Relapse Prevention Strategies: Relapse Management During Holidays 


Recovery is a time when you have to know yourself really well. You have to stay focused and away from that “whatever” attitude that can take your success from you in a moment. 


Relapse prevention strategies start with knowing your triggers and knowing the process that happens within yourself before you can relapse. Relapse behaviors don’t just happen out of the blue. Mindfulness-based relapse prevention is the only way to understand your mind so that you can stop the relapse before the drink is in your hand. 


Mindfulness Based Relapse Prevention Strategies 

Mindfulness based prevention strategies focus on the three stages of relapse: emotional relapse, mental relapse, and physical relapse. Your relapse prevention skills are dependent on your ability to recognize these stages.  


You also will have your own list of triggers for relapse. These triggers may not always immediately lead to you taking a drink. They may lead to you entering one of the other two stages of relapse. Structure relapse prevention around your unique triggers. 


It is a slippery slope so recognizing when you are at the top of that slope will help you to stop sliding. The only way to avoid the slope altogether is to know your triggers and stay away from anything that you know will put you on the slope. Before we talk about the triggers let’s look at the three stages. 


Emotional Relapse  

This is where you start caring about using again. You might not even be considering yet. You are just aware that you can’t do something that you might want to do. Emotions rise such as anxiety, anger, and defensiveness. You may become moody and feel isolated. This is where you are feeling like what you are doing is hard, and you don’t like it. 


Mental Relapse

Here is where the debate in your mind starts. You start to find justifications like, I can drink on special occasions and holidays and it’s not a big deal. Maybe you start telling yourself you don’t care to justify doing it. You start that battle in your mind where you think it might be okay. 

Physical Relapse 

The third stage is when you use the substance. A person can move through these three stages very quickly which is why it is important to recognize the triggers that lead you into stages one and two so that you can stop the slide before physical relapse happens. 


Relapse Management During the Holidays

Relapse management during the holidays is something that you can plan out long before a holiday arrives. When you make that list of triggers for relapse, you may notice that holidays hold a big number of those triggers. Your relapse prevention skills start with recognizing the triggers. 


A trigger can be something that leads you to feel an emotion you have tied to the substance. For example, a party with all your friends can make you feel young and careless. This may trigger you to taking on the persona of your past self and start drinking. 


Trying to fit in at an office event can make you feel isolated and you may reach for a drink to calm yourself or fit in with co-workers.


Relationship troubles can make you feel trapped or out of control. This could also be a trigger. Recognizing the triggers before they happen is much easier than recognizing them in the moment.  


Drug and alcohol relapses spike 150% during the holidays. 


A Holiday is Just Another Day 

I know that a lot goes on during the holidays. When you think about it though, how many days have you gone without drinking? You can do it one day. Sometimes you might feel like, “I can’t do this anymore”, but can you do it for one day? Of course, you can. 


A holiday is just one day. When you will realize you have already conquered the art of not drinking for a day, you can do it again. If every day you wake up and say, I’m not drinking today. Then every day you are holding a pretty manageable goal.   


Keep Realistic Expectations 

It is not likely that you won’t be tempted. It is not likely that you won’t see anybody else drink. It is also not likely that you won’t think about drinking. Recognizing that you will be tempted and you will come up with reasons to drink, will stop you from spirally down when it does happen. 


Have a Plan 

If you decide that you can go to a holiday party and not slide as a result, have a plan for the night. Drive yourself to the holiday party so that you can leave if you need to. Call your sponsor before and after the event so that you are holding yourself accountable for what happens. Bring a sober friend with you. Bring a non-alcoholic drink with you. Set yourself up for success. You have worked too hard to let your guard down because of a holiday. 

Don’t Feel Bad Saying No

The holiday season can pull you in many directions. Avoiding relapse often means saying no more. Mindfulness based prevention strategies keep you evaluating your state of mind and emotions. If you are feeling stress or not taking time for yourself, your guard comes down easily. 


Sometimes it is best to say no just because you don’t want to be in a hard position. If someone wants to go somewhere you use to drink all the time, that should be an easy no. Know yourself and respect yourself. Don’t put yourself in a position to slide just to please someone else. 


Take Care of Yourself

The holidays have a lot of social pressure and emotions attached to them. Don’t stretch yourself too thin. The best relapse management is to practice stress management. It is easier to make a choice you will be happy with later if your mind is calm. Don’t focus too much on just not drinking. Focus on taking care of yourself so that you will be able to make that decision when it comes up. 


The number one item on everyone’s list of triggers for relapse is stress. Stress drives people to act in ways they regret. Stress puts pressure inside of you that you will look for a way to release. Avoiding stressful situations is ideal, but stress will happen regardless. 


Having healthy ways to release your stress gives you an out. You don’t have to drink because you can go run, meditate, or talk to a friend. Even watching your favorite TV show or movie can take your mind off whatever is triggering you. Take the time to sit down, know yourself, and plan. You are worth every effort. It’s not “whatever”. Structure relapse prevention around taking care of yourself. 

Finally, the holidays are a fine time to ask for help. When you feel like you have entered the emotional relapse phase or the mental relapse phase, talk to someone. Don’t isolate yourself. Talk through the struggle. Getting help allows you to step outside of that battle in your mind and look with a new perspective. Relapse prevention counseling is a way to fireproof your wall. Worrisome thoughts crowding your mind are not out of your control. You can get help before it’s too late. Reach out!

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