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Relapse Season

In some ways the holidays can be a set-up for feeling bad. Our media-reinforced expectations of a warm, loving family-driven holiday season are often challenged by very real feelings of loneliness and disappointment. Those also saddled with a history of addiction or other emotional problems may find themselves longing for tangible ways to escape the emotional tension that this period brings.

This next two weeks, perhaps more than at any other time of year, not only puts more emotional pressure on all of us, but also provides the unstructured time, endless food, candy and drink and intense family interaction, which can challenge the most health conscious and well balanced among us, For those men and women who struggle with love, relationship and sex addictions, this is relapse season.

Setting realistic holiday expectations (now) can help minimize disappointment, frustration, loneliness and poor self-care, while helping recovering addicts (those addicted to substances and/or problem behaviors) maintain sobriety. Here are some common triggers and helpful ways to cope during this holiday season:

Holiday Triggers to Addiction

  • Our actual family experience does not match the ideal family that we are expected to have or we see in the media.
  • Spending time with family, while culturally encourage and suggested as positive — actually evokes painful, unhappy memories.
  • We put pressure on ourselves pressure to create the perfect experience, purchase the perfect gifts, be the perfect host, etc. but some of us simply can’t afford it – or are challenged by those people in our lives who simply don’t appreciate what we give and do.
  • We are exposed to triggering events and situations (parties, family events, open bars and food buffets, old acting out partners etc.
  • Those who don’t feel a spiritual connection to the holiday or are of a “different” religion or spiritual practice can feel alienated and like an “outsider.”
  • There can be tremendous pressure to have a “date” or to be part of a “couple,” and to have the holidays be highly romantic.
  • We experience long periods of unstructured time
  • We travel and can have periods of not being accountable to anyone or anything that typically (when at home/work) keeps our addictions in check

How to remain sane and/or sober during the holidays

  • Don’t isolate. Plan your days and let people know where you are and plan to spend time with the people who support you and a healthy lifestyle.
  • Create structure for yourself and be accountable to that structure so you don’t end up alone with a lot of free time.
  • Lower your expectations. Take time to compare the “realities” of previous family/friend experiences vs. a fantasy about. Know ahead of time what you are heading into and how it can affect you.
  • Be creative.  Think of simple gifts you can make or afford, or donate your time instead of giving money or gifts. Write on your cards and letters- that you have given time to XXX with love. That is a terrific gift to give a loved one.
  • Know when you are getting triggered and have a Plan B!  If you find yourself in a relapse situation, have an escape plan. Movies, long-walks, phone calls with sponsors or old friends are good examples of holiday escape plans.
  • Find a new ways to celebrate.  You can say “no” to events and experiences you already know will not be healthy or may trigger you.
  • Forgive yourself daily for being imperfect AND worthwhile. Know inside that the best gift you can give to anyone who cares about you – is a sane and sober you in 2012. Make that your holiday priority and everything else will work out fine.
Relapse Season

Robert Weiss PhD, MSW

Robert Weiss PhD, MSW is an expert in the treatment of adult intimacy disorders and related addictions, most notably sex/porn/relationship addictions along with co-occurring drug/sex addiction. A clinical sexologist and practicing psychotherapist, Dr. Rob frequently serves as a subject matter expert for major media outlets including CNN, HLN, MSNBC, OWN, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and NPR, among others. Dr. Rob is the author of Prodependence: Moving Beyond Codependency, Out of the Doghouse, Sex Addiction 101, and Cruise Control, among other books. He blogs regularly for Psychology Today and Psych Central. His podcast, Sex, Love, & Addiction, is rated as a Top 10 Addiction Podcast for 2019. He also hosts a weekly live no cost Webinar with Q&A on A skilled clinical educator, Dr. Rob routinely provides training to therapists, hospitals, psychiatric organizations, and even the US military. Over the years, he has created and overseen nearly a dozen high-end addiction and mental health treatment facilities across the globe. For more information or to reach Dr. Rob, visit You can also follow him on Twitter (@RobWeissMSW), LinkedIn (Robert Weiss LCSW), and Facebook (Rob Weiss MSW).

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APA Reference
Weiss PhD, R. (2015). Relapse Season. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 21, 2019, from


Last updated: 9 Jun 2015
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