Holidays and Addiction: Recovered or Not, Why It’s Important to Prepare

This year has been like a rollercoaster that many of us did not want to ride.  First was coronavirus, then a quarantine, and finally, a stressful election.

The coronavirus hit America like an unexpected wave with devastating consequences.  As a result, there were several quarantine orders in place that also had unforeseen consequences.  Just when it seemed like things were returning to some sense of normalcy, the cases soared to nearly 10 million nationwide.

The presidential election had many people wondering what was next for our country.  The New York Times reported that Biden promised to restore a spirit of unity.  Some may think that the government was already united under the current administration.  Regardless of your political views, the nation was on edge, waiting to see who won the presidency.

These recent events may have seemingly little to do with the holidays.  However, some family events feel daunting for many reasons.  Maybe you have the Norman Rockwell, picture-perfect family holidays, or perhaps not.  How, then, does one manage to maintain sobriety during holiday gatherings?

Preparing for Family Holiday Events

Preparation is vital if you want to stay sober during the holidays, or anytime, for that matter.  For example, SMART Recovery noted that those who achieve long-term sobriety have three common characteristics:

  1. A firm commitment to abstinence.
  2. Making lifestyle changes that support their commitment
  3. Planning and practicing for urges and drinking situations.

Perhaps you made the commitment and the lifestyle changes but have not prepared for situations that might involve drug use or drinking.  If you know ahead of time that drinking will be involved, you can practice different scenarios with a trusted friend.

Your family might not understand your choice of sobriety.  They might encourage you to imbibe for the holidays.  Knowing how you will handle your family regarding drinking can make the difference between a relapse and continued sobriety.

Setting Boundaries and Refusal Skills

Setting boundaries can be beneficial.  Try some of these simple refusal skills.

  1. Just say NO. Perhaps you are old enough to remember this slogan from the 80s.  If someone offers you a drink during the holidays, saying, "no, thank you" could remedy the situation.
  2. Rely on a friend. If you have a trusted person at your gathering, rely on them for support and strength.  Rehearse beforehand any signs or signals that you need added help.  If Uncle Joe is intoxicated and won't take "no" for an answer, your trusted person can rescue you.
  3. Laugh it off. If Uncle Joe doesn't take "no for an answer, respond by saying, "I don't want to be the one dancing on the tables, no thanks.  Sometimes a joke can ease the blow and might be less awkward.
  4. Have an escape plan. If you know you can only handle so much of Uncle Joe, plan for staying as long as you can manage and then leave.  Maybe you text your trusted person a coded message that indicates that it is time to go.
  5. Hold a cup. If you have a cup of soda or water, it appears that you are taken care of.  Party hosts want to do their best to ensure guests have a good time.  If you are offered alcohol, you can say, “I’m still working on this one, thank you.”

Considering Waiting Until After the Holidays to Get Treatment?

You might be thinking of waiting until after the holiday season to get help.  Don’t.  Maybe you have made excuses why you can’t seek help now.

  The U.S. Department of Transportation noted the following statistics:

  • 3,067 deaths from traffic accidents in 2016. 781 of those deaths were alcohol-related.
  • From 2012-2016, 14,472 lost their lives in a traffic crash during the month of December. 28% of those died in a drunk-driving crash.
  • During the Christmas to New Year’s period, over 5 years, over 300 people died annually from drunk-driving related accidents.

Over the holidays, the average American doubles the amount of alcohol they drink than during any other time.  Don't allow yourself to be one of these statistics or give in to alcohol myths.  One holiday season away from your loved ones is better than a lifetime apart.

Myths About Alcohol

Myth: Drinking caffeine can sober you up.

Fact: Caffeine might make you less drowsy, but it does not help with coordination and essential decision-making processes.  The body needs time to metabolize alcohol to return to normal.

Myth: Driving is ok as long as you are not slurring words or acting erratically.

Fact: Your coordination is affected well before you show any signs of intoxication.  You might also risk nodding off at the wheel because of sleepiness.

 Myth: Alcohol increases body temperature.  You do not need to wear a coat outside when it is cold and you have been drinking.

Fact: Alcohol widens the small blood vessels with warm blood, making you feel warm.  It can also cause you to feel flush or to perspire.  Actually, your body temperature drops because alcohol depresses the part of your brain that regulates temperature, and it can lead to hypothermia.

Know Your Triggers

While you cannot anticipate all of your potential relapse triggers, you can plan for some.  For instance, if you used to smoke weed with cousin Jenny and she will be there, you can make a plan to manage those cravings.

If you know there will be alcohol present, look at the refusal skills to plan for it.  Research shows that reacting to cues increased the brain's reward system.  In other words, viewing an advertisement, watching someone prepare a drink, and knowing that alcohol would be present increased the desire to drink.  You don’t have to give in to that craving.

Surround yourself with people who support your recovery.  Ask for help from your trusted family and friends.  Those who love you want to see you succeed. 

If you are struggling with addiction, contact The Ho tai Way – Recovery for Women.  Don’t wait until the holiday season is over.  Call our admissions team today.  714-581-3974.