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Addiction and the Holidays

Addiction and the Holidays

It’s that time of the year again – great food, dessert, family and friends. Good times, right?

For many struggling with addiction, the holidays can be very stressful. The most stressful time of the year, in fact. Many activities revolve around alcohol, and family gatherings, especially when spirits are flowing, can often go sideways and trigger a binge or dive into substances in order to find some relief. Further, many of those struggling with addiction find that the holidays can lead to anxiety, sadness, regret, and depression.

We view reliance on alcohol and other forms of addiction as the result of underlying core issues that have not been addressed and healed. Most often, these core issues develop early in life, with assistance from those very people we may see and interact with during the holidays.

Ok, we got that out and stated what many already know. Most addicts know the holidays can be a minefield.

But what they don’t always know is that they are not powerless. With some proactive planning and a mindset of self-care, they can get through the holidays.

With that said, here’s a short cheatsheet on managing through the holiday season successfully and soberly.

1. Reflect on where you are and what experiences you want to have in the new year.

Acknowledge where you are in your addiction recovery journey. Maybe you’re just starting. Expect some setbacks (we call them slips) and don’t beat yourself up for relapses in the past. Perhaps you know you have a problem and have resolved to that 2019 will be the year that you devote your energy and love to yourself and starting rehab.

So forget the shame, forget the guilt — if you’re like most in addiction recovery, there’s been enough of that already.

Remember, you’ve done what you’ve done and you haven’t done what you haven’t done. The past is gone, the future is to be determined, and really you control only the present moment.

2. Honor your needs first.

Don’t confuse self-caring with self-centeredness. Self-care recognizes that you have legitimate needs and you have the wisdom and maturity to take care of them.

Where’s your peaceful place? A book by the fire? A walk along the river? Experimenting with a new recipe? When you take the time to take care of yourself you’ll feel better and as a result, have more patience with others.

3. Avoid toxic situations.

Avoid toxic situations in a family during the holidaysThe holidays are a time of tradition. Sometimes tradition means doing things that you dislike, being with people or in places you don’t want to be, or in situations where you don’t feel good about yourself.

How many times do you tell yourself that you “have to” do this?

Well, what if you didn’t?

What if you gently and respectfully declined the “have to” and instead did something that supported you and brought you joy?

And when this isn’t possible, set boundaries that help you avoid triggering topics or situations. For example, you can have a pre-planned “exit strategy” when you feel negative emotions being triggered. Take a walk, retreat to a quiet place and get grounded, say a prayer.

And just leave. It’s OK.

4. Ask for help.

What do you need this holiday season? Who do you know who would support you? Not asking deprives others of the opportunity to be loving and generous.

So ask for the support you need with confidence, and picture yourself getting it.

5. Stash the booze or try a non-alcoholic celebration.

If you’re looking for a practical, concrete way to help someone with an alcohol or other addiction this season, consider talking with them about possible triggers and coming up with a plan to prevent slips.

Just remove the beer, wine, and liquor.

This is easier said than done, but it does help.

Consider hosting an alcohol-free celebration at your own home instead of attending a bigger, boozier affair at your relative’s house. And if you’re hosting a mix of guests that includes those in recovery, consider some festive non-alcoholic holiday drinks that everyone can enjoy.

This removes some of the social stigma of socializing with a glass in your hand, which many of us do.

6. Get physical.

Exercice and AddictionThis sometimes can be hardest for those who were drinking or using daily for years. Exercise was not high on the list of priorities.

But you don’t have to be training for a marathon to get a host of benefits, especially in recovery. Modest activity releases a hormone called endorphin. Endorphins also trigger a positive feeling in the body, similar to that of morphine.

So just start with something.. a walk, a few push ups, a slow jog, a bike ride — even in the winter! If you do a little each day, you’ll gain reinforcement and strength in recovery.

7. Find ways to help others.

You can’t give away what you don’t have. By helping others, you experience the reality that you have more than you realized.

The holidays are a great time to volunteer. Missions often need help preparing or serving food around the holidays. Find a church, or reach out to your local food bank or Goodwill and ask how you can help. It can be very fulfilling to bring smiles to others — you’re needed, and your contributions are valued.

8. Project your future self.

It sounds too good to be true — can you really visualize and achieve what you think is impossible? But it is possible. One powerful tool we use is called co-creation. Co-creation is how we describe the process of consciously creating what we want in our lives. There are three main co-creation pieces:

  • Affirmations;
  • Intentions; and
  • Ideal Scenes

For more detail on this, check out our article on co-creation.

And remember — this is the giving season. Remember to give to yourself for your own health and happiness as well.

Addiction and the Holidays

Joe Koelzer

Joe Koelzer is a co-founder and CEO of The Clearing. He has years of counseling experience and a master’s degree in Spiritual Psychology from the University of Santa Monica.

After observing how depression and substance abuse impacted his wife Betsy’s life, Joe realized how broken our current system is for addiction and related mental health treatment.

He witnessed firsthand how an evidence-based approach coupled with Spiritual Psychology saved Betsy and enabled her to gain control of her life.

In co-founding The Clearing, Joe realized his dream of creating and sharing this innovative approach with others in a structured clinical setting.

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APA Reference
, . (2018). Addiction and the Holidays. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 5, 2020, from


Last updated: 20 Dec 2018
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