By Elizabeth Weidmer-Mikhail, MD, Enterhealth Ranch Medical Director
The holiday season is a special time of year full of celebrations with family members and loved ones. Whether it’s traveling to see extended family, having kids home from college, or reconnecting with out-of-town friends, the holidays are often an exciting way to end the year.
While this time is often associated with joy, it can also be one of the most stressful periods of the year. Financial obligations, family dysfunction, end-of-year work deadlines, and more can create extra holiday stress that drives people to self-medicate with substances and lead those in recovery to relapse.
At Enterhealth, we typically see a rise in the number of people seeking help during the holidays, and there are several good reasons why getting treatment at this time of year can be beneficial. For many people, the end of the year is a time when work projects wrap up and activity slows down. It’s also a period when schools are on break and people are using vacation days. Plus, getting clean of alcohol or drugs is a great way to start the new year fresh.
The holidays can be a good time of year to take a step back and evaluate, and that’s why we’ve put together this list of helpful tips to use during the season.
How to Spot a Loved One Who May Need Treatment
While this period can be one of the most trying times of the year, it’s important to spot the signs of unusual behavior in a loved one. Some things to look for include:
- General isolation
- Secretive behavior
- Changes in friend groups
- Difficulty staying awake or sleeping
- Drinking more than intended
- Ignoring advice or help
While none of these signs are definitive indicators of a substance abuse problem on their own, it’s when they start to stack up that you should be concerned. If you’re worried a loved one has a problem with alcohol or drugs, the best thing you can do is initiate a conversation to find out what the situation is and see if you can help them seek professional intervention.
How to Manage Holiday Situations in Recovery
Navigating challenges during the holiday season while in recovery is possible. Here are some tips to help:
- Plan fun activities with supportive people – Holiday gatherings often involve socializing and drinking, so we encourage you to find other activities to do with loved ones who support your sobriety. Seeing a new movie, taking in a holiday concert, or going ice skating can get you out of the house, while decorating holiday cookies, playing board games, or watching holiday shows can keep you busy as you stay safe from winter weather.
- Bring your own drinks to the party – To help curb the temptation to drink alcoholic beverages, take cans or bottles of soda or sparkling water with you to holiday events. If you cannot bring your own drinks, make it a priority to visit the refreshment area when you arrive and get yourself a safe beverage. Keeping your drink in hand and refilling it frequently will help prevent you from having to turn down offers for alcoholic beverages.
- Find healthy ways to cope with stress – The key to maintaining sobriety is knowing how to manage life stressors and triggers to use. Activities like talking with a loved one, going out for a walk, or engaging in a fun hobby can help relieve some of the pressure that comes with the holiday season. While it may not be easy, try to remember that when it comes to giving gifts to those who matter most, your sobriety should be more than enough.
- Give a gift to someone important – Achieving and sustaining a sober lifestyle is challenging, especially during the holidays. Don’t forget to reward yourself for all that you accomplish along the way, no matter how big or small. Whether you’re saying no to unhealthy temptations or choosing positive alternatives, treat yourself to things that continue to support your recovery, such as small gifts, tasty treats, or anything else that makes you happy.
- Have a backup plan in place – When you’re in recovery, it’s important to have a plan in case you find yourself in an environment where you’re tempted to use. Designate a loved one to keep informed about your recovery process and to call in case you encounter difficult situations. Make sure your vehicle keys, cell phone, and wallet are readily available in case you suddenly feel overwhelmed and need to leave the situation immediately.
How to Be Sensitive to Loved Ones in Recovery
If you or a loved one is in recovery for alcohol, family and friends need to understand that alcohol should not be around during holiday celebrations. We recommend that patients in recovery wait at least one year before being in environments with alcohol use.
Creating healthy, alcohol-free settings for the holidays is important to people in recovery, especially when they’re already surrounded with temptation while watching television, scrolling through social media, or shopping at the grocery store. Consider having an alcohol-free beverage station with mocktails to spice up your gatherings. And if individuals cannot abstain from alcohol to support a loved one in recovery, it may be time to consider whether they have a problem with drinking or not.
How Enterhealth Can Help During the Holidays
It often takes more than helpful tips and family support to remain healthy and sober during the holiday season, and Enterhealth is here to help. Our evidence-based treatments are backed by research and expertly applied by our team of board-certified addiction specialists. We treat addiction for what it is – a chronic but treatable brain disease – and our innovative approach is what makes us one of the most trusted names in addiction treatment.
To learn more about how Enterhealth Ranch and Enterhealth Outpatient Center of Excellence can help you or a loved one overcome addiction this holiday season, please call 1.800.388.4601 or visit enterhealth.com for more information.