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Holiday Relapse: 5 Common Triggers


Holiday Relapse: 5 Common Triggers

Well the holidays are upon us and I have a friend who struggles with a drug addiction. Especially during the holiday season. They have gotten clean a few times, but ultimately end up relapsing, and usually right around the holiday season. I could never understand that. If you have gone through the often painful withdrawal process, and have been able to maintain staying clean for a significant period, and getting your life back on track, why would you want to put yourself through all that again by starting to use again? It seems that when in recovery for a drug or alcohol addiction, the question of relapse is often not “if,” but “when?” Most addicts relapse at least once, and many do so multiple times. Relapse is common. The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that 40-60 percent of people relapse in recovery. So what is it about the holiday season that causes theses relapses? Here are 5 common holiday triggers.

  1. Emotional Issues

During the holidays, stress, frustration, depression, anxiety, and other emotions can lead to a relapse because using drugs or alcohol represents a coping mechanism. That makes sense to me. The chaos involved during the madness of the holidays is crazy enough. I could not imagine having to deal with all of it, all while trying to remain sober. The holiday season is one of the most stressful times of the year when it comes to emotional turmoil. Feelings of shame, guilt, humiliation, embarrassment, anger and depression are generally associated with this period.

  1. Work/Family Parties

Ah yes. The holiday office parties and the family get-togethers. Then add to this that drugs and alcohol are likely going to be present. A party atmosphere serves as a trigger and they associate party attendance with past use. Putting yourself into this situation, especially if you are newly recovered, runs a high risk for relapse.

  1. Financial Problems

During the holidays, money is spent like it’s going out of style. Christmas gifts, flights to see family, and other holiday related expenditures cause a great deal of stress. The key to this is to not get in over your head with expensive purchases. Know your budget and stick to it. A lot of people spend well beyond their means this time of year, and cause a ton of stress down the road when the after holiday bills come in.

  1. Family Conflict

Being in close contact with family members is another big stressor. Especially knowing that alcohol will more than likely be served during family get-togethers or parties. Old wounds may be reopened when family members have had a few drinks, which could result in an increase in conflict that may get out of hand. We’ve all seen the movies where grandma has one too many and causes major drama. I’ve witnessed this first hand, and it is not at all a pleasant experience. So naturally, the urge to drink or use drugs in elevated extremely.

  1. Schedules and Time

The holiday seasons are madness. People running around like maniacs. From work deadlines, rushing home from work, running to go shopping, to go to parties, and to family events, it just seems there isn’t enough time, and that in itself can trigger relapse. The best way to combat this is to make a schedule and STICK TO IT.


So with these five common triggers for relapse, I can understand how it could be so easy to relapse. How anyone survives this time of year is baffling to me, but it is like the ultimate test in willpower for someone in recovery. I think with the right support of family, friends, coaches, etc., that it is possible to overcome this time of year, all while remaining sober and clean.

–Devin T., San Francisco


The Addictions Coach team is here to help you through the holidays and all year.  Call us at 1.800.706.0318

Have a safe and sober New Year!



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