How to Create a Holiday Relapse Prevention Plan

Celebrating the Holidays Without Jeopardizing your Sobriety

The holiday season can be a wonderful time of year full of festivities, connection, and generosity.  But the holidays can bring up some real challenges too.  For people in recovery, things like holiday parties, busy schedules, shopping for gifts, stressful relationships resurfacing, and feelings of grief and loss, can fill the holidays with potential triggers to use drugs and alcohol.  Simply making it through the holiday season while staying sober can be a real struggle.

Having a holiday relapse prevention plan in place is imperative.  As the holiday season unfolds, make it a priority to craft and implement a formal relapse prevention plan that identifies your specific triggers and prepares you to use the coping skills you’ll need to resist them. The sooner you put your holiday relapse prevention plan in place the better, so let us help you develop the perfect strategy to avoid triggers and cope with holiday stress.

If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, call WhiteSands Alcohol and Drug Rehab today at 877.969.1993 to learn how we can help.

Common Triggers Experienced During the Holidays

For recovering addicts, especially those who are newly sober, even the smallest actions can serve as triggers.  Recognizing your triggers will allow you to make an effective plan for avoiding and coping with the specific things that stress you out during the holidays.  

While everyone is different, there are some common triggers that are likely to affect many of us in recovery. 

  • Parties The holidays are full of gatherings where alcohol is served.  This time of year people tend to especially over-indulge, whether that’s in food, alcohol, or anything else.  Being around alcohol and intoxicated people can be a real trigger for people in recovery so it’s important to think hard about whether or not you want to expose yourself to parties with alcohol.  If you do decide to attend holiday parties where others are drinking, think ahead about what you’ll say when someone offers you a drink and have your exit strategy planned for when it’s time to go home.
  • Finances  The holidays bring a lot of extra expenses that aren’t part of people’s usual budget.  Many feel financial stress this time of year, which can easily trigger a desire to use drugs or alcohol to cope.  Creating a budget and sticking to it can help to prevent financial stress and avoid the triggers associated with it.
  • Loneliness  This time of year, TV and movies are full of happy families enjoying the holidays together. Unfortunately, this is not a reality for everyone all the time. For people who have lost a loved one or become estranged from their families, loneliness can be a real danger this time of year.  Isolation is a well-known trigger for addictive behavior so making a plan to increase your social connections is important.  Reaching out to the people you do have in your life, like the friends you’ve made in recovery, can alleviate the potential holiday triggers of loneliness and isolation.  
  • Family Dynamics  Being around family at the holidays can be great, but it can also highlight challenging relationships.  Family strife can be a real trigger, and any good relapse prevention plan should include a strategy for dealing with these difficult issues before they trigger a relapse.  
  • Memories The holidays can bring up all sorts of memories that can serve as triggers that could threaten a person’s recovery. For example, a holiday party could trigger memories of other parties where drug and alcohol use was commonplace. The key to an effective relapse prevention plan entails making new memories filled with love, positivity, and sobriety.

Triggers can also be highly personal, so resisting them will require an individual approach. Take time to identify your own personal triggers so that you can create specific plans for dealing with them. 

What is a Relapse Prevention Plan?

A relapse prevention plan is a detailed written plan that helps you identify and avoid potential triggers for relapse.  Once a person is feeling triggered, it’s harder to think clearly and have good judgment.  A relapse prevention plan allows you to think ahead about how you’ll avoid being triggered in the first place.  It also helps you plan ways to deal with stressors that do arise so that you don’t have to figure out what to do on the spot, you just have to remember your plan.  The relapse prevention plan you create should be customized and based on your unique triggers.

Once you’ve identified the people, places, and circumstances that could trigger a relapse in you, creating a relapse prevention plan involves developing strategies that will keep you safe during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. Having a relapse prevention plan in place can help you develop strong coping skills and make good decisions, essential elements of successful addiction recovery all year round.

Steps to Creating a Holiday Relapse Prevention Plan 

Creating an effective relapse prevention plan is not as complicated as you might think.  Just set aside some time to focus and write out your plan.  Here are a few tips to help guide you:

  1. Give yourself time and space to think.  It’s important to really be thoughtful when outlining your relapse prevention plan.  Find a quiet place and allow enough time to think through your triggers and your plan.
  2. Write it down.  When creating your holiday relapse prevention plan, it’s important to write it down.   Thinking it through in your mind is not enough.  Writing your plan down forces you to be more clear and detailed.  Plus, having a written plan also gives you something to refer to later when you need a reminder.
  3. Identify your triggers.  Think through all the situations, people, emotions, and everything else that triggers you to want to use drugs and alcohol and write it down.  Be as detailed and thorough as possible.  
  4. Outline a specific plan for each trigger.  Consider each trigger individually and make a specific plan for it.  Decide which triggers you need to avoid altogether and which ones you need to be able to cope with.  Triggers you want to avoid completely might include parties where alcohol is served or people you used to drink and do drugs with.  For those things, make a clear strategy for what you will say and do to avoid them.  For triggers you know you’ll encounter- certain emotions, for example, create a specific plan for ways you’ll cope with them.  If you know you are likely to feel lonely at some point during the holidays make a plan for who you will reach out to for connection.  If you know you’re likely to feel overwhelmed at a family gathering, think about what you’ll say to excuse yourself when you need to step away and take a break.
  5. Make a list of sober-friendly activities you can enjoy.  Sometimes avoiding triggers is just a matter of replacing them with something else that’s good for you.  Remember that there are plenty of sober activities and gatherings to enjoy this time of year. Twelve-step meetings and rehab alumni programs host holiday events all throughout the season- both in-person and online.  See what’s going on around you and build these sober social gatherings into your holiday relapse prevention plan.
  6. Seek support.  You don’t have to go through the holidays in recovery alone.  Others are struggling to maintain their recovery at this time of year as well. Seek support from your sponsor, your caring friends, supportive family members, and others in the recovery community. You are stronger together than apart, so take advantage of your support community when you need them.

The holiday season should be about fun and connection, not a loss of sobriety. Now that you know how to create an effective holiday relapse prevention plan, you can focus on enjoying this special time of year.

If you find yourself struggling during the holidays, don’t hesitate to contact us today. At WhiteSands, we understand the root causes of addiction and the importance of maintaining a successful recovery.  Many of us are recovering addicts ourselves, with years of sobriety behind us.  We know how triggering the holidays can be.  We are ready to talk anytime you need to.  

If you or a loved one needs help with abuse and/or treatment, please call the WhiteSands Treatment at (877) 855-3470. Our addiction specialists can assess your recovery needs and help you get the addiction treatment that provides the best chance for your long-term recovery.

About the Author

Jackie has been involved in the substance abuse and addiction treatment sector for over five years and this is something that she is truly eager about. She has a passion for writing and continuously works to create informative pieces that not only educate and inform the public about the disease of addiction but also provide solutions for those who struggle with drug and alcohol abuse.