Holidays for addicts in recovery can be very difficult. Holidays are hard for many people. In the northern hemisphere, many holidays across religions, nations and ethnicities tend to fall in the months that are dark, dreary and cold. Holidays for addicts are especially bad. Here in the USA, the holiday season has already started, with Yom Kippur just behind us. Next comes Halloween, and regardless of one’s idea of it as a holiday, there’ll be plenty of gatherings with alcohol at some, drugs at others, both elsewhere.
Holidays: Rough on Everyone
The holidays are even harder if you are in recovery. So many parties and gatherings involve alcohol, if nothing else. Given the profound likelihood of cross-addiction, no alcohol is allowed for any recovering person. This is why a support group and a healthy recovery network is so critical! It’s an area where 12 Step programs excel perhaps better than any other program for establishing social activities throughout the year. Faith based/religious programs do an excellent job of this as well.
Loneliness is perhaps the greatest downer during the holidays. Having a social group to meet with, even if you’re not best friends with the people there, accomplishes lots of good when you’re in recovery. It gets you out of the house. You have to interact with other people. Your mind is distracted from thinking about being lonely. Of course you can be sad and lonely in a crowd. That’s a common occurrence for everyone. You’re simply far less likely to relapse in a crowd of recovery people than you are at home, or heaven forbid, spending time with old “using buddies” who have not gotten clean. That is a sure path to holiday relapse.
As a therapist, I’d see the addiction treatment center empty out before Thanksgiving. So many people seemed to be on their best behavior. Usually two days after New Years’, the hospital would be flooded to capacity with a waiting list. Holiday relapse for many. For others, the holiday booze or drug binge represented rock bottom. Others were legally bound for treatment after their deeds under the influence came to light.
There were a few common denominators among the relapse clients: loneliness and depression during the holidays, or getting together with friends from their using days. This underscores the need for people to have safe anchors, and to plan for the holidays. We all know they are coming. Holiday activities need to be part of every relapse prevention plan. Holidays are great in many ways, but they do present clear risks to people with addiction problems.