The holiday season can be a joyous time. But it can also be a very stressful time, particularly for people in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction.
Many people celebrate the holidays with alcohol. If you’re sober, this can feel isolating and may bring up feelings of stress, frustration, and sadness.
Millions of Americans live with some form of drug or alcohol addiction, and many are in recovery. You’re not alone.
Maintaining sobriety during the holidays, and sticking to your treatment plan, is possible.
Here you’ll find information on:
- common triggers and causes of relapse during the holidays
- holidays that tend to be tough for people in recovery
- tips for preventing relapse
- what to do if you’ve relapsed
- support and treatment resources
What Are Common Triggers During The Holidays?
It’s common for people who are in addiction recovery to feel heightened anxiety regarding their sobriety around the holidays.
The holiday season can bring with it emotional triggers, anxiety around socializing, and other seasonal stressors that may present a challenge when it comes to staying on track in your recovery.
However, being aware of common triggers this time of year can help people prepare for them and avoid a relapse.
Many of the biggest holidays in the U.S. — Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve — take place relatively close together, bringing people together often to celebrate.
Holiday parties often include alcohol and can be tricky to navigate for people who are in any stage of the recovery process.
Drinking, or using drugs, can be a pastime that’s taken for granted among friends and family. But it can alienate people who are sober, and that sense of isolation can become another trigger.
The holidays aren’t just about celebrating — they’re also often about giving gifts. Financial strain is a common stressor during the holidays.
The stress of finding the perfect gift, or budgeting for gifts, can be a trigger for people in recovery, as stress in general is a common relapse trigger.
People in early recovery who have spent a lot of time in treatment recently may be especially burdened by financial issues this time of year, causing added stress.
‘The Holiday Blues’
Dealing with “the holiday blues” or seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is thought to be caused by the less available light and shorter days this time of year, can also add to holiday challenges.
For people with substance use and co-occurring mental health disorders, such as addiction and depression, drinking or drug use may have been a way to self-medicate.
With treatment, people learn how to manage co-occurring disorders without the use of addictive substances.
However, not everyone who experiences sadness or depression has a mental health condition, and these feelings can act as a trigger.
Anxiety during the holidays is common. As with depression, anxiety is linked to addiction, making feelings of anxiety triggering for many people in recovery.
Common sources of anxiety during the holidays include:
- being around unsupportive family members
- buying gifts
- changes in diet or exercise
- party planning
- working more or less
- taking care of children
- navigating sobriety during a busy time of year
- being around alcohol
- meeting new people
- changes in counseling/treatment availability
Stress is a common trigger for relapse not just during the holidays, but at any point in the recovery process from alcohol or drug addiction.
However, many people experience more stress during the holiday season, making this trigger more pertinent this time of year.
Common forms of stress during the holidays include:
- financial stress
- emotional stress
- travel stress
- relationship stress
- work-related stress
- pressure to be joyful
Not everyone has a family or friends to be with during the holidays, a time of year when particular focus is put on socializing and spending time with loved ones. This can lead to feelings of loneliness.
Some people drink or use drugs when they’re lonely or sad. Addiction is also often a lonely and isolating disease.
Feelings of loneliness can be triggering for people in recovery, even if they have a solid social support system.
For many people, including those in recovery, the holidays stir up difficult memories.
- the death of a loved one
- family arguments or stress
- times of intoxication during the holidays
Whether you are a survivor of trauma or are struggling to come to terms with a bad experience and are in addiction recovery, it is not uncommon to feel urges to drink or use drugs if the holidays bring up difficult emotions.
Which Holidays Are Tough For People In Recovery?
Although the holiday season is known as a particularly difficult time for people in recovery, other holidays can also be just as triggering.
The Fourth Of July
In the United States, the Fourth of July is often a day of celebration, with fireworks, barbecues, and getting together with friends or family.
But these celebrations also often include drinking, making them sometimes difficult to enjoy for people in recovery.
If you’re new to sobriety, read more about how to stay sober for the Fourth of July.
Halloween isn’t just for the kids. It is also a fun night for many adults, who may celebrate by throwing a party that involves drinking alcohol or using drugs.
People new to recovery have many options for a fun, spooky Halloween.
Learn more about how to stay sober during Halloween.
Thanksgiving is known for being a holiday that features a lot of food, as well as drinking for those who don’t abstain from alcohol.
If you are in recovery, especially if you’re newly sober, this might be difficult to be around.
Read about how to stay sober during Thanksgiving.
The winter holidays can be difficult if you are new to sobriety, or if you tend to have a more difficult time with mental health during the winter months.
Winter holidays like Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and New Year’s Eve may involve stress, which for people in recovery, can be a trigger.
They also might involve drinking, which people in recovery from alcohol addiction often find to be another trigger.
Behavioral Addictions And The Holidays
Staying sober from drugs and alcohol during the holidays, for some, is only half the battle for staying grounded and secure in recovery.
Behavioral addictions, such as gambling addiction and shopping addiction, can also be triggered during the holiday season and frequently co-occur with drug and alcohol use issues.
Being aware of your triggers, and making a plan to combat or respond to urges in the moment, can help you prepare to face these challenges head-on.
Addiction Relapse Prevention Tips For The Holidays
Making it through the holidays without slipping back into destructive drug or drinking habits is possible.
Here are some relapse prevention tips and self-care ideas for the holiday season, or any time.
Connect With A Mentor Before The Holidays
If you are dreading the upcoming holiday or holiday season, being proactive can help.
Take the time to connect with a mentor or recovery coach. Or you can connect with a trusted friend or family member who has supported you throughout your recovery journey.
Tell them how you are feeling about the upcoming holiday and ask if you can call them if you feel in danger of relapsing.
Preparation is a key strategy for relapse prevention. Instead of dreading the onset of a holiday, spend the time planning, thinking through possible outcomes, and what to do in response.
During the holidays, this planning process might include making plans for:
- attending parties
- approaching conversations with family
- handling triggers
- continuing treatment
- knowing what to do if you relapse
Writing down your plans ahead of time can give you a roadmap for what to do when and if you encounter specific situations.
This can be helpful in times of stress, where you may find yourself struggling to think clearly or rationally about how to cope with urges to drink alcohol or use drugs.
Find Sober Activities
There are many activities to enjoy during the holidays that do not involve drugs or alcohol.
Some examples include:
- ice skating
- going on walks
- going to the movies
- going to a concert
- painting or other crafts
- reading a book
- visiting a tree farm (e.g., for a Christmas tree)
- hosting a game night
- baking/cooking for the holidays
- going on a holiday lights tour
There are plenty of sober holiday traditions that you and your loved ones can create together to strengthen your recovery.
Connect With Others
Isolation and loneliness can be major triggers for relapse, especially during the holidays.
One of the ways you can keep yourself on the right track is by forging or leaning on meaningful connections you have with loved ones in your life.
Spend time with people who you feel comfortable around, people who lift you up instead of bringing you down. Remind yourself that you are deserving of this connection — deserving of kindness, love, and happiness.
Identify And Avoid Personal Triggers
One of the best strategies for preventing a relapse is to identify your triggers and come up with strategies for either managing or avoiding those personal triggers when possible.
Triggers might include certain:
- topics of discussion
Some triggers can be more general, like being at a bar, while others can be very personal to your own experience, such as being with someone you used to drink heavily with.
Ignoring triggers leaves you more susceptible to their influence in recovery, and allows them to maintain power over you.
On the other hand, identifying your triggers and strategies to manage them puts that power back in your hands.
Stress-reduction techniques provide a simple, yet essential strategy for helping to prevent relapse in addiction recovery, especially during a busy or stressful holiday season.
Reduce stress by practicing the following:
- engaging in activities you enjoy
- knowing and sticking to your limits
- being OK with saying “no”
- attending recovery support groups
- taking time to relax and decompress
Many people have activities or interests that help keep them balanced. During times of stress, it can be helpful to embrace them.
Eat A Balanced Diet
Eating well is one of the most basic and important aspects of self-care.
Knowing which foods and food groups support your mood and give you energy is crucial to navigating the holidays, when people typically go heavy on sweets, carbs, or saturated fats.
Develop A Bedtime Routine
Before your holiday schedule becomes packed with parties, get-togethers, family dinners, and more, commit to getting regular sleep.
Have a bedtime routine that allows you enough time to process what happened during the day. Maybe you need a few minutes to meditate before going to bed. Make that part of your routine.
Turn off the TV, turn down the lights, read a book, or drink a cup of calming noncaffeinated tea. All these things can be part of a healthy bedtime routine.
What Are Signs Of Addiction Relapse?
Addiction relapse may be identifiable by physical signs of substance use, changes in behavior, or other cognitive or emotional symptoms of intoxication.
Early signs of a relapse or slip may be identified by family members, friends, or other loved ones, such as a spouse.
Learn more about signs and symptoms for:
What Happens If You Relapse During The Holidays?
Relapse among people with substance use disorder is not uncommon.
An estimated 40% to 60% of people who receive treatment for substance abuse experience relapse at some point. What’s most important in the event of a relapse is how you respond to it.
Talk To Someone
If you have had a slip, or a series of slips, over the holidays, the most important thing you can do is talk to someone about it.
Don’t keep it inside. Secrecy is how addiction thrives. Telling someone is a useful way that you can hold yourself accountable for acknowledging your slip and getting back on track.
Tips for how to go about doing this include:
- finding someone you can trust to open up to (e.g., a family member, trusted friend, or recovery mentor)
- being clear and honest
- reaching out as soon as possible
- finding a private, quiet place to speak
- being honest about how you’re feeling afterward
Get Help Sooner Rather Than Later
Don’t put off seeking help for a relapse.
If you have had one slip, or especially if you’ve had multiple slips, it’s important to recognize not only that this happened, but that you don’t have to face it alone.
If you’ve slipped more than once, this might be a sign you need additional support, such as more frequent counseling sessions or an intensive outpatient program.
You might consider:
- looking into an aftercare program
- revising your outpatient treatment plan
- consulting your doctor for treatment recommendations
Find A Support Group
Consider looking for additional support during the holidays through a recovery support group, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA).
The communal aspect of addiction support groups can offer comfort during the holidays, especially after a relapse, when you may not be feeling your best.
Just being around people who have gone through similar experiences, and finding a distraction away from drugs or alcohol, can offer the opportunity to ground yourself and your commitment to recovery.
Relapse is not uncommon. It’s also not something to be ashamed of. If you’ve had a slip, or have relapsed over the holidays, be kind to yourself.
Acknowledge that it happened. And forgive yourself. Recovery is a process of progress, not perfection. Let this be an opportunity to grow and make better choices next time.
This is a moment to build yourself up, not tear yourself down.
Resources For Staying Sober During The Holidays
Don’t worry about facing this holiday season in recovery alone.
If you’re looking for resources and tools to help you stay on track in your recovery during the holidays, AddictionResource.net has got you covered.
Tips And Self-Help Guides
Here are some articles and self-help guides for navigating addiction recovery:
- How to Manage Your First Halloween Sober
- How I’ll Forgive Myself If I Slip Up This Holiday Season
- 10 Tips for Staying Sober During The Holidays
- Beat Back the Holiday Blues
- 4 Ways to Be More Considerate of Sober People During the Holidays
Having A Fun Sober Holiday
Here are some guides and resources for hosting a fun, sober get-together with friends or family for the holidays:
- 10 Halloween Mocktails Perfect For Any Halloween Party
- 5 Top Tips to Help You Enjoy Your Holiday Alcohol-Free
- A Sober Holiday Season Doesn’t Have to Be Boring
- How to Decline a Holiday Cocktail
Support Helplines And Chats For Addiction Recovery
Local and state resources for substance abuse and addiction can vary according to where you live.
Here are some drug and alcohol abuse hotlines and other national resources for people who are experiencing a mental health crisis or other emergency:
- 911: If you’re experiencing a medical or mental health emergency, call 911 for immediate assistance in your local area.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call 1-800-273-8255 (toll-free)
- Crisis Text Line: Text “MHA” to 741741
- SAMHSA National Helpline: Call 1-800-662-HELP (4357) and TTY 1-800-487-4889
- National Domestic Violence Hotline: Call 1-800-799-7233 or text “LOVEIS” to 22522
- Veterans Crisis Line (National): 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text: 8388255
- Teen Line: 1-800-852-8336 or text “TEEN” to 839863
Finding Support Groups And Online Forums
Finding support after a relapse, or during times of struggle during the holidays, can be crucial. Support groups may be offered virtually or in person.
Some peer support options include:
- Alcoholics Anonymous (AA): Find Alcohol Recovery Support Groups (AA)
- Narcotics Anonymous (NA): Find Narcotics Recovery Support Groups (NA)
- Reddit: The Redditors In Recovery online forum
- SMART Recovery: Online community forum
- Sober Recovery: Online Sober Recovery forum
- In The Rooms: Community meetings and resources
- She Recovers Foundation: Recovery-focused gatherings and self-help groups for women (including trans women) and non-binary individuals
- Sober Black Girls Club: Support Group Meetings
- The Phoenix: A cost-free national sober active community
Find Addiction Treatment During The Holidays
If you or a loved one are overcoming a relapse or facing addiction for the first time, you can find treatment today. Call us to learn more about your treatment options and how to start your recovery journey.
Addiction Resource aims to provide only the most current, accurate information in regards to addiction and addiction treatment, which means we only reference the most credible sources available.
These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) — Recognizing Holiday Triggers of Trauma
- U.S National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) — Treatment and Recovery
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: NCBI — Addiction Relapse Prevention StatPearls