Can you have a holly jolly holiday when you’re recovering from an addiction? Start each day with a plan to stay sober when temptation abounds.
The holidays are a time to eat, drink, and be merry. But what if you’re a recovering addict? The season for cocktails, parties, and good times can be a tough one to navigate.
“The holidays are a stressful time, and many people find that using a substance is a way of coping with stress,” says Kate Rhine, a licensed clinical social worker and certified addiction counselor in Denver.
Ramped-up family time also can be emotional for many, especially those recovering from addiction, Rhine adds. For people without close family ties, loneliness may set in.
You don’t need alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs to make your holiday season festive, but you do need this go-to guide to stay clean:
“An alcoholic needs to wake up each morning thinking about how to stay sober that day,” says Peter R. Martin, MD, a professor of psychiatry and pharmacology and director of the Vanderbilt Addiction Center at the Vanderbilt Psychiatric Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee. “Once they have a plan, they should be fine for the rest of that day.” The key is staying focused on your goal of sobriety.
2. Evaluate Each Situation
Rank scenarios as low, medium, or high risk for you. In early recovery, spend more time in low-risk situations and avoid high-risk, Rhine says. If you’re further into recovery and will be in a situation that is medium- or high-risk, such as a party with an open bar, rely on your plan. Arrive early and duck out a bit early, she suggests. Drive yourself so that you can leave when you’re ready.
3. Bring the Party With You
Take along a food or safe drink that you enjoy. For instance, if champagne is a big temptation for you at a New Year’s soiree, bring a flavored, sparkling water to sip as the clock counts down.
4. Know Your Triggers
Addicts should know their triggers for relapse and how to manage them, Dr. Martin says. The most common triggers correspond to the acronym HALT — when you feel hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. Take care of yourself, mentally and physically, to ward off these triggers.
5. Don’t Forget to Eat
Low blood sugar can leave you anxious or irritable, Rhine says. This, in turn, can make you feel impulsive and tempted by substances. Have a nutritious meal or snack about every three hours.
6. Keep Stress Under Control
Many people turn to alcohol or illegal substances as a way to cope with stress. So when stress strikes, take a few minutes to decompress and meditate instead. Push away thoughts of substance use.
“Just because you have a thought doesn’t mean you have to act on it,” Rhine says. Also make time for regular exercise. “The urge to drink alcohol or use a drug often feels physical,” she explains, so giving your body something else to do can satisfy the craving.
7. Distract Yourself
Bring along a buddy who doesn’t drink, smoke, or use drugs to help you stay sober at social functions. Find an area far enough away from the bar, and strike up a conversation with someone. Offer to help your host so that you stay busy with little tasks.
8. Rehearse Responses
If you’re not ready to share the fact that you’re in recovery with your elderly aunt or a distant cousin at your family holiday dinner, use a discreet strategy for turning down alcoholic drinks or other substances: Create a script that you can use to decline off-limits offers.
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