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The Stress of The Holiday Season

For many individuals, the end of the year brings about joy, endless festivities, and celebration! Decorations, sweets, family gatherings, parties, and gifts seem to be around every corner.

But for someone struggling with mental illness or substance abuse, the holiday season can be a much darker and more difficult time that’s full of triggers, stress, and pressure to use drugs or alcohol.

Wine, beer, and liquor have long been the center of parties, events, and even gifts around the holidays. Winding down at the end of the day with a glass of wine or indulging in a cup of eggnog may seem harmless. It’s just one glass! But if you think back to when you were deep into your addiction, one glass always turned into two, and then three, and so on and so forth, until you had lost yourself in your addiction.

Substance Abuse Around the Holidays

According to the Center for Disease Control, December is a dangerous time for those who struggle with substance abuse. Since 1999, over 90,000 people have been the victims of drug and alcohol-related deaths in the month of December alone.

Holiday season stress, depression, and anxiety can arise for a variety of reasons including finances, strained family relationships, loss, and loneliness. The CDC reports that about 29% of Americans drink more than normal or binge drunk during the holiday season, many of whom do so because of stress.

Drug abuse and overdoses also increase during the holiday season. Returning to your hometown, being around individuals you used to use with, stress, anxiety, depression, or pressure from family members and friends are all common triggers for individuals with a history of drug abuse.

Tips for Protecting Your Sobriety

Like many other situations in recovery, the holiday season can bring about a lot of stress.

Regardless of the circumstances surrounding your holiday season, it’s important to know how you’re going to cope with anything that life might throw at you, so that you can stay safe, sane, and sober.

Here are some ideas and tips for protecting the sobriety you have worked so hard to achieve:

Stay Consistent

You’ve heard it time and time again but I’m going to say it again: routine is extremely important in recovery and sobriety. Whether you’re going to family member’s home for the holidays or hosting people at your home, don’t compromise your daily routine just because of your company or environment.

If you go to a 12-step meeting every day, unapologetically go to your usual meeting. Your family can survive an hour without you and may even be inspired to go to their own Al-anon or Nar-anon meeting.

Surround Yourself with Positive People

The last thing you need during an already stressful holiday season is a group of people around you who don’t support the fact that you’re sober. The holidays often mean traveling back to your hometown or your parent’s house, and you may see people you used or drink or use with during your addiction. This doesn’t mean you have to engage with these people or places. Instead, surround yourself with a group of people that will support you as you work to maintain your sobriety. Putting yourself in situations like these may not seem like a big deal but could be what compromises your recovery. Better safe than sorry!

Don’t be Afraid to Say “NO” to Those You Love

Do you have certain places or situations that you know will be unhealthy, unhelpful, or triggering for you? Let your family and friends know that. If you need a minute to yourself to chill out or re-center, communicate that.

Remember that “No” is a complete sentence. Sharing your story or sobriety with someone is awesome, but you don’t owe anyone an explanation about why you’re not drinking.

Be Vulnerable About Your Recovery

You don’t owe anyone an explanation about why you’re not drinking. However, it can be helpful to let people around you know that you won’t be partaking in social drinking or drug use this holiday season. People may be surprised initially, but generally won’t question you. Who knows, you may even find other sober individuals!

BYONAB (Bring Your Own Non-Alcoholic Beverages)

If you’re attending a party or event, bring your own non-alcoholic beverage with you. Most events or parties will supply pop, coffee, or punch, but you can never be too careful. Keep a glass full of your favorite non-alcoholic beverage in your hand. If people see you have a drink in your hand already, they’re less likely to offer you one that maybe isn’t non-alcoholic.

Manage Your Stress in Healthy Ways

We’ve established that the holidays are stressful. In past years maybe you’ve relied on alcohol or drugs in order to cope with that stress, but what do you do now that you’re sober? Coping skills that aren’t self-destructive and don’t involve substance abuse are a crucial part of addiction recovery. Once you remove your main coping skill, your drug of choice, you must replace it with something. For some people that looks like a creative outlet such as art or music, for others it may look like exercise. Establishing healthy ways that you can care for yourself means that you can manage your stress in ways that will benefit you in the long run.

Be Aware of Your Triggers, and Try to Avoid Them

Family members getting drunk, wine on the dinner table, invitations to holiday parties, and seeing old friends you used to drink or do drugs with. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, these are some of the most encountered triggers around the holidays.

Set Boundaries

Boundaries and communication sit at the center of a healthy relationship. When it comes to addiction recovery, setting boundaries is extremely important, especially around the holidays. Let your family know that you won’t be engaging in drinking or using any type of drug while you’re with them, and that you’re living a sober life.

Don’t be afraid to speak up and voice your need for a specific boundary to be set. Maybe it’s asking that alcohol not be served at dinner, or that time be set aside for you to attend a twelve-step meeting. Whatever it may be, you are well within your right to set and maintain your boundaries.

Lean on Your Support System

People need other people. Regardless of who your support system is, remember that it’s okay to lean on them a little more than normal during the holiday season. If you know when you’re going to be in a potentially stressful or triggering situation, let them

know ahead of time, or ask them to check in on you. There’s nothing wrong with reaching out for help or support when you need it. It’s only human

Don’t Forget to Enjoy Yourself

There are a lot of situations around the holiday season that revolve around alcohol, but there are also a lot that don’t.

Try to make the most of the things around you that don’t involve drinking or using drugs. A fresh snowfall, time with your family or friends who live far away, a delicious feast, giving gifts, and annual traditions are all wonderful ways to enjoy the holidays.

You don’t have to be drinking or using drugs in order to be having a good time.