Addictions are never easy to deal with, but they become even more challenging during the holidays. Holidays bring with them tremendous pressures, sometimes good and sometimes bad.
But the one thing that’s true for most people is that the holidays always make the stress much worse, and that increased stress can make it hard for you to hold fast to your goals and your recovery plan.
Despite the fact that the holidays add enough stress to make many people consider alcohol or drugs just to wind down, it’s possible to deal with the stressors and difficulties. You just need to remember a few key points to help you cope.
- Identify your stressors and your inner struggles.Your first step should be to identify your stressors. Alcohol and drug abuse is common among individuals who struggle with depression or tension. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that almost 2.1 million people had to visit hospital emergency departments because of these activities.
Turning to alcohol or drugs should not be your first choice. But you won’t know how to stop it until you realize what is stressing you out. Take note of the times when you’re stressed. If you know that the holidays make you depressed because you are single or because you lost a loved one, then avoid things that remind you of that situation.
Pinpointing inner struggles can be more challenging than identifying your stressors. Look to your behavioral patterns. Remember that you may have to confront some difficult memories and situations, particularly if part of your substance abuse stems from past physical abuse.
- Remember willpower is finite.In a surprising body of research, the APA reports (PDF) that willpower is actually a finite resource. It’s similar to a muscle that you can wear out. This means that during the holidays, when you have so many increased temptations and decisions, you need to simplify your decision-making. Have someone else help you handle the problems. Even consider setting up simple tasks in advance such as choosing a healthy breakfast the night before.
In remembering the finiteness of your own willpower, you should also avoid situations where your addiction may be present. The holidays are especially difficult for recovering alcoholics, as many holiday parties often include all kinds of alcoholic beverages and specials. Don’t go to those parties if you can help it. And if you know that drugs are going to be present, absolutely don’t go. Cops crack down even harder during the holiday season because they know the tendencies.
- Don’t be ashamed to talk to someone.One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to assume you can handle it on your own. Even if you have managed your addiction beautifully throughout most of the year, the holiday season brings up a number of challenges that you won’t be prepared to handle. More important, having to deal with these things on your own makes it much harder to keep yourself strong.
Friends and family can be helpful during this time, but remember that they aren’t necessarily equipped for this. They could unintentionally enable you, or they might send you into a guilt spiral, which will make your breaking down even more likely. It’s possible for people to have multiple symptoms as well as multiple underlying causes, commonly known as dual diagnosis. All of these must be identified and treated to make sure that the relief provided is as complete as possible. Visiting with a professional counselor or enrolling in an addiction program in can help you get an objective perspective, tailored advice, and a stronger support network.
- Don’t make New Year’s your time to end the battle.The new year helps make the holidays so stressful. The beginning of another year is the most common time for people to try to kick an addiction. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ran a special to promote quitting smoking in 2013.
There’s nothing wrong with making an addiction-free lifestyle your goal, but you shouldn’t make it a pressure point. Recovering from an addiction can take quite some time, and increasing the stress on yourself only makes it more likely that you will relapse. Instead, remember that the holidays are a time to make good memories. It’s not an excuse to binge on your favorite addiction, and it’s not a time to progress faster.
Dealing with addictions around the holidays can be difficult, but you can make it through. You need to know what makes you struggle. Identify the stressors and the inner struggles.
Your willpower is finite. You only have so much to give, so protect your choices and avoid putting yourself in difficult situations. Needing to talk to someone and getting help is normal. Don’t be afraid to get it.
Also remember that New Year’s is not the be-all or end-all of your addiction free lifestyle goals. It’s just another date. Keep progressing toward that addiction-free lifestyle, and don’t let the holidays make it harder for you.
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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Nov 2013
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.
Jenkins, K. (2013). Dealing with Addictions Around Thanksgiving & the Holidays. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 10, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2013/11/21/dealing-with-addictions-around-thanksgiving-the-holidays/