People going through opioid recovery during the holidays may find themselves in situations that push their boundaries, cause stress, and potentially lead to relapse more often than during any other time of the year. While it’s possible to avoid some of these interactions, it’s still crucial to have a strategy in place for dealing with these circumstances. You can prepare for the holiday season by recognizing common triggers and working on a specific relapse prevention plan.
What triggers relapse during the holidays?
Tensions tend to run high during the holidays when families come together in large gatherings. It can be hard to get a break from all the activity. This leads to higher-than-normal levels of stress, and stress is one of the leading causes of relapse in general.
This stress can be amplified if you’re going to be around family members who aren’t supportive of your recovery journey or who will be engaging in their own vices. Even just the anticipation of these gatherings can activate stress, especially if drug use was a way of coping with challenging relationships and situations.
On the flip side, complete isolation as a way of avoiding these challenges can also trigger feelings of guilt and stress.
Lack of routine
For many people undergoing medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid use, having a strict routine is a major key to success. However, the holiday season often means disrupting your routine to travel, take time off work, and be out of your own home. And that makes recovery during the holidays extra difficult.
Routines help people avoid the unexpected and decrease stress throughout the day, so disruptions during holidays can feel like seriously destabilizing events. These disruptions can impact your sleep, physical health, and mood.
Tips for managing stress and avoiding relapse
Keep yourself busy
To combat the disruption to your routine and keep your mind occupied, try to stay as busy as possible. Help around the house, cook food, find a gym to go to temporarily, go for long walks, and stay near people you feel comfortable with. By staying busy, you can keep cravings and urges at bay while not giving yourself room to let the stress of the holidays occupy your thoughts.
Keeping busy isn’t just a physical action, either. You can also focus on keeping your mind busy by playing games with your family, reading, and focusing on whatever task is at hand. Volunteering to help out around the house is also an easy way to remove yourself from situations that could be triggering.
Know your triggers
By anticipating what is likely to activate the urge to relapse, you can avoid dangerous situations and remove yourself from an interaction that is likely to cause you problems. While everyone will have some triggers specific to their situation and history, most people find their triggers fall into four main categories. You can remember these categories with the acronym “HALT,” which stands for hunger, anger, loneliness, and tiredness.
If you feel like you might relapse, evaluate how you feel in each of these areas. Before making any major decisions, feed yourself, clear your head, surround yourself with people who support you, or take a nap.
Have a strategy
Having a solid holiday relapse prevention plan that applies to the season from start to finish can help you stay safe and healthy. Prepare pre-planned responses to questions you expect to receive from family members about how your recovery is going or why you’ve made certain decisions. Plan to have someone who supports you and who you’re comfortable with at your side as much as possible. And always have an exit strategy in mind if you feel like a situation is no longer safe.
Doing this work ahead of time means you won’t have to work as hard in the moment to answer difficult questions or make difficult decisions. It will help you do the right thing, even when you’re tired, worn down, or stressed.