The Holiday Season Can be a Challenge for Those in Recovery

Dec. 19, 2013 (Largo, Fla.) – This time of year can be joyous, but for those in recovery, it can also be a minefield. The team at Recovery Resources of Florida, a local substance use disorder treatment center, shares some ways to prepare for this high-risk season and safeguard the greatest gift to loved ones: sobriety. The practice also supports December as Impaired Driving Prevention Month, observed in dedication to making our roads safer.

“For many people, the stress and circumstances of the holidays mean extra precautions must be taken to avoid relapse,” says Dr. Charles K. Friedman, the Medical Director at Recovery Resources of Florida who is Board Certified in Addiction Medicine, Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine.

Travel, busy schedules and high expectations increase tension and fatigue that can lead to heightened emotions. Often travel means one might be away from their support network and routines, enhancing a feeling of isolation. Holiday parties, traditions and memories, are often associated with alcohol or other drug use and can present a whole host of temptations.

“Living in recovery and avoiding relapse during the holidays requires the support of those around you and a dedicated care team, whether that be inpatient, outpatient, counseling, or a combination of these treatments,” shares Dr. Philip F. Bagenski, fellow Addictionologist at Recovery Resources of Florida.

Seven Tips for Surviving the Holidays

Identify stressors and struggles.

Take note of the times when personal stress is most heightened. Difficult memories and situations may be triggers for substance use. If you know that the holidays make you disheartened, avoid the specific things that remind you of negative past memories. Pinpointing inner struggles can be more challenging than identifying stressors. Listen to your body and look to behavioral patterns.

Strategize support in advance.

Planning ahead is key to protecting sobriety before any holiday events or travel. Whether for work or leisure, consider attending the occasion with a sponsor or friend in recovery. Preparations could also involve attending a Twelve Step meeting ahead of or after the event. Limit time in stressful situations or around difficult people and always have an escape plan.

Keep track of what you are drinking and steer clear of rationalizations.

At social gatherings, it’s generally helpful to have something to drink in your hand so people aren’t constantly offering you a drink. Be proactive! Get your own beverage, watch how it is being made, and keep track of it.

Remember willpower is finite.

In a surprising body of research, the APA reports that willpower is actually a finite resource. It’s similar to a muscle that you can wear out. This means that during the holidays, you need to simplify decision-making. Avoid situations where your dependence may be present. For recovering alcoholics, this may mean bowing out on parties filled with all kinds of alcoholic beverages. Or if you know that drugs are going to be present, absolutely don’t go. Law enforcement cracks down even harder during the holiday season.

Personal care and health is key.

Celebrate the holiday season by taking time for yourself. Proper nutrition and physical movement can be extremely helpful. The better you feel physically, the stronger you will be emotionally. Get plenty of sleep and try to stick to a regular bedtime and waking schedule.

Focus on others.

The holidays offer an opportunity to practice focusing on others with gratitude and joy. Look for ways to think about others and give back.

If you need treatment, consider getting it during the holidays.

Many families mistakenly think the holidays are an inappropriate time for treatment, when actually it’s the best time. Addiction generally ramps up over the holidays. Treatment initiated during the holidays could be the best gift you give to your family.

It is 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 support provided is as complete as possible. Visiting with a professional counselor or enrolling in a treatment program can help get an objective perspective, tailored advice and a stronger support network.

Welcome the holiday season with a plan to protect and nurture sobriety. Recovery is the true gift that keeps on giving.

Having trained in Addiction Medicine with the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Florida (UF) College of Medicine, Dr. Friedman is now the only dual-practicing physician in the region educated and certified in the specialties of Addiction Medicine and Pain Management. Dr. Charles Friedman and Dr. Philip Bagenski, who both completed the Addiction Medicine fellowship program at the University of Florida, work together, utilizing their expertise to better serve those in our area requiring substance use support and services.


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