Is Relapse More Common Over the Holidays?

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The holidays can be a stressful time. People tend to overextend themselves socially, physically and financially. You can find countless articles online on this very subject – some funny, some serious.

Holiday stress is a very real and very understandable thing. We can just imagine how stressful it can be for recovering addicts. A simple Christmas dinner can create severe anxiety. What questions will be asked? What happens if I’m offered a drink? Is it better to just stay home?

Before you can make any decisions for yourself or a loved one, it’s important to honestly assess the situation. Newly recovering addicts (those in their first 12 months of recovery) are most vulnerable to relapse. This doesn’t mean that relapse will occur. All it means is that the person is more at risk.

Drinking Rates Increase Over the Holidays

A study published in Psychology of Addictive Behaviors tracked young adult drinking for 52 weeks. The data was plotted on a graph to represent trends, and sure enough, there was one. According to the research, there was an increase in drinks taken on Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve. There was also a small increase right before Christmas.

Additionally, there is a significant increase in alcohol-related fatalities during the winter holidays. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that roughly 36 fatalities occur each day from drunk driving, and this number increases to 45 during Christmastime and 54 during New Year’s.  

Lowering the Risk of Relapse During December

With holiday-induced stress, people are more likely to indulge in alcohol. This creates more temptation for the people who are recovering from addiction. Not to mention, recovering addicts probably feel much of the same pressures – if not more – as their non-addicted counterparts.

Fortunately, addiction relapse does not have to happen. The holidays can be extra stressful, but they can also be remarkable. In fact, many recovering addicts admit that the holiday season was just the boost they needed to get through another month of recovery. Here are some ideas for managing holiday-related stress.

  • Maintain your same schedule. Disruptions in your schedule can throw everything off. Though some things may be out of your control (i.e., a therapist on vacation), keep things as normal as possible.

  • Attend your meetings. 12-step meetings never stop. Not only should you continue going to your meetings but also find a temporary replacement if you plan on traveling. You can find 12-step groups in every state.

  • Schedule sober activities. In the first 12 months of recovery, it’s encouraged not to attend any event where drugs or alcohol are present. You may feel confident in your recovery, but most addicts are not ready to face this temptation. Instead, focus on sober activities such as seeing a Christmas movie, baking cookies or going sledding.

  • Avoid stressors. Your recovery comes first. Period. Don’t worry about trying to please others. If a person, situation or event is causing you stress, remove yourself and practice one of your stress-busting exercises: yoga, meditation or deep breathing.

Knowing that the holidays are naturally more stressful and tempting, be extra diligent in caring for yourself or the one you love. Above all, put recovery first. Now that you are clean and sober, you have a lifetime of holidays to enjoy.