Relapse Triggers During The Holiday Season

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As joyous as the holiday season is, it can be challenging for those recovering from addiction or substance abuse issues. Typically, holidays involve spending time with family, and discord, estrangement, or stress among relatives often triggers cravings or relapse among those in recovery. Identifying sources of stress and cravings can help you address and prevent relapse and addictive behaviors.

Some common relapse triggers during the holidays include:


Everyone gets the blues once in a while. During the holidays, the blues can come from issues with money, family, and even feelings of deprivation during the season of eggnog and cocktail parties. Treat yourself gently and kindly, as you would any loved one, and recognize that you may be feeling a little down; self-soothe with enjoyable leisure activities, a little pampering, and stay active in your recovery by attending self-help meetings or working on your relapse prevention plan.

Family strife.

If engaging with specific family members triggers your cravings, then you want to include some strategies to deal with this on your relapse prevention plan before holiday gatherings. Show up for functions rested, relaxed, and don’t be afraid to keep visits short. Don’t let casual comments or off-hand remarks impact your mood and impede your recovery.

Hectic schedules.

It is easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of holiday shopping, parties, and functions, and schedules can become hectic and harried. Take care of yourself above all else- eat well, get rest, and don’t over-commit or extend yourself. This should be a time of year to sit back and enjoy just being well.

Financial strains.

Perhaps the biggest stressor during the holidays is related to money. You can set yourself up for relapse if you beat yourself up about how much money you make, how much you spend, or how you will get everything that you want or need for holiday gift-giving. Take a nostalgic approach to the holidays; give handcrafted cards or gifts, and don’t try to go all out. By New Year’s, most people won’t remember what gift they received or who forgot to send a holiday card. Put the day in perspective.

Take time to take care of yourself- particularly during what should be a festive, joyful time. The best way to prepare for cravings brought on by the stress of the season is to have a firm and feasible relapse prevention plan in place. Write your plan down, and keep it handy.

Consider these suggestions when developing your plan:

  • Use clear, concise language in your written relapse prevention plan. List the precise things that you can do when you feel the urge to use- this might include calling a supportive friend, going for a run, taking a bath, or going to a support group meeting.
  • List resources that you could call if you are considering using; write down contact information for friends, family members, or others that you consider supportive of your recovery.
  • Add a list of things that you excel at, whether it is dancing, drawing, or being a good listener. This will help give positive affirmation when you are having a tough time.