Mental Health

How to Protect Your Sobriety This Holiday Season

For people struggling with addiction, the holidays can be a stressful time, bringing triggers that contribute to problematic substance use. The holidays can also be a time of celebration, fraught with temptation, as others are indulging around you. 

We asked Anjaleesa Johnson, a substance use counselor with Sheppard Pratt’s Addiction Services, to give us some tips on successfully navigating the holidays while coping with or recovering from an addiction. 

Be honest with yourself and your loved ones. You know who you are and what your triggers are. Try not to put yourself in a situation where those triggers will be inescapable. 

Be prepared. If you anticipate the presence of triggers—plan ahead. Things can and do go sideways. Have a back-up plan, or two.

  • Stick to a schedule—Limit time with loved ones who tend to spike your blood pressure. 
  • Know your lifelines—have a friend or sponsor you can call to talk through a craving.
  • BYO—bring your own drink, a water bottle or soda. When it comes to party drinks/food: If you don’t trust it, don’t consume it. 

Set boundaries. If you anticipate your boundaries being tested this holiday season, try rehearsing responses. Rehearse how you will decline alcoholic beverages or substances, and practice how you will respond to questions about your recovery that you are not ready to answer.

Have an exit strategy. Make sure you have an easy out available. Should you drive instead of carpool? Should you ask someone at home to call you at a given time to ease your exit? 

Cultivate healthy coping skills. Substance use is a dysfunctional coping skill. Unlearn harmful habits by replacing them with new ones that work for you. Wear a special ring or bracelet that you can play with to subtly deal with temptation. Develop an exercise routine. If you feel stressed, slow your pace down. Take a shower, make a cup of tea, take a nap. 

Know what you have to lose. Your job? Your relationship? Your life? The rest of the family may not deal with the same consequences of substance use that you do. It is your responsibility to protect yourself from the social pressure to indulge. 

Use your family supports. Tell them the plan beforehand; come up with keywords and signals that say, “I’m feeling uncomfortable. I want to leave.” This collaborative approach not only helps you, but also helps to build trust between you and your loved ones. 

For friends and family of those struggling with addiction or in early recovery: know your role. If you are the partner or friend of an addict, you are not their parent, teacher, or jailer. You are a critical support in your loved one’s life, but you cannot want them to be sober more than they do. Don’t sacrifice your wellbeing trying to help.

And remember you’re not alone. It’s okay to ask for help.  

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