Christmas time is here. Happiness and cheer. Fun for all that children call their favorite time of year.
Yet, for so many of our friends, neighbors, family, and co-workers the holidays are not necessarily “the most wonderful time of the year.” For someone recovering from addiction, the holidays can be an especially tough time of year. Various triggers, such as emotionally-charged memories and frequent opportunities to party, can put those in recovery at risk of relapse.
What if that person in recovery is you? If you are comfortable in your recovery and choose to attend holiday celebrations where alcohol is served, plan ahead by bringing your own favorite beverage. But if the presence of alcohol will cause you too much stress, it’s OK to politely decline the offer…your long-term recovery matters more than a party.
With guidance from my professional colleagues in the mental health field here at MHA, I found relevant insights from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (niaaa.nih.gov). According to the NIAAA, events that can precipitate relapse drinking for someone in recovery fall into three general categories:
- Exposure to small amounts of alcohol
- Exposure to alcohol-related cues or environmental contexts
When the occurrence or co-occurrence of these events gets magnified during the holidays, it can conjure up memories or instances that cause people to react. For example, certain sounds, smells and rituals can summon painful memories or damaging behaviors. So, too can the presence of certain people who only seem to be around this time of year.
We plan holiday celebrations to bring family and friends together for good times, right? So think ahead to ensure that all your guests can share in those good times. When making your plans for holiday get-togethers, keep these very simple things in mind:
- If you are serving beverages with alcohol, also have options available without alcohol, such as sparkling cider, fruit juices or soft drinks. Hosts already do this for underage guests, so simply include options that are suitable for adults.
- If you have any prescription medications, especially those for managing pain, put them safely away before guests arrive. Better yet, if they are no longer needed, safely discard them altogether.
- If you have a family member, friend or colleague in recovery, reach out and ask how they’re doing. Your show of support can help reduce the potential for isolation or relapse.
- Familiarize yourself with the many organizations offering extended support group hours, AA for one has “Alcathons” Christmas Eve from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Christmas day.
It’s important to understand that sobriety is not a place where someone in recovery arrives. It’s a journey that continues for their life. The holidays can be an especially difficult time of the year for people who are taking that lifelong journey. But you can be that person who helps someone in recovery stay sober this holiday season. You just need to care enough to reach out and offer your support.
Mark Jachym is an MHA Recovery Coach with lived experience who assists and supports others who are in recovery, or wanting to be in recovery. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org