The holiday season is bound to look quite a bit different this year. For one, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has made in-person gatherings risky, so many are choosing to celebrate with loved ones over video chat instead of at big family dinners. Second, many Americans are struggling with mental health due to the pandemic’s effects of isolation, uncertainty and financial stress.
It’s a perfect storm for stress, but sobriety’s added pressure can easily make things feel overwhelming for people in recovery. It’s possible to stay committed to your recovery during the holiday season, even in a difficult year like 2020. The best tip is to be prepared, so here’s what you should expect as a person in recovery during the holidays.
What To Expect for the Holidays in Active Recovery
Whether you’ve gotten sober independently or through the help of a rehab stay, active recovery requires ongoing support and maintenance. The holiday season can be riddled with many potential triggers — you may associate festive gatherings with alcohol or drug use. At events, there may be family members or friends who use substances around you. For some families, disagreements and other stressful situations are nearly inevitable. Outside of gatherings, there’s also the stress of gift-giving, budgeting, travel and other holiday-related activities.
The holidays can also bring loneliness — another big trigger. You may be staying home due to COVID-19 concerns, feeling nostalgic for past holidays or missing loved ones who have passed. Even your environment plays a factor, as wintery regions like Colorado can cause seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is depression caused by changes in daylight hours.
To avoid the risk of potential relapse, it’s important to have strategies in place. These may include:
- Having someone you can call when triggers or cravings become overwhelming
- Having an idea of what you might say if someone asks why you aren’t drinking or using drugs
- Making use of support groups, rehab alumni programs and aftercare services
- At events, making sure at least one person understands your situation and can help you to overcome difficult moments
- If you are recovering from drug use, avoid alcohol — it can decrease inhibitions and make you more likely to accept offers of drugs
- Having an exit plan to excuse yourself or leave the event entirely
If you know that an event will have alcohol or drugs, be sure that you can maintain self-control — in early sobriety, you may even need to decline attending altogether and plan a sober event for you and others who support you.
What To Expect If You’re in Treatment
The potential triggers remain the same for people in active addiction treatment. If you are in an inpatient setting, however, you likely have access to a wide range of services that can help you cope with difficult feelings through the holidays. You will have individual and group therapy, around-the-clock medical care and a routine that helps you maintain sobriety.
Still, it’s possible to feel lonely while at a rehab facility during the holidays. In these moments, it’s important to remind yourself why you are in treatment in the first place — becoming healthy for your loved ones is likely one of them. Work with staff to video chats or phone calls so you can still interact with people you may be missing. Remember you’re not alone: other people staying at the facility may feel the same and would appreciate the company.
Things can be a little trickier in outpatient treatment because you do not live onsite at a facility for an extended period. Many of the previous section’s situations and strategies still apply here, but in these cases, it may also be wise to rearrange a few things during the holidays. You may want to:
- See if you can schedule more frequent or more intensive therapy sessions
- Supplement outpatient care with on-demand teletherapy services or support group meetings
- Stay with someone you trust who can help hold you accountable for your sobriety
- Let members of your support group, such as friends and family, know that you may need their help during difficult times
- Let people know you will not attend events if there are substances involved
- Think of fun activities to keep yourself occupied. Tony Robbins has some great ideas that can help you get started.
How To Help Loved Ones in Treatment or Recovery During the Holidays
If your loved one is newly sober or currently in treatment, you can help them out by:
- Keeping in contact via phone or video chat
- Hosting substance-free holiday gatherings (to stay socially distant, try a group video chat over Zoom or a similar platform)
- Participating in socially distanced activities, such as going on walks or making snowmen
- Accommodating them during particularly stressful times
- Participating in family therapy
The holidays are already a stressful time of year, and 2020 has done all it can to add to the pile. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance use or a co-occurring mental health condition, The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake is here to help. With our telehealth services, you can receive addiction treatment and mental health support from the comfort of your own home. In addition, our helpful representatives are always happy to help you learn more about how our in-person treatment programs can work for your situation. Contact us today to learn more.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Coping with Stress.” December 9, 2020. Accessed December 10, 2020.
Kohli, Payal. “Sorting fact from fiction when it comes to Seasonal Affective Disorder.” 9News, February 17, 2020. Accessed December 10, 2020.
The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.