.
- Continue to take care of your mind, body, and spirit. This will help you find balance and have the foundation necessary to focus on avoiding triggers during the holidays.
What Families Can Do to Help
Now, families also should know how they can help their relatives who are staying sober during the holidays. One important thing for family members of addicts to remember is that you cannot possibly carry the weight of their addiction on your shoulders. What you can do is take small measures to create an environment that is comfortable for everyone.
It is far easier for you to plan ahead than have to cope with the stress of watching your loved one relapse. According to the Louisiana Department of Health, these are some great tips you can follow to ensure everyone enjoys the holiday season:
- Making the focus of party entertainment, games, conversation, and family, not alcohol.
- Having non-alcoholic beverage options.
- Providing healthy, delicious foods to slow the effects of alcohol encourages people to drink more.
- Requiring those serving drinks to check the ID of anyone who appears to be under the age of 30 to ensure minors are not drinking.
- Not serving drinks towards the end of the party.
Another important tool your family can use is honest communication. Do not hesitate to ask your recovering family member what their expectations or needs are. However, you may have your own boundaries, and if you are not in a place to create a non-triggering environment, you all may have to make alternative plans.
If you prioritize communication in advance, you can make sure that your recovering loved one feels heard and supported. This also allows you to adjust your planning accordingly. Lastly, you will also want to make sure the rest of your family and guests are on the same page. If you make everyone’s safety and comfort the top priority, your family can enjoy the occasion without worry.
Enjoy Your Family and The Holidays
Now that you have some tips on staying sober during the holidays, you can focus on the music, joy, and memories made in this season. When the bond and moments shared are prioritized it will be easy to avoid things taking a turn for the worse. For those early in recovery, it can naturally be a very challenging time. Ultimately if this is an issue your family cannot handle professional help can be extremely beneficial.
In the grand scheme of things, the more you can involve your family in the journey, the more success you will find. The road to recovery is full of ups and downs for the person in recovery and those they love, but it is a battle that will leave you and your family stronger than ever.
We can help your family navigate these new beginnings. Give us a call today at 405-583-4390 to speak with a capable professional. You and your family are not alone in this. Seek help today and let every holiday going forward be healthy, happy, and stress-free.
Written by Meccah Muhammed
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