The holiday season is a time of good cheer, family gatherings, and taking a much-needed vacation from the daily grind. Unfortunately, it’s not necessarily this positive for everyone. The holiday season can also herald the beginning of seasonal mood disorders, sad memories, and a reminder of everything that they’ve lost to addiction.
Even a person who’s been sober and successful in recovery for years can struggle during this time of year, and coping skills are incredibly important. It’s also essential that the families and friends of addicts remain increasingly vigilant during the season, and aware of the warning signs that someone near them is having a rough time.
Why Addiction Can Be Worse During the Holiday Season
Every addict is different and this means that they’ll have very different triggers. The holiday season is a time that we associate with family, nostalgia, and for some – loss. It’s also a time that can be extremely stressful for anyone.
Coming up with gifts, keeping up with a hectic schedule, spending time at gatherings and any number of activities can lead to a serious increase in personal anxiety. There’s also a certain amount of financial stress that can be compounded by the expectations of young children and family members. Gifts can be expensive and when someone is already struggling to get by, the holiday season can be devastating.
All of this combined with the busyness of the season creates the perfect conditions for relapse or a loss of self-control. Not everyone feels the same about the holidays, but as an addict or a member of their support system, it’s important to catch the signs of increased stress as early as possible.
Identifying Signs of Increased Stress
Stress manifests in different ways and the people closest to the addict are usually the first to notice changes in their behavior. A cohesive support system is essential during this time and an addict may not know when to ask for help. Signs that a person may be having difficulty coping include (but aren’t limited to) the following:
- Marked depression
- Irrational anger
- Refusing even minimal contact with family and friends
- Memory problems
- Insomnia or a change in sleep habits
- Manic behavior
- Poor judgment that can result in serious consequences
- Any behavior that’s secretive or abnormal
Stress and anxiety can also lead to physical symptoms, including an increase in chronic pain and extreme fatigue. If an addict isn’t prepared to cope with all of these issues in productive ways, they can end up turning to drugs and alcohol.
As an addict, you also need to take a careful inventory of how you’re feeling on a daily basis. It’s very important that you avoid turning to destructive behaviors that could lead your holiday season down a very negative path.
Ways to Cope with Addiction During the Holidays
Fortunately, there are things that you can do avoid relapses and to fight the temptation to use during the holiday season, including:
Role-playing involves imagining a high-risk scenario, and coming up with ways to respond to it. This could include anything from holiday parties to fighting loneliness and isolation. You don’t necessarily have to act anything out. Take the time to write down a list of risky situations, and then come up with a plan to deal with each one of them. If you’re afraid that the temptation may be too great, mark it as a high-risk situation and try to avoid it altogether.
Take a personal inventory of your triggers and pay attention to how you’re feeling. It can be as simple as walking past the alcohol aisle at your local grocery store, or seeing an acquaintance that you used with before recovery. You know how you feel right before you give into that compulsion, and it’s important that you have a way to cope with this. Don’t wait for that feeling to become overwhelming. As soon as you identify a trigger, call a person you can trust for support and try to remove yourself from that situation.
Neglecting your own needs is easy during the holidays, but this can lead to greater stress and anxiety. Take some time each day to dedicate to yourself. Do something that you enjoy, meditate, go to meetings or practice a hobby that makes you feel productive. It’s also important to make sure that you’re eating well, getting enough sleep, and decompressing after a busy day. Coping starts with how you treat yourself.
Understand Your Cravings
Cravings are like a deep-seated longing for your drug of choice. Sometimes they can be so overpowering that they seem impossible to resist. This is a part of the disease and has to do with the way that the chemicals in your brain react to certain stimuli. Understanding what cravings are, what causes them, and how to get past them can be a huge help during the holidays. Most cravings will last less than an hour, and may not be recurring. They can happen in response to any number of triggers like taste, a smell, or even a song. When a craving starts, you need to turn to your coping skills immediately. Make sure that you aren’t near any drugs or alcohol, and call your sponsor or a family member immediately.
There are times when boredom can contribute to drug use. For many long-term addicts, drugs and alcohol take the place of their hobbies and interests, leaving them with a void in their lives. Having idle time during the holidays can lead to depression and an eventual relapse. This doesn’t mean that you have to stay so busy that you’re chronically stressed, but find things that you enjoy to focus on.
Connecting with an Addiction or Alcohol Rehab Center Can Help
There’s absolutely no shame in reaching out to an addiction or alcohol rehab center when the holidays seem like too much. It’s always best to ask for help when you need it, and to do whatever is necessary to take care of yourself first.