Sobriety: A Major Holiday Stressor

It's time to care about those fighting addictions — and help them if we can

It can be tough to pass up the company holiday party — but John Gruenig (not his real name), a 43-year-old from Colorado, should have skipped the event again this year.

Last Christmas, he was in rehab for alcoholism and missed the festivities. Sober now for more than a year, he didn’t think there was any harm in going this December. After all, he’d been in other recent situations where alcohol was served and he hadn’t been tempted.

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All it took, though, was the offer of a drink from his boss. One drink quickly turned into two, and three — and doubles being poured. Gruenig passed out that night — and was right back where he started.

The holidays are tough on addicts. While it may seem a distant issue or a non-issue for you and your family, chances are it’s not. This fall, the U.S. surgeon general estimated that one out of every seven Americans is addicted to either drugs or alcohol. And only 10 percent of those with a substance use disorder ever seek treatment.

Still, treatment facilities and programs usually see more requests for help between Thanksgiving and mid-January, according to Jasmine Aranda, a licensed professional counselor and clinical director of The Foundry Treatment Center in Steamboat Spring, Colorado. That’s been her experience, at least, in 20 years of practice.

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While some people attend picture-perfect blissful family gatherings, dinner parties, and even sleigh rides in the snow, others are mired in strife, stress, overindulgence, and temptation.

“It is these risk factors as well as emotional pressure and a disruption of routine that those struggling with addiction must be prepared for,” Aranda told LifeZette.

To stay sober and happy this holiday season, here are six strategies from Aranda for navigating common triggers and avoiding a relapse:

1.) Take time for yourself.
All you might need is 20 minutes to meditate, sit quietly, take a walk or soak in a bath.

2.) Focus on the positives.
Write a nightly gratitude list, avoid negative self-talk, and surround yourself with positive people and messages.

3.) Plan ahead.
If you’re headed to a party where alcohol will be served, bring your own beverage and maybe even a supportive friend along.

4.) Have an exit strategy.
Go into any social engagements with an exit plan should you begin to feel triggered.

5.) Check in with yourself.
Assess how you are doing mentally, emotionally, and physically prior to attending a situation that can be triggering.

6.) Opt out.
If you’re having cravings or not feeling emotionally stable, consider staying home and focusing on self-care.

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If you’re worried about someone in your family who may be struggling with addiction, especially during this busy season, signs to look for include: drinking before attending a holiday event; not wanting to attend events or engage in activities they used to like; isolation; a change in behavior or appearance; or drastic mood swings.

Financial problems or situations that don’t make sense; unexplained absences; or spending time with people or at places that are unusual for the person are other signs there may be problems.

Aranda said the best way to help is to let people know you love and care for them and that you are worried about them. Organizing a well-planned intervention or having someone else in recovery talk with them are important tools.

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