Common Holiday Relapse Triggers

Addiction and relapse during the holidaysAs we approach the holiday season, there is a shift in the world as we enter what is typically considered a wonderful and joyous time of the year. Unfortunately, amidst all this joy and merriment there can also be increased stress.

This stress can stem from the financial burden of giving gifts, entertaining company, or from traveling, shopping, cooking, and other holiday activities. The holiday season can also cause sadness and loneliness due to unhappy memories or separation from loved ones. These triggers, among others, can lead addicts currently in recovery to relapse.  

Here are some common triggers: 

  • Stress:

    • Prior to being in recovery, many addicts typically abused drugs to cope with stress, which tends to increase during the holidays. The pressure to keep up with the pressure of the holidays can lead to great stress, especially if people struggle financially. Unfortunately, when the holidays cause stress, recovering addicts may turn to their drug of choice to manage this stress. It is important for the person in recovery to identify healthy ways that they manage stress and to continue to practice these skills during the holiday season.  
  • Sadness/Loneliness:

    • People who are separated from their loved ones may struggle to stay sober during a time when society expects unity. Addicts in recovery may not be connected with or in communication with their family members due to situations that occurred during their height of addiction. Therefore, seeing families together during this season can increase feelings of sadness, loneliness, and isolation. These feelings can lead the person in recovery to relapse which is why a sober support network is so important. This could be a Church community, sober friends, or connections through Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA). Finding ways to decrease loneliness and increase connections during this time of year can be lifesaving.  
  • Presence of Drugs or Alcohol at Gatherings:

    • The holiday season is a time where social gatherings occur more frequently and when drugs and alcohol have a more significant presence. There may be wine at Christmas or a champagne toast on New Year’s Eve. A person in recovery may be traveling back to their hometown where they know who to contact in order to buy substances. Celebrations and social gatherings where drugs and alcohol are present are one of the most common instances where people in recovery experience triggers. In situations where drugs and alcohol may be present, it is suggested that a person in recovery bring a sober friend for support. Or if possible, a conversation is had surrounding the person’s sobriety. 

During this holiday season, planning and keeping to one’s daily routine can help support sober behaviors. A sober support network is also key to navigating the triggers that may arise during this time of year.  


About Sarah Chun

Sarah is a Resident in Counseling providing counseling services through our Alexandria location. She completed her Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling with a Certificate in Addictions Studies from Immaculata University. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Music: Vocal Performance from American University in Washington, D.C. Sarah is also a National Certified Counselor and a member of the American Counseling Association. To learn more about Sarah, click HERE

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