Heroin Archives - Hader Clinic Queensland

Ten Ways to Avoid Social Triggers

Maintaining friendships and taking part in social gatherings – be it family functions, work events or the classic Australian backyard barbeque – is an important part of recovery.

However, it can also be one of the most complex aspects, as these occasions can be highly triggering for those recovering from substance use disorders.

Consider the following strategies to enjoy socialising without jeopardising your recovery process.

BYO

Bringing your own beverages to a gathering is a safeguard against well-meaning offers of alcohol or being cornered in an environment where no alcohol-free options are available.

Clear Boundaries

You are perfectly within your rights to let people know that, while you are happy attending the get-together, you will not be partaking in alcohol and/or drugs and would like your hosts and other guests to respect and support this choice.

Buddy Up

If you’re not comfortable announcing your recovery status to the entire party, choose a trusted friend or family member as your moral support. If anyone offers you alcohol and/or drugs or tries to pry into your motives for abstaining, your buddy can provide distraction or simply whisk you away.

Escape Routes

If you suspect that certain parties at a gathering could compromise your recovery, plan your escape. Set an alarm on your phone and claim a work or family emergency for a quick exit.

Communicate

It is unlikely that your loved ones will give you a hard time for abstaining from alcohol and/or drugs; but open communication is always a good idea. If you are comfortable talking about your recovery journey, your loved ones will gather valuable insights and be able to support you more effectively.

Be Selective

There is no need to attend every get-together you’re invited to. To avoid getting overwhelmed choose your social events wisely and save your energy for occasions you are genuinely excited about.

Compare Notes

If you are feeling anxious about a social event, have a chat with your support group, mentors, or fellow recovering addicts. Knowing you are not alone with your feelings can be tremendously helpful – as can exchanging coping strategies.

Realistic Expectations

Truthfully, the first attempts at socialising during active recovery can be challenging and awkward – and that is perfectly normal. Learning to socialise without alcohol and/or drugs takes practise and does get easier over time.

Debrief

Scheduling a call or coffee with a supportive friend or fellow recovering addict to recap your experience of a social event can be very helpful in identifying particularly potent triggers and reinforcing your recovery momentum.

Trust Your Gut

If you’re have a bad feeling about a gathering, don’t go. If you feel like leaving half an hour into a celebration, do it. If, to your surprise, you find yourself having a great time and would like to stay longer than planned – fantastic! Treat yourself kindly and trust your recovery instincts.

Christmas Addiction Triggers and How to Manage Them

Christmas. It’s the most wonderful time of the year…unless you are a recovering addict staring down the barrel of a month-long, no-holds-barred partying nightmare.

According to statistics from the Australian Alcohol and Drug Foundation (AADF), alcohol and/or substance-related incidents tend to spike dramatically throughout the festive season, including a 50% increase in ambulance attendance for intoxication. Add the social complexities of family get-togethers and work functions – or, in some cases, the lack thereof – and it’s no wonder that many recovering addicts view the month of December as an absolute minefield.

To make it through Christmas unscathed, it’s important to be aware of the most common triggers lying in wait and put strategies in place to avoid relapse. Some of the biggest challenges recovering addicts face during the silly season include:

Social Pressures

Yes, social drinking and/or substance use is bound to ramp up wherever you turn during the Christmas season; however, there are also other, more subtle stress factors at work. You may feel pressure to buy gifts for friends and family that you can’t really afford. You may worry about being labelled as rude for declining invitations to events that you deem too triggering. You may be about to see friends/family/colleagues for the first time since starting your recovery journey and have conflicting feelings about this.

Family and/or Friendship Dynamics

Theoretically, spending quality time with friends and family should be one of the best things about the festive season. In practice, it can be one of the most confronting aspects, especially when you’re in the middle of your recovery journey. There may be unresolved conflict that originates from your days of active addiction. It may be the first time socialising since you gave up drugs and/or alcohol, which can be a source of awkwardness, as some people may not know whether and/or how to approach the subject.

Loneliness

For some recovering addicts, Christmas can be a very lonely time – and loneliness is as powerful a trigger as social overstimulation. If you are not seeing family and/or old friends, whatever the reasons may be, you may experience a range of negative feelings that are counterproductive to your recovery.

However, it’s not all coal in this year’s stocking; with proper planning and consideration, you can minimise the impact of Christmas triggers and find the yuletide cheer without compromising your recovery.

Embracing “No”

This Christmas, give yourself the gift of saying “No” (or, if you feel some seasonal politeness is in order, “No, thank you”). You are allowed to decline offers of alcohol and/or drugs. You are allowed to decline invitations to events that you feel will be too hard to handle. You are even allowed to do so without explaining your motivations; although there is no harm in simply letting people know that you are in addiction recovery and need to look out for potentially harmful scenarios.

Allies Assemble

Everything is easier with a buddy. Trusted family members and/or friends make for excellent support systems during social gatherings. Having just one person in the room who knows what you are going through and can back you up if an uncomfortable situation arises can make all the difference. The same goes for recovering addicts who face a Christmas season without social gatherings; having a mentor/friend/counsellor you can call or meet up with to alleviate loneliness and maintain focus can be invaluable.

Self-Care First

Keeping up healthy habits during the Christmas season is enormously helpful. Eating well, hydrating in the scorching Australian summer, being active, taking time for mindfulness practice and – naturally – keeping up with your recovery program (be it AA/NA meetings or counselling sessions) are essential factors to ensure your wellbeing. Set yourself daily self-care goals and kick them – the effects will be self-evident.

Guerilla Tactics

Let’s be real: There’s always one (or more) friend/family member who is going to be difficult. That uncle insisting you have just one beer with him, that mate who bemoans the fact that you’re no longer cool…and sometimes there’s no avoiding seeing these people. If this happens, it’s time to go rogue. Bring your own non-alcoholic beverages to the party. Set a phone alarm to simulate a phone call and stage an early exit if necessary. Agree on a signal with your party buddy so they can step in and rescue you. Whatever works to keep your recovery going, now’s the time to do it.

Why Christmas is a Good Time to Seek Treatment

On the surface, Christmas may seem an unlikely time to seek treatment for drug and/or alcohol addiction. It’s a time to celebrate and spend with your loved ones. A time to make merry. However, therein lies the problem.

If you feel like your alcohol and/or substance use has spiralled out of control and will cause you and your loved ones anguish this Christmas, know help is available and there are some very good reasons to seek professional assistance this holiday.

It’s the Best Gift for your Loved Ones

You may think that your loved ones would hold it against you if you ‘disappeared’ into rehab during the Christmas season, but this is very unlikely. True, they may miss you and wish you could be with them, but starting your recovery journey is the best gift you could possibly give them. Reclaiming your life – and all the Christmases to come – will make every moment you spend with your loved ones better, simply because the real you will be present.

Christmas is Risky

Christmas can exacerbate substance misuse, after all, everyone is overindulging during the holidays; and it can have devastating consequences for you and your loved ones. Arguments, unsafe behaviour, embarrassing displays of simply being out of control – none of this says Christmas cheer, yet all of it is likely to occur when you mix addiction and the holiday season. By recognising your substance misuse and seeking help, you can pretty much guarantee you won’t impact Christmas negatively.

New Year, New Start

Entering rehab during the Christmas period means you can start the new year as a recovering addict rather than in active addiction. It may seem a little corny, but it also represents a fresh start in the truest sense of the word. Also, the thought of celebrating one year free from alcohol and/or drugs next Christmas can be a poetic and powerful prospect to see you through the rough patches of recovery.

It Gives your Loved Ones Time to Adjust

The kids are off school, most adults have some time off work…the Christmas period is not a bad time for your loved ones to come to terms with the effects of your addiction and the ins and outs of supporting you in your recovery. Remember, your loved ones are also going to need professional support and will need plenty of time to reflect – the holiday season can provide a very useful opportunity to do just that.

It is the Best Gift for You

If you are considering addiction treatment, give yourself the gift of taking the plunge this holiday season. Christmas is about love, kindness, forgiveness and giving…so giving yourself the chance to live a joyous, contended life free from addiction is the definition of the Christmas spirit.

Fears in Recovery

The fears in recovery can be overwhelming for individuals seeking help with addiction.

From the fear of withdrawal symptoms to the fear of relapse, these concerns can hinder the progress of recovery. However, there are effective strategies to overcome these fears and achieve long-term sobriety.

Explore the top 10 fears in recovery and learn about proven ways to beat them.

Top 10 Fears in Recovery:

  1. Fear of withdrawal symptoms: Intense physical and psychological discomfort during detoxification.
  2. Fear of judgment: Stigmatisation or labelling as a “drug addict” by friends, family, or society.
  3. Fear of failure: Concerns about successfully completing the rehabilitation program and maintaining sobriety.
  4. Fear of change: Intimidation towards making significant lifestyle, routine, and social circle adjustments.
  5. Fear of losing control: Anxiety about surrendering control to a treatment program or therapist.
  6. Fear of facing emotions: Frightening and uncomfortable feelings associated with confronting and working through emotional issues.
  7. Fear of the unknown: Anxiety and uncertainty due to unfamiliar environments, therapies, and routines.
  8. Fear of isolation: Apprehension about being away from friends, family, and support networks.
  9. Fear of addressing underlying issues: Overwhelming emotions linked to facing deeper underlying issues like trauma or mental health disorders.
  10. Fear of relapse: Anxiety and uncertainty about the possibility of returning to old habits and facing the consequences.

Ways to Beat the Fears

The good news is that any fears you may experience once you are in recovery are completely normal.

Here are 10 proven coping strategies to help you overcome these fears  and enhance your overall recovery experience:

  • Taking it one day at a time: Focus on the present moment to alleviate anxiety.
  • Connecting with recovered addicts: Find inspiration and perspective through group therapy sessions and support meetings.
  • Communicating your fear: Share fears with counsellors, therapists, and the recovery community to release their power.
  • Reaching out to family and loved ones: Seek open communication and family support to overcome feelings of failure.
  • Taking a leap of faith: Embrace the safe environment provided by trained professionals for psychological recovery.
  • Giving yourself permission to be vulnerable: Allow honesty and vulnerability as part of the healing process.
  • Engaging with the program: Trust the process and professionals to regain a sense of control.
  • Trusting: Believe in the decision to seek help and have faith in the staff’s expertise.
  • Fine-tuning your support system: Maintain connections with support groups, counsellors, sponsors, and mentors for ongoing assistance.
  • Accepting the possibility of relapse: Understand that relapse does not equate to failure and access support to get back on track.

By acknowledging and addressing these fears, individuals in recovery can overcome them and find the support needed to achieve successful recovery.

Hader Clinic Queensland’s residential rehabilitation program offers comprehensive assistance and guidance throughout the recovery journey, providing the tools and support necessary to conquer these fears and thrive in recovery.

How Long Does Heroin Withdrawal Last?

When it comes to heroin addiction treatment, and specifically withdrawal, it is important to separate acute withdrawal symptoms from post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS).

Acute withdrawal symptoms occur immediately after cessation of heroin use and commonly last between five and seven days; post-acute withdrawal syndrome, however, can last for weeks or even months after a person has stopped using.

Acute Withdrawal Symptoms

Habitual heroin users are likely to experience a range of intense symptoms when they stop using. Heroin dependency affects a user physically and mentally; so, withholding the drug will lead to mental and physical discomfort.

Common heroin withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Cravings
  • Insomnia
  • Aches
  • Diarrhoea
  • Mood swings
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Excessive body fluids (tears, sweat, phlegm)
  • Restlessness

These symptoms commonly begin about 6-12 hours after the last dose of heroin and can be expected to peak within the first three days of withdrawal. Typically, the symptoms begin to subside slowly after five to seven days of abstinence.

When quitting heroin, it is vitally important to seek medical support to assist with the acute withdrawal symptoms, which can be intimidatingly severe. In extreme cases, persons going through heroin withdrawal will experience hallucinations and feelings of terror; which means they may pose a danger to themselves and/or others if left unsupervised.

It is also essential to stay hydrated and nourish the body as it goes through withdrawal, which can be an overwhelming task when experiencing symptoms.

Medically assisted withdrawal guarantees a safe environment and may ease the pains of withdrawal considerably without putting the recovering addict at risk of misusing alternative medications. It also offers invaluable support in moments when the process seems too daunting and the cravings become overwhelming. Although a week of withdrawal may not sound like a long time, once in the thick of it, a person attempting to quit heroin will need all the support they can get.

Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)

Post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) is a condition that may set in after the initial phase of withdrawal has subsided. PAWS is not limited to recovering heroin users, it is associated with the cessation of a number of drugs, and there is no clear indicator as to why some users are susceptible to PAWS while others manage to avoid it.

The symptoms of PAWS largely impact a recovering addict’s mental health and include:

  • Depression, sadness and anxiety
  • Irritability, aggression and hostility
  • Mood swings bordering on manic behaviour
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Feeling restless
  • Lack of energy
  • Inability to focus
  • Loss of sex drive

However, some persons affected by PAWS may also experience chronic pains (i.e. joint pain, back pain, and headaches).

Unfortunately, there is no clear timeline for PAWS; it can last a few weeks post-acute withdrawal or stay with a recovering user for months.

However, there are many ways to assist a person in coping with the effect of PAWS; including cognitive behavioural therapy and medication. As with acute withdrawal, PAWS will be much easier to manage if a person is properly supported by medical and mental health professionals.

If you or a loved one need help to cope with heroin withdrawal and/or PAWS, do not hesitate to reach out. The Hader Clinic Queensland has a dedicated team of professionals who are ready to help you in any way they can.

Health Effects of Heroin

Heroin (Diacetylmorphine) is a semi-synthetic opiate drug, made by chemically altering morphine. As with all man-made or chemically altered drugs, it is impossible to know for certain which substances have been added; which means there might be unforeseen side effects due to especially harmful additives. It also makes it difficult to determine the strength of any given batch of heroin, which can increase the risk of overdose.

What are the physical health effects of heroin?

Immediate Risks

Heroin is essentially a strong sedative, meaning that it initially gives the user a feeling of deep relaxation and peace as the drug acts as a suppressant on the central nervous system. After injecting heroin, many users experience extreme drowsiness and will often drift in and out of consciousness until the immediate effects of the drug wear off. One of the biggest risks of using heroin, even as a casual user, is that too strong a dose can suppress the body’s reflex to breathe to the point of respiratory failure.

New heroin users often experience nausea and vomiting, which brings with it the risk of choking on their vomit while they are incapacitated. This risk is not limited to new users; habitual heroin users are always in danger of misjudging the potency of their dose, which may leave them vomiting while unconscious.

Long-Term Risks

As heroin is most commonly used intravenously, many long-term health risks for heroin users are tied to a lack of sterile equipment and unsanitary conditions when injecting heroin. Common side effects of injecting heroin when not using sterile techniques include:

  • Skin infections and abscesses surrounding the injection site
  • Collapsed veins
  • Pulmonary complications
  • Infection of the heart lining and valves
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease (i.e. Hepatitis C)

Intravenous heroin users in the habit of sharing needles are also at a greater risk to contract blood-bound diseases, such as HIV/Aids.

Other – comparatively lesser – side effects of habitual heroin use are stomach cramps, chronic constipation and greater susceptibility to respiratory diseases, such as pneumonia.

What are the Mental Health Effects of Heroin?

Heroin is highly addictive, largely due to the extreme discomfort of the ‘come-down’ which leads to intense cravings and creates the illusion that the body and mind require another dose of the drug in order to function properly. Habitual heroin users no longer inject heroin to achieve the effects of relaxation and euphoria; they have to keep using in order to feel ‘normal’.

Heroin users often experience feelings of depression, anxiety and hopelessness; especially since heroin addiction has the potential to permeate every aspect of a person’s life. Maintaining a heroin addiction can lead to financial hardship, relationship breakdowns and homelessness. Heroin addicts are prone to suicidal ideation and can become hostile when challenged by loved ones regarding their behaviour.

If you or a loved one are struggling with heroin addiction, please don’t hesitate to reach out. The team at The Hader Clinic Queensland are here to answer your questions, give advice and help you on your journey to reclaim your life through heroin addiction treatment.

Seven Signs of Addiction

This article reviews the signs of addiction and explores how those dealing with substance abuse are often the last to realise their use is spiralling.

Recently, the team at Hader Clinic Queensland received a first-hand account of addiction by a client we’ll call ‘Holly’.

Holly writes:

“Being an addict and using, my world felt so alone and isolated. I didn’t think it would end up like this when I started smoking weed at 16. Eventually, I progressed onto other drugs and hit a crossroads with my ice use. I felt so worthless, so disgusting, of what I did from those years on ice. I don’t even know who that person was. I thought I was cool. I thought I was this criminal. I thought, this is my life now, I’m just a junkie”.

For someone without knowledge of addiction, this may seem shocking; but for people suffering from substance abuse disorders, it’s very relatable.

What is addiction?

When it comes to addiction to drugs and/or alcohol opinions on determining factors tend to vary. Genetics, predispositions, environments, circumstances…there are simply too many underlying causes for addiction to apply a one-size-fits-all approach.

Although alcohol addiction has been considered a disease since the 1920s, the idea that addiction is a choice is still prevalent today. While addiction treatment has come a long way in the past century, the stigma of addiction to drugs and/or alcohol still prevents many sufferers from seeking help – and keeps loved ones of addicts engaged in enabling behaviours to cover up the shame of having a family member with a substance abuse disorder.

It is time to radically shift our perspective when talking about addiction. Modern neuroscience has proven beyond a doubt that drugs and/or alcohol have the power to change the structure of our brains to re-wire regular users into compulsive and destructive behaviours. Unfortunately, as this is a slow process, it often goes unnoticed by the budding addicts themselves; which makes it all the more important to be aware of the warning signs of addiction.

#1 – Increased Tolerance

The myth of the ‘gateway drug’ still runs deep, but the truth is that the spectrum of addiction is far too broad to conform to this idea. Not every person who smokes a joint in high school is on the road to heroin addiction. Some people remain casual drinkers and/or drug users for a lifetime.

Instead of focusing our attention on the types of drugs used, we should rather pay attention to the tolerance to these substances. Once addiction is starting to take hold, the user’s tolerance for their substance(s) of choice increases, meaning they need to take more to get the desired effect.

Holly describes her spiral like this:

“At 17 I moved to the UK and lived there for a year. That’s when I started using coke and pills, then eventually ICE when I came back to Australia. It wasn’t long before I was in psychosis.”

Increased tolerance means the body is getting so used to drugs and/or alcohol that its functions are no longer influenced by low doses, which leads to increased and more frequent use. Eventually, users will need to keep up their intake in order to function on a basic level, without any of the ‘desirable’ effects.

#2 -Withdrawal Symptoms

The layman’s idea of withdrawal – as popularised in movies and TV – is that of an addict screaming, writhing in pain and hallucinating as they shiver in a padded cell. While this is unfortunately not inaccurate, it represents only the most extreme end of the scale.

In order to diagnose and treat addiction before it gets to this stage, it is important to understand the early signs of withdrawal.

Physical withdrawal symptoms in the early stages of addiction include:

  • Lack of energy
  • Inability to make it to work/school
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Sweat
  • Nausea

Psychological withdrawal symptoms can include:

  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Paranoia
  • A burst of unexplained rage
  • Poor concentration
  • Lack of interest in socialising and/or doing things for fun

Experiencing these symptoms can be debilitating, especially if the sufferer doesn’t connect them with their substance abuse.

Holly reports:

“I reached a really ugly state in my mind where I didn’t give a shit about anyone except myself.”

#3 – Loss of Control

Nobody sets out to become an addict; yet many people end up struggling with their substance use. How is this possible?

Holly experienced this:

“I had been off the drugs when I went back home to see my family in Brisbane, but as soon as I was back in Sydney, I found drugs again. I would do everything external, but I just couldn’t put down the drugs.”

Put simply, the human body and mind are wired for pleasure and once a source of pleasure is discovered it can be close to impossible to exert the control needed to access it in moderation. Chocolate – a natural source of endorphins – is the perfect example. How many times have you opened a block of chocolate, 100% determined to only eat a square or two and found yourself fifteen minutes later with an empty wrapper and a vague sense of shame?

Overuse of drugs and/or alcohol works in the same way. The pleasure centre of the brain takes over and without assistance, the effort of resisting is simply unmanageable. Addicts frequently have what is termed “moments of clarity”, when they become very aware of the need to stop their destructive behaviours; but stopping is not a matter of willpower. It is a matter of getting help.

#4 – ‘Bad Luck’

Addiction affects every aspect of the sufferers’ lives – as well as the lives of their loved ones. Loss of employment, loss of accommodation, constant money troubles, conflict with the law; addiction leaves no stone unturned. To a person in the throes of substance abuse disorder, this often feels like ‘bad luck’ or some kind of cosmic injustice. However, unfortunately, these horrible experiences are part and parcel of substance abuse.

As Holly puts it:

“I started working in this restaurant in the Valley to make an “honest” living. But inevitably, I’d end up smoking weed, or doing drinks after work. I ended up getting involved in crime. I got charged with possession and stuff and got raided by the police I was charged with category R weaponry possession charges. My parents got raided too and had to move house. They wouldn’t tell me where they lived; they said they were done with me. I had been living on the streets for a couple of weeks, homeless, and I was completely lost. I thought, I don’t deserve to live anywhere, I don’t deserve to have anything.”

Once compulsive use of drugs and/or alcohol has taken hold, addicts may go into ‘survival mode’ and get to a stage when their days revolve around concealing their use, obtaining funds to use and scoring their substance of choice; leaving no energy or mental capacities to address the underlying problem.

#5 – Self-Imposed Isolation

Persons suffering from substance abuse disorders often break off contact with family and loved ones; partly because of the shame attached to their self-destructive behaviours and partly because they are simply too busy feeding their addiction and making it through the day.

Family gatherings, no matter how important and no matter how much they used to enjoy them, are a huge source of stress for addicts. While they may promise to make and effort and be there, substance abuse has a way of preventing sufferers from following through; sending them into spirals of self-loathing and increased consumption.

Holly describes her rock bottom like this:

“I would spend my paycheck on drugs and an outfit I’d wear for a whole week. I would be living pretty disgustingly in a hostel or hotel hopping”.

#6 – Becoming unreliable

Holly writes:

“I found it really hard to hold down a job, and it didn’t help when I did use that I’d turn my phone off and just disappear.”Holding down a job, meeting parenting commitments or simply maintaining a relationship can be close to impossible for many addicts. Substance abuse disorders overshadow everything, no matter how much the sufferer cares deep down inside, and addicts often become less reliable as time goes on.”

In the worst-case scenario this can lead to unemployment, homelessness, losing custody of children and becoming cut off from family and friends; all of which is bound to exacerbate depression, anxiety and stress, ultimately leading to increased use of drugs and/or alcohol unless the addict seeks help.

#7 – Wanting to Stop

We keep repeating it: Nobody wants to be an addict. In fact, most people struggling with substance abuse disorder report a deep desire to stop and an inability to do so.

Holly experienced this during her recovery journey:

“I put myself into this detox program. It went pretty badly. I was doing HeadSpace at the time, and I would go to these drug and alcohol appointments. But I would turn up high. I was just so anxious, and I couldn’t stop using.”

This, unfortunately, is when the harmful myth about ‘willpower’ comes into its own. Addicts are led to believe that they should be able to stop their destructive behaviours unassisted or with minimal support and experience tremendous mental setbacks when they find this impossible. Struggling to control drug and/or alcohol use is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of addiction.

Substance abuse disorders are complex and often come with a number of mental health issues that need to be addressed – properly and by professionals – in order to give addicts the best chance of long-term recovery. Understanding the inner workings of addiction is essential when it comes to quitting destructive behaviours, but professional help is essential for long-term success.

If you recognise yourself in the behaviours described above, don’t feel ashamed. You are not alone and help is available. With the right support, you can reclaim your life, your relationships and your future.

Holly did it.

“The three months I spent in rehab helped me overcome my fear of being around others; it helped me become social again. I’m with people who understand, including the support workers, who are previous addicts. The whole connection thing and being in a safe environment with other people who relate to you, being stable, and focusing purely on your recovery is really cool”.

 

Names and photographs of this client have been changed to protect their privacy.

How to Support an Addict at Christmas

The festive season is hectic and stressful at the best of times, but when you have a loved one struggling with addiction Christmas time has the potential to be an absolute nightmare. Family get-togethers can seem incredibly daunting when you throw an addict into the mix, especially since parties are a natural trigger for destructive drinking behaviours.

If you are dreading this year’s family functions, take a deep breath, and read through our list of coping strategies for friends and families of addicts during the holidays. It won’t solve all your problems, but it may ease your anxieties.

Give yourself permission to feel

Having a loved one struggling with addiction is a minefield of emotions – guilt, anger, fear, shame, anxiety, you name it – and the best thing you can do for yourself is to acknowledge these feelings. Trying to stay strong or ignoring your emotions is not going to get you anywhere; especially if you are trying to protect your loved one by bottling everything up.

Talk to someone you trust

Sharing your feelings with a trusted friend or relative can be a huge relief. Venting your emotions will make you calmer when faced with the fall-out of your loved one’s addiction and it will make you feel less alone. Having a person who simply listens to your side of the situation can be imperative to maintain your mental health.

Be open with your loved one

Having a conversation about how your loved one’s addiction is affecting you is incredibly hard. However, it can also be very powerful – even if it doesn’t impact your loved one’s behaviours immediately. If you simply tell your loved one that you would love to see them during the Christmas period but absolutely don’t want to deal with them in a situation where they might potentially be intoxicated, you have taken the first step to protecting yourself.

Make a Plan B (or C or D)

By now you probably know your loved one’s patterns of alcohol use quite well; and there is nothing wrong with using this to your advantage. Schedule a Christmas breakfast with them rather than a lunch if it means they won’t already be intoxicated or make plans to meet them for a Christmas walk away from any drinking opportunities. Remember, you are allowed to withdraw if your loved one’s behaviour causes you pain, you have no obligation to put up with this.

Set clear boundaries

This is especially important if you have children to protect from your loved one’s destructive drinking. Making sure your children don’t have a traumatic Christmas experience is much more important than sparing your loved one’s feelings. Yes, this is a rough call to make; but this is not the time to be vague about your needs and the needs of your children.

Do not drink with them

It may not change your loved one’s drinking behaviour, but it will take away the illusion of a shared, social drinking experience. Politely but firmly refusing to join your loved one when they start drinking can be a powerful way of making a stand, regardless of the immediate reaction.

How to Stay on the Sleigh this Christmas

The silly season, glorious though it might be, can feel like an absolute minefield to the recovering addict. Parties, family get-togethers, loss of routine…Christmas in recovery is hard. Thankfully, as we all know, hard doesn’t equal impossible.

To make sure you get through the holidays without relapsing or tearing your hair out, we’ve compiled twelve strategies you might find helpful:

#1 – Yes, please, I would love a drink…of water!

There’s no getting around well-meaning friends and family offering you beverages, especially if they don’t understand your recovery journey. If you don’t feel like saying ‘no’, say ‘yes’ and specify the non-alcoholic beverage of your choice. 9 times out of 10, the person offering won’t push for alcohol, but if they do:

#2 – Be clear

Repeat after us: “No, thank you. I’ve got to get up early/I have the kids tomorrow/I’m meeting a friend for a dawn run.” You can be polite but still stand firm and it is very unlikely that anyone will insist you have alcohol, but if they do:

#3 – Use Humour

“I’ll have a drink if you eat one of these Christmas ornaments – you first.” Or maybe: “I’ve only just gotten off the naughty list!” Anything you can think of, really. Pre-rehearse lines if you think it might be helpful. It’s almost certain that this will end the discussion, but if it doesn’t:

#4 – Be open

If you’re comfortable doing so, sharing your recovery journey can be a powerful tool. When your friends and family know what you’re going through and how hard you are working to maintain recovery, they can fight in your corner and support you. But if they don’t:

#5 – Have an Exit Strategy

If you think a Christmas get-together has the potential to go south pole rather than the north pole, plan your escape in advance. Get a friend to phone you an hour into the party and pretend there’s an emergency…or, if you like, just do the rounds, say hi-and-bye and go when you’ve had enough.

#6 – Choose an Ally

Having one person in the room, who knows what you are going through and is standing by to support you can make all the difference. Whether it’s a favourite relative or your bestie, confidants can be invaluable in challenging Christmas situations.

#7 – Take time for you

There is no harm in sitting out a Christmas party if you don’t feel up to it. If you would rather go for a walk with a friend or on your own, spend the day at the beach with a good book or go to a meeting – you are allowed.

#8 – Keep up the good work

You are in the middle of recovery, so acknowledge how well you’ve been managing and keep going. Whether you are a regular at AA, go to individual therapy or do recovery work at home, this is not the time to take a break.

#9 – Deep Breaths

No matter how stressed out Christmas gets you, remember to keep breathing and stay in the moment. Try to keep grounded as much as you can and reach out to your support network when you need them.

#10 – Remember Self-Care

Whatever your self-care routine might be, ramp it up a notch this holiday season. Go for an extra swim, eat some amazing food, and hang out with your favourite people.

#11 – Stay Connected

The idea of isolating yourself until Christmas is over can be tempting, but you must be careful to stay connected with the people who support you. If you don’t feel up to any big Christmas dos, no problem; so long as you stay in touch with those who are essential to your recovery.

#12 – Be Kind to Yourself

The holiday season is hard enough as it is, there’s no need to beat yourself up for not coping as well as you hoped. Every recovering addict struggles during festivities and everyone has a bad day or week; give yourself some love this Christmas. You deserve it.

Maintaining Your Recovery During the Holiday Season

Christmas is supposed to be a joyous time. A time to get together with friends and family, let bygones be bygones, share the love…all the good stuff.

Unfortunately, when you are recovering from alcohol and/or drug addiction the holiday season can be trying to say the least. In fact, the whitest thing about Christmas may well be your knuckles as you are desperately trying to maintain your recovery.

First and foremost: Don’t panic! Struggling during the silly season is a standard experience for recovering addicts and you are not alone.

Secondly, let’s take a look at what makes the holidays so hard; knowledge is power after all and the better we understand holiday triggers, the better we can work around them.

Trigger #1 – Christmas Parties

As soon as December rolls around, it is open party season. Work functions, family get-togethers, backyard barbeques…the list is endless. It’s important to remember that any invitation to a Christmas shindig comes from a good place, but it’s equally important to maintain healthy boundaries to keep your recovery going.

The best way to deal with this overload of opportunities to relapse is to give yourself permission to decline. You are allowed to be selective and you are allowed to put yourself first. If you decide to skip Christmas drinks with co-workers you can choose to be open about your recovery, but you can also make an elegant excuse (i.e. conflicting family event, a date, a sick child…anything goes).

Trigger #2 – Broken Routine

During the Christmas period, routine is usually the first thing to go. Whether you are working extra hours to cope with the holiday rush or have a couple of weeks without work due to holiday closures, things will not run as normal and that is always a challenge for a recovering addict; especially if it means you will be alone for long stretches of the holidays.

It might be helpful to make plans to replace some of the lost structure. Whether you schedule some form of daily exercise, make some extra coffee dates or just stock up on good books or binge-worthy series to keep you occupied, the most important thing is to provide yourself with anchors to avoid reverting to unhealthy coping strategies.

Trigger #3 – Family Get-Togethers

Families are great, but they are also a massive source of stress and anxiety – especially during the holiday season. You may be faced with meeting relatives for the first time since you started your recovery, you may be dreading explaining your journey and dealing with any judgement that might come your way…and on top of that, these people expect presents!

If the thought of the family festivities is sending you into a spiral, confide in your most trusted family member and make them your Christmas buddy. Having one person in the room who knows what you’re going through and has your back can make all the difference.

 

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