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Recovery During the Holidays

As Christmas approaches, most of us are starting to make plans for how we are spending our holidays. We are planning where we will be staying, who we are spending Christmas with, and what side we will be bringing to dinner. This time of year is a time of celebration and spending time with family and friends, which usually entails dinner parties and other holiday events. For those of us in recovery returning home, spending time with family and friends, and attending these holiday events bring some opportunities for triggers to use. When in recovery it is important to prepare for times where our commitment to abstinence may be tested. Let’s talk about a few ways to stay on track this holiday season.

Plan ahead. Having a plan in place is the best way to be prepared for triggers. Creating your plan doesn’t have to be elaborate.

Here is a simple template to follow:

  • The plan I have is:

  • The people who can help me are:

  • I will know my plan is working when:

  • Some things that could interfere with my plan are:

Using this template helps you think about what your specific plan is, who can support you, a way to measure success, and situations, places, or people to prepare out for. Communication is important during this stage of preparation. Reach out to the people who can help you (family, friends, sponsor) before you celebrate the holidays to let them know what your plan is and how they can help you in this part of your recovery.

Establish your motivation. Being aware of your motivation can help make the decision not to use easier. Your motivation are the things that keep you from following through with your triggers. A way to identify your motivation to not use this holiday season is to consider your values. Simply write out the things that are most important to you in this season.

Your list might look like:

  • Spending time with my mom.

  • Experiencing the joy of Christmas.

  • Prioritizing my health and happiness.

After writing your list, notice how using isn’t on your list. When we think about what is most important to us, using could jeopardize each one of these things. That’s where we establish our motivation. For example, I know that if I use then my mom will refuse to see me. This would be the motivation to not use.

Manage your triggers. This is such an important tool during recovery, regardless of the season. Being prepared to face your triggers starts with identifying your triggers. Knowing what your triggers are helps you stay away from those situations, places, or people. Once you are aware of these things that may urge you to use, have a plan to manage them.

Ways to manage your triggers could include:

  • Playing out an if/then scenario. For example, if someone offers me a drink at the party (trigger) then I will say “No, I actually don’t drink anymore. Could I please have something else?”.

  • Distancing or distracting yourself from the trigger. This could include not standing by the drink table, going outside to take a break from the crowd, changing the subject of an uncomfortable conversation, or going to find a family member or friend who is also in recovery or supports your recovery to talk with.

  • Saying no. Make your boundaries known and clear with a firm “no.” If you know that holiday party is going to be too much for you, say no to going. If you know that you aren’t comfortable staying at a certain house, say no to staying. You know what you need better than anyone else.

Practice coping and relapse prevention skills daily. Practice makes progress. Having your go-to coping and relapse prevention skills in practice daily can make the transition into and out of the holiday season easier.

Daily coping and relapse prevention skills could include:

  • Distracting yourself when you get the urge to use

  • Replacing past substance use with positive activities

  • Having people who keep you accountable

  • Reminding yourself that urges to use will pass

  • Avoiding triggers

  • Getting adequate sleep, nutrition, exercise, and professional counsel

  • Managing your emotions with deep breathing, journaling, or other grounding techniques

Recovery is a journey that requires a daily commitment to yourself, your health, and your future. By using these tools during the holiday season, you could make the commitment to yourself easier to achieve.

Before ending, it is important to note that healing isn’t linear and it takes time. Give yourself grace, reach out for help, and keep trying. We believe in you.

“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” Arthur Ashe

Substance use resources if you, or someone you know, need support:

SAMHSA’s National Helpline – 1-800-662-HELP (4357)

SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.

SMART Recovery Meetings



SMART Recovery Toolbox

The SMART Recovery Toolbox provides a variety of methods, worksheets, and exercises to help you self-manage your addiction recovery and your life. This collection of sensible tools is based on developing cognitive thinking skills to support you through addiction recovery.

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) Meetings

Find a meeting in your area:


Narcotics Anonymous (NA) Meetings

Find a meeting in your area:


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