Maintaining sobriety over the holidays

The holidays are billed as the jolliest time of the year, but for some, they can be the loneliest and most stressful. This can be particularly true for people struggling with addiction. Rachelle Kitchen, a Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor (LADC) with Nevada Health Centers, says there are a number of reasons why the holidays can create extra problems.

“Routines help keep recovery solid,” she says. “And the holidays disrupt our routines in many ways — from eating and extra obligations to just waking up at different times.”

Kitchen goes on to talk about the holiday stressors that affect most of us — including money, over-commitment and events with relatives we might not want to spend time with. For people struggling with addiction, any of these things can be triggers, which Kitchen identifies as people, places, things or emotions that make us have a desire to use.

Maintaining sobriety

Kitchen shares some tips to surviving the holidays with your recovery intact:

  • Have a plan. You know your routine is going to be disrupted and you’ll be dealing with extra stress. It’s important to have a plan to deal with that. “Understand what’s coming next and how you’re likely to deal with it,” Kitchen says, adding that escape should be part of that plan. “If you’re dealing with toxic family members or something else that causes you to want to use, have a plan to get out of the situation as quickly as possible.”
  • Identify your support system. It’s important to have someone to talk to whenever you’re struggling, but especially during the holidays. That can be a friend or family member, a therapist or a support group.
  • Be realistic. We all put unnecessary pressure on ourselves, particularly during the holidays. It’s important to be mindful of that and only commit to what we’re capable of doing. “Slow down and take a second to understand what you can actually do — whether that’s time, money or something else,” Kitchen says.
  • Practice daily self-care. Kitchen says this is important all the time, and it can look different for everyone. “We all need to take 15 or 20 minutes a day to focus on ourselves,” she says. “That could be a walk, meditation, exercise, a bubble bath or something else.”
  • Get connected to community. People struggling with addiction have a tendency to lose connections — with family, friends, romantic partners and even children. “It’s important not to isolate,” Kitchen says. “Dial into the connections you do have. That could be a meeting, family gatherings you want to go to or volunteering.”

Being Supportive

When you love someone with an addiction problem, you want to do anything you can to help them. Kitchen acknowledges that while much of this is out of your control, there are a number of ways you can be supportive.

“We want to be careful about providing financial support, but we also don’t want our loved ones to be isolated,” she says. “We can help them work through their problems by lending an understanding ear or encouraging them to attend meetings or to see their therapist.”

It’s also good to remember that they may not be ready for the next step. “It’s important to be supportive and to meet them where they are,” Kitchen says. “And then help them when they’re ready.”

One easy way to offer support is by providing alternatives at family gatherings. “So many holiday functions tend to be alcohol-oriented,” Kitchen says. “We should try to keep those to a minimum or provide alternatives. Have fun with food and non-alcoholic drinks so they can feel special and included.”

Read: Serve These Festive Non-Alcoholic Drinks at Your Next Holiday Party

When It’s Time to Get Help

While there are a number of ways to identify if you have an addiction problem, Kitchen says the most recognizable sign is if it’s becoming a barrier to the rest of your life — in any way.

“Are family members thinking you’re avoiding them, or is it causing problems at work or school?” she asks. “Are you changing the things you used to do, like exercise or hobbies, so you can drink?”

If you’re ready to get help, the first step is to say it out loud, “I think I have a problem.” The next step depends on the individual.

“It’s important to understand that every person’s road to recovery is different,” Kitchen explains. “For some it might be gathering with people who understand what you’re going through. For others it might be talking to someone you trust or reaching out to a counselor or therapist to see if that’s an option you might want to pursue.”

The Value of Therapy

Therapists can help pinpoint triggers and work with their clients to implement coping skills to manage them. Kitchen says it’s critical to understand what’s going on, internally and externally, and then help clients navigate all of that. Trained and licensed therapists will help clients build the skills necessary to cope, as well as mindfulness.

“We need to work together to identify what’s going on and then make a commitment to change,” she says.

Therapists can help identify the root cause of the problem, but Kitchen says it’s imperative to get the addiction under control first.

“Mental health and psychological problems go hand in hand with addiction, and it can be hard to know which comes first,” she explains. “For example, oftentimes drinking leads to depression, so we need the drinking to stop to be able to identify the root of the depression. Is it situational or is it chemical? Will medication help, or is talk therapy the key?”

Read: Integrated healthcare: the benefits of a whole body approach

Once you commit to recovery, it’s important to remember that it’s for a lifetime. “When we work with clients, we create a complete lifestyle change,” Kitchen says. “Our end goal is to establish a life balance so clients no longer need to look to drugs or alcohol for escape.”

“Because alcohol and now marijuana are socially acceptable, it can be easy to think we’ve ‘earned’ or ‘deserve’ a drink,” she adds. “But it only helps to provide a temporary escape.”

Kitchen says if you deserve a treat, make it a massage, night out or even a nice meal. “Ask yourself what you really need right now,” she says. “Sometimes it’s just a time out.”

Nevada Health Center’s licensed alcohol and drug counselors support patients as they work to overcome addiction. This care involves developing recovery plans and after-care strategies for a range of addictions, including alcohol, opioids and gambling. Counseling services are offered on an outpatient basis. If you would like more information, call 800.787.2568 or visit our behavioral health service page.