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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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