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When the holiday season is upon us, it brings visions of cordial gatherings with family and friends at celebrations filled with happiness and joy. For people in recovery, these seemingly innocent events can actually become minefields of relapse triggers.

You can protect yourself from relapse and have a sober holiday season, while still enjoying the social events that are common this time of year. The first step is to anticipate what triggers you’ll face.

Holiday Gatherings

Parties, dinners and meetups are all large parts of the holiday season. Just being expected to show up at social events can be stressful. Adding to the stress is knowing alcohol frequently plays a large role at these types of gatherings, and that drinking—and possibly drugs—will be all around you.


Holiday times are typically filled with expressions of camaraderie, forgiveness, resolutions and missing lost loved ones that may stir up your emotions. Other negative feelings may surface, like shame, guilt, embarrassment, anger or depression. For many in recovery, anxiety and tension build from this emotional turmoil.

Family Gatherings

While visiting the family and seeing relatives, you’re in close quarters with them for extended periods of time. Old rivalries, verbally abusive relatives and other family conflicts can all be triggers to relapse if not handled carefully.


The holiday time of year is also a time for gift giving. If you overspend on gifts, you may be setting yourself up for stress over finances down the road. Be careful of overextending your finances for holiday gifts.

Schedule Changes and Demands on Time

Disruptions in your schedule such as time off from work, being away from home to see loved ones and the demands that holiday events have on your time can all be contributors to relapse. Handle these changes in positive and well thought-out ways.

Planning for Your Safe and Sober Holiday Season

We’ve reviewed holiday stressors that can trigger a relapse, so now let’s discuss how you can protect your sobriety. A plan to handle holiday stress goes a long way to helping prevent relapse.1

  • Don’t abandon your methods of staying sober that you’ve used so far; it’s worked until this point. Keep it going.
  • Reinforce your daily structure. Make a schedule for each day and follow it.
  • Keep going to 12-step meetings. If you’re traveling, plan ahead and find groups in the area you’ll be visiting.2 If you experience stress, go to a meeting right away.
  • Plan communication with your sponsor. If you’re going to be away from home, set up phone calls or emails to communicate. If your sponsor is traveling, have a copy of their schedule so you’ll know available times to reach out.
  • Make sure you rest enough. Don’t stretch yourself too thin with obligations at the expense of resting.
  • Eat well and make sure you don’t overdo it on sugary treats. Exercise on as regular a schedule as you do at home.
  • It sounds obvious, but avoid stress as much as possible. If it gets to be too much, politely remove yourself from the situation.

Have a safe, enjoyable, substance-free holiday season. You deserve it.

Give us a call or come visit our California Treatment Center


  1. http://www.narconon.org/blog/sobriety/staying-sober-and-drug-free-through-the-holidays/
  2. http://www.aa.org/pages/en_US/find-aa-resources
How to Have a Safe and Sober Holiday Season
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