The holiday season is traditionally a time when people like to let their hair down. Christmas has significant religious importance for many, as well as the advent of the new year. But these celebrations are important for other reasons as well. In northern countries, the winter tends to be long and hard. Some people become depressed because of it, a phenomena known as Seasonal Affective Disorder. The celebrations in December help to lift people’s mood. Even those individuals who hardly touch alcohol during the rest of the year may overindulge during the holiday season. There is far more acceptance of intoxication at this time of year.
Some individuals find the holiday season to be a real challenge. Those who are recovering alcoholics will be surrounded by temptation. There can also be plenty of pressure to drink alcohol. Those who are in early recovery tend to struggle particularly hard. The holiday seasons can also be an emotional time when family tensions rise to the surface. Any sober individual who does not feel strong at this time of year will have no problem finding justifications to relapse.
The holiday season can be the source of a number of potential dangers for recovering alcoholics including:
* This is often the favorite time of year for practicing alcoholics. There is plenty of drinking events and their drunken exploits will be less censured. Those in recovery are likely to strongly associate the holiday season with drinking. During this period there will be constant reminders of what they are missing.
* This is a time of celebratory work functions. There tends to be plenty of alcohol available at these events. Those who are in recovery may be under pressure to drink as work colleagues encourage them to join in the fun. There will also be the justification that they deserve to have a few drinks because they have been working hard all year.
* It is usual for family celebrations to revolve around the consumption of alcohol during the holidays.
* It is common to bump into people from the past at this time of year. Old drinking buddies may tempt the sober individual to revisit the good old days.
* People in recovery can get a vicarious type of pleasure from watching other people drink alcohol. This is dangerous because it leads back to the old ways of thinking.
* There tends to be more media coverage promoting alcohol.
* Families will usually spend more time with each other during the holidays. There can be arguments and stress. People who are struggling with their sobriety may use this as an excuse to relapse.
* If people are estranged from family and friends they may find the holiday season to be a particularly lonely time. This can be another excuse to drink again.
It is recommended that people in early recovery try to completely avoid all social functions where alcohol is served. They may be able to handle it but going to these events could be considered too much of a risk. It is like playing with fire. There are even those individuals who have been sober for many years but continue to avoid these parties. This may be an effective tactic, but it probably won’t work for everyone. People will have obligations and reasonable justifications for going to these functions.
There are a number of ways that people in recovery can manage temptation during the holiday season such as:
* Those who belong to AA may want to increase their attendance at meetings at this time of year. They will gain support from the other members and will be able to talk about any concerns. Lots of other people in the meetings will share similar concerns, and there can be a great strength in numbers.
* There are usually plenty of events on during the holiday seasons where alcohol is not served. There are usually dances and social occasions specifically aimed at people in recovery.
* Now is a good time of year to focus more on recovery. This can be done by reading books related to recovery or other inspirational material.
* Helping other people is probably the most effective thing that anyone can do during the holiday season to protect their own sobriety. It allows the individual to move the focus away from their own problems, and it builds self-esteem because they feel they are doing something useful. There is also just a great joy to be found by being of service to other people. The holiday season is when plenty of alcoholics hit rock bottom so helpers are always needed.
* There is no need for people in recovery to feel left out of the celebrations. Alcohol is not needed to have a good time. If there are no sober parties taking place locally there is no reasons why people will not be able to organize their own.
* If people feel that the holiday season is too much to handle then they may find that a sympathetic ear will can be a great help. There are a number of emergency telephone hotlines for those in recovery who may be struggling at this time of year.
Sometimes it can be difficult to completely avoid parties and get-togethers where alcohol is served. Here are a few ideas for how people can protect their sobriety at such events:
* Most of the hard drinking tends to take place near the end of these functions as people become more inebriated. It is therefore advisable to leave early. Inebriated people appear boring to those who are sober anyway so leaving early does not mean missing out on much.
* When people drink heavily they just assume that the same is true for everyone around them. They tend not to notice those other individuals who have no interest in getting drunk. There are usually at least a few people who will not be drinking at these events. Most will not be recovering alcoholics; they just do not like alcohol. It can be inspiring for newly sober people to see these non-drinkers have a good time.
* Sober people usually have to deal with people asking why they are not drinking. It helps to have a reply ready. There is no obligation to provide a personal life story to these people. Sometimes the best approach is to just say, “I do not drink alcohol”, and then refuse to go any deeper into that conversation.
* It is a good idea to practice saying no to alcohol. Some people will be persistent in their attempts to get everyone to drink alcohol. It is a good idea to practice how to fend such individuals off.
* Those who are newly sober can find support by bringing along a friend in recovery. It is important that this other individual is firmly established in sobriety or else both people could be at risk of relapse. Those who belong to AA may be able to get their sponsor to agree to come to the event.
* It can be helpful if people bring along some recovery resources with them to these functions. This is easier with modern technology such as the iPhone. There are now many apps that can provide inspiration when it is most needed.
* If people begin to experience any thoughts of relapse they need to leave the event immediately. They should then take immediate action to protect their sobriety. This could involve attending an AA meeting, ringing a therapist, or contacting a sponsor.
A slip occurs when a recovering alcoholic drinks on the spur of the moment. There is a high risk of this occurring during the holiday season if people are not firmly committed to sobriety. A slip can easily lead to a full-blown return to addiction so it needs to be managed effectively. The individual who has a slip should:
* Stop drinking immediately. There is a temptation to justify continued drinking with the idea, “well I’ve already done it so I might as well try to enjoy it”. The longer the individual continues to drink the less likely they will be to return to sobriety.
* Seek immediate help. This can involve contacting a therapist or going to a fellowship meeting.
* Redouble efforts in recovery. If people have a slip it is a sign that they have gone off course. They will need to put more effort into their recovery in order to avoid a return to their addiction.