“You’ve got to have a plan.” This is the mantra of people in long-term recovery, who know that the holiday season can be problematic for people with substance use disorders. Parties—in which alcohol plays a significant role—are customary in our culture during this time of year. Knowing this and being prepared ahead of time can make an enormous difference in preserving one’s sobriety. To prevent those who are new to recovery from relapsing, we urge them to formulate an individualized plan that typically includes at least these three basic elements to help with maintaining recovery through the holidays.
- Think of an entrance strategy. Party hosts often think that an important part of their job is to get a drink into the hand of guests as soon as they arrive. Knowing that, we advise our patients to get a drink quickly with the non-alcoholic beverage of their choice. This can be key to maintaining recovery through the holidays. Some preparation may be necessary ahead of time if they have reason to doubt that a non-alcoholic option will be available. If they are comfortable talking ahead of time to the host, a favorite beverage can be requested. Some people are more comfortable simply bringing their own drink. Once you have a drink in your hand, the pressure tends to be off. Our patients frequently report being surprised by how little others pay attention to what they are drinking. We tell them to regard pressure from another for them to drink alcohol as a red flag to that other person having an unacknowledged issue with his or her own drinking.
- Develop an exit strategy. Knowing how to get out of high-rise building in the event of a fire is a fundamental accepted safety strategy. Similarly, we do not want our patients to feel trapped in a drinking or drugging environment that they cannot be escape if their sobriety becomes dangerously challenged. Here preparation is always necessary for maintaining recovery through the holidays. Before going to an event, having a way to leave on one’s own is very important. Several options are usually possible and having at least two available is optimal.
- Have a reliable “buddy.” Large parties can be over-stimulating, and both social and family events can trigger unresolved emotional issues. Therefore, remaining grounded and maintaining an awareness of recovery issues can be difficult. Ideally, someone who understands recovery issues would accompany our patients to these gatherings. An alternative is having such a person readily available by phone.
Our patients often approach their first sober holiday season with commonly held expectations of having an enjoyable and relaxing time. In order to avoid disappointment, I tell them that a more realistic goal would be to get through the time with their sobriety intact. Having fun would be considered “gravy” and is more likely to occur the second time through the season.
Contact us for more tips for maintaining recovery through the holidays.