10 Tips to Cope with Relapse During the Holidays

in Addiction
Olivia Pennelle
Published Dec 7, 2020
10 Tips to Cope with Relapse During the Holidays

The holidays are an especially stressful time of year: lots of gatherings with an abundance of alcohol, social anxiety, and the pressure of putting up with family expectations. It may even be your first sober Christmas and a daunting prospect telling your family you no longer drink. The greatest fear many people in recovery have is that they may relapse and may never make it back into recovery. This isn’t true. Many people come back from relapse and find themselves recommitting to sobriety.

We shouldn’t judge, or criticize those who relapse, rather we can acknowledge that it may be a feature of people’s recovery. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), 40-60 percent of people in recovery will relapse at some point. Those who are in recovery from opioid addiction, may face relapse rates up to 80 percent.

One way of normalizing relapse is by speaking out and sharing our stories of our successes and lapses. Celebrities like Robert Downey Jr., Demi Lovato, and Kelly Osborne, have all spoken publicly about their lessons learned from relapse

Levato shared:

“What I’ve learned is that this illness is not something that disappears or fades with time. “It is something I must continue to overcome and have not done yet.”

The process of relapse

Relapse is a process. Gallus Clinical Director, Steve Carleton, LCSW, explains: “Return to use is most often a slow drift back into high-risk situations. Change is such a difficult process and over time there is a natural move back towards old thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. There are certainly times when unforeseen triggers arise and despite best efforts the pressure to use is overwhelming, however, these are rarer. In short the main causes a person returning to use are triggers.”

He explains that the two most common causes of returning to use are ambivalence and not being prepared for a trigger. Those triggers include:

  • Stress
  • Overwhelm
  • Being around people who drink and take drugs or situations that you associate with those behaviors
  • Negative emotions and mood changes
  • Birthdays or other times of celebration like the holidays or getting a new job
  • Relationships and their ups and downs
  • Physical or mental illness

Triggers can lead to cravings. These cravings are usually more intense when you first begin the road to recovery such as right after detox and treatment. Developing a plan to deal with the urges as they appear is a good strategy. Overtime they will decrease in intensity and be more manageable. It is entirely possible to resist cravings, however.

Try to remember that they will pass over time and commit to find effective ways to overcome those temptations, like resisting the urge, exercising, calling a friend, going to a meeting, taking a bath or long shower, meditation or yoga.

If you do relapse, don’t panic. We have our top ten list of ways to cope with returning to use.

What to do if you relapse

    1. Don’t panic. Know that you can return to recovery by simply acknowledging the relapse and seeking help (see 2). 
    2. Find support: There are various ways that people recover, so support looks different to everyone. Suggestions might include: speaking to a therapist, returning to treatment, speaking to your sponsor and going to a meeting, attending a peer support group, speaking to a friend in recovery, or seeking counsel of someone that has helped you in the process of recovery.
    3. Do not detox alone. There are a number of risks associated with home detox, read more here. If you have been using powerful drugs, like alcohol or opioids, consider clinical treatment.
    4. Find ways to deal with cravings, such as exercising or distracting yourself with other activities (think puzzles, cooking, baths, naps, or hikes).
    5. Make a list of self-soothing tools: take time to develop a toolkit of activities that reduce your stress levels, like meditation and yoga, going for a swim, getting out in nature, going for a run, taking an exercise class, going to therapy, or watching a film.
    6. Set healthy boundaries. That might mean removing yourself from friendships or situations that might be a trigger to using ie bars, or friends that use drugs.
    7. Reflect on the relapse. Once you have had a moment to center yourself and find support, take some time to reflect on the reasons for relapse. This isn’t about criticizing yourself, rather an opportunity to reflect in a non-judgmental way your reasons for using, potential triggers or stressors that led to the use. This is helpful information for relapse prevention.
    8. Develop relapse prevention strategies – check out our blog about relapse prevention.
    9. Forgive yourself. There is no point in beating yourself up for returning to use. Criticism will achieve nothing. It is an opportunity to learn and strengthen your sobriety.
    10. Keep practicing. Recovery is not a sprint, rather a marathon. It requires slow and steady progress. And that progress isn’t always plain sailing. Sometimes people lapse, and sometimes you experience growth spurts — know that it is all part of the process.

How to support loved ones who relapse

The most important point is to avoid blaming or shaming loved one’s who relapse. Relapse is a common feature of people’s journey but it doesn’t have to mean they can’t find recovery. We can help support loved ones by knowing common triggers of relapse, key strategies for relapse prevention, learn lessons for relapses in order to move on, and most importantly symptoms of overdose and what to do.

If you or a loved one is struggling with relapse and finding recovery, please contact us to see how we can help.

At Gallus Medical Detox Centers, we bring compassion to the commotion. Peace to the pain. Empowerment to the powerless. If you or someone you know needs support with addiction problems, bring us your battle. Call us today and take the best, first step towards recovery: 720-704-1432

You might also find our other blogs helpful:

Relapse: Signs to Watch Out For

What We Can Learn From Dax Shepard’s Relapse


Celebrities Share Lessons Learned From Relapse