How to create new substance-free holiday traditions

Explore ideas for substance-free holiday traditions for those in opioid use disorder treatment. Find tips to create new holiday activities and manage triggers.

Ophelia team
Substance-free holiday traditions
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The holidays are a time for traditions. For many people, traditions involve spending time with family and friends. A season full of gatherings is sure to involve food — and alcohol.

For people who are in treatment for opioid use disorder (OUD), the boozy side of the festive season can prove problematic. Alcohol and opioids activate some of the same neural pathways in the brain, and co-use of alcohol and opioids is common, so imbibing may be a slippery slope.

Additionally, if you're taking Suboxone® as a medication for addiction treatment (MAT), drinking alcohol may be hazardous to your health. Alcohol is a depressant and can dangerously amplify the sedative effects of Suboxone.

Avoiding alcohol doesn't mean you have to write off the holiday season altogether. Instead, take this opportunity to create new, substance-free traditions for yourself. There are many ways to ring in the holidays that don't involve drinking.

Below, we provide some ideas to inspire a season full of new activities that reflect the progress you’ve made in treatment.

7 Tips for creating new, substance-free holiday traditions

Traditions aren't just enjoyable. They can offer mental comfort, providing order and predictability in our lives, which may otherwise feel chaotic. Creating new traditions is a wonderful way to enjoy the holidays, no alcohol needed. Here are some ideas to get you started.

1. Volunteer in your community

Find a local charity that could use support around the holidays, such as a soup kitchen or shelter. Besides the feel-good boost, volunteering can also improve your wellbeing. In fact, in 10 studies that included more than 130,000 participants conducted and published in the Psychosomatic Medicine: Journal of Behavioral Medicine, it found that people with a higher sense of purpose in their lives — like the kind you get by volunteering — had greater longevity.

2. Write holiday cards

If you need some quiet time to yourself, write letters to the people who have helped you through your OUD treatment. You can reflect on the progress you've made in your journey while expressing your gratitude. There are also community organizations that provide lists of people who could use some holiday cheer, like nursing home residents or local children’s hospital patients.

3. Get busy in the kitchen

Baking festive treats or preparing holiday meals is a surefire way to keep busy. You can prepare a meal for loved ones or, if you're solo, prepare food to donate to those in need. If you have children, baking can be a fun activity to do together.

4. Arrange a pick-up sports game

Get active with friends or family by setting up a casual game of softball, touch football, pick-up basketball, ultimate frisbee—whatever appeals to you. For groups with kids, miniature golf or bowling are fun options.

5. Get ready for a race

Holidays like Thanksgiving and New Year's Day are popular times for local runs, like 5K or 10K races. Enter yourself in a race; the training will keep you busy all through the season. If you want to make it a social event, ask a friend to train with you or join a local runner's group.

6. Enjoy a movie night

Whether you're alone or in a group, 'tis the season for a holiday movie! Make it into an occasion by getting some delicious snacks to enjoy while you watch. Revisit holiday classics and favorites from childhood, or choose a theme like specific genres or the work of a favorite actor or director.

7. Start journaling

Writing in a journal can be another way to take some time for self-reflection and escape the holiday hubbub. Journaling is a helpful way of processing daily stresses, as writing can prove to be incredibly therapeutic. Reflecting on past events can help identify patterns and triggers, making them clearer on the page. Additionally, writing down future wishes and goals can help refocus the mind and spark motivation to work towards realizing them. 

How to prepare for potential triggers

People may be tempted to drink during the holiday season for various reasons, from dealing with "seasonal blues" to coping with the stress of the season. Before the festivities get underway, identify your potential triggers. It could be anything from last-minute holiday shopping to seeing old friends you used to drink with socially.

Once you've identified your triggers, come up with a game plan to manage them. If possible, you may want to try avoiding them. For example, if you know that your old high school pals always meet at a bar for drinks on Christmas Eve, propose a daytime meeting at a coffee shop instead.

You probably can't avoid triggers altogether, so it's good to have a game plan for managing holiday stress and anxiety, which can make you tempted to reach for a drink. You can have an accountability buddy on standby to talk to, for example, or reach out to your Ophelia care team if you need a helping hand.

It's also wise to stick to a healthy routine during this time. Aim to get enough sleep, eat well, and exercise regularly. If you’re taking Suboxone, remember to keep up with daily doses. Self-care is a great way to keep busy and maintain a routine, which can help you get through the season.

For additional support, Ophelia is here to help. Your care team will ensure you have check-ins on the calendar and access to medication so you continue to benefit from support throughout the season.


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