The holidays can be stressful. Between social obligations, costly gift-giving and complicated family relationships, many people end up feeling overwhelmed and burned out.1 However, the holiday season can be even more challenging if you’re in addiction recovery.

Without a strong support system and a solid relapse-prevention plan, cravings can intensify. In this article, we’ll discuss some reasons why the holidays are so difficult for people in addiction recovery and look at a few ways to survive the season without a relapse.

Understanding the Challenges

What makes the holidays such a challenging time for people in addiction recovery? A number of factors come into play. Many of the issues that make this time of year stressful for everyone—for example, tight finances or strained relationships—are issues that may have fueled substance abuse in the first place.

For people who find that the holidays bring feelings of loneliness and isolation, the temptation to drink or use again can be especially strong. In addition, the holiday season usually comes with a number of invitations to parties and gatherings; it can be difficult to stay focused on recovery when you’re surrounded by drinking or drug use.

Identifying the Risks to Your Addiction Recovery

In order to figure out the best coping strategies to get through the holidays, it’s important to identify which aspects of the season are the most challenging for you. If loneliness is an issue, make a real effort to fill your holidays with plans. Accept that friend’s invitation to join them for dinner on Christmas Eve, or sign up to help serve Christmas dinner at a local soup kitchen.

If parties trigger cravings for you, be choosy about which invitations you accept this year. There is no upside to jeopardizing your addiction recovery efforts by putting yourself in high-risk situations.

Surviving the Holidays

Identifying the biggest risks to your sobriety and being prepared for those situations will go a long way toward helping you make it through the holiday season. However, a few other self-care strategies can also help make the holidays easier:

  • Get enough sleep: When you’re tired, you might tend to do whatever seems easiest at the time. It can be difficult to stay strong and fight cravings when your body and mind are fatigued. Be sure to get enough rest and resist the temptation to burn the candle at both ends.2
  • Always have a back-up plan: You’re all set to leave a party, and someone asks you to stick around a little longer. Make sure you have something important that needs to get done—maybe you need to run an errand before the store closes, or you need to pick up the kids from the babysitter. Don’t let anyone convince you to stay at an event when you’re ready to leave; you don’t need to put your recovery at risk just to be polite.
  • Nurture your spirit: During all the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, it’s easy to neglect your spiritual needs. Stay balanced by making time to feed your spirit. For some people, this may involve going to church or synagogue; others may find that spending time in nature or doing yoga does the trick.

Overcoming holiday stress and dealing with temptation isn’t easy, but it’s possible to survive the holiday season without derailing your recovery. Being aware of your personal triggers and developing effective coping strategies for the holidays can help the season go smoothly. With a solid game plan in place, you can enjoy a memorable holiday with family and friends while keeping your recovery efforts strong.