Guide To Creating Relapse Prevention Plans Around The Holidays


relapse prevention plans

The holidays are here. You arrive at a Christmas party with some friends. You discover alcohol there and call back on your relapse prevention plan to guide you. The holidays can present many triggers towards substance use and it’s crucial to have a course of action if you find yourself with cravings. The temptations to fit in and get along with loved ones can introduce conflicting feelings.

Recognize that these feelings are normal but you don’t have to be anchored to them. Addiction recovery is not a straightforward process. Although, with the help of a trustworthy support system and discipline, you can rise to the occasion. A relapse prevention plan works as an excellent guide to understanding what makes you tick.

How Do The Holidays Affect Substance Abuse? 

The holiday season, especially in America, can be quite exciting yet stressful. From last-minute shopping to heated political discussions over the dinner table, this can be a challenging period for those in recovery. It’s important to remain compassionate towards yourself during this time.

Seasonal depression is another factor to consider. Alcohol is a popular substance for social use, in addition to self-medicating. Alcohol use trends increase during these periods. Anxiety can impact the functioning of a person’s mental health, resorting to substances. 

Grief has a substantial grip on substance use during the holidays, particularly if a loved one passed before the years’ end. Seasonal Affective Disorder can occur in the population, where a person begins to experience depressive symptoms during a shift in seasons. In some regions, winter weather can be isolating and brutal for those in brisk climates.

Holiday Statistics On Drug And Alcohol Abuse

It’s no surprise that alcohol consumption increases during the holiday season. According to the CDC, December, January, and March are some of the deadliest months for drug and alcohol-related accidents. In 2019, alcohol-impaired driving fatalities accounted for 10,142 deaths. 

Women’s drug-and-alcohol-related injuries were most likely to take place on New Year’s. Additionally, New Years’ accounts for the greatest share of intoxicated injuries to the head, face, ears, and mouth.

The holidays are generally associated with spending time with those closest to you and exchanging gifts. Financial stress and pressures from your family can incite you to escape through substances. Strained family relationships can build on mounting stress. 

Roughly 91,000 deaths have been reported for December since 1999, with roughly 29% of users reporting an increase in alcohol use. During these months, a majority of Americans will experience moderate to intense levels of stress. 

Coping With The Global Pandemic And Isolation

The global pandemic cast a wide net of conflicts, division, and fear among the population. The isolation from social distancing and lockdown have made lasting impacts on our society. We’re left with a gaping look into our healthcare systems and distribution of resources. Mental health and substance use disorder trends have indicated an increase of cases globally.

The holidays can be a trying time for those who have experienced loss or may not have connections with a support system. Drug overdose cases have increased nationally and globally. According to the CDC, as of June 2020, 13% of Americans reported starting or increasing substance use since the beginning of the pandemic.

In December 2020, 40 U.S. states saw increases in opioid-related mortality along with ongoing concerns for those with substance use disorders, according to the American Medical Association. Some individuals may begin taking new substances than their usual if they become difficult to access (I.E. Heroin instead of prescription opioids).

How Common Is Early Relapse Recovery? Do Relapse Rates Increase Around The Holidays?

Relapse is a common occurrence in addiction recovery, with roughly 40-60% of recovering individuals relapsing.  It’s important to understand the difference between a lapse (an initial use of a substance) and a relapse (uncontrolled use of a substance). This can be frustrating for individuals who might have lost hope for sobriety. 

A relapse can be defined as a return to substance use or behavior after receiving treatment. Multiple studies have suggested that relapse rates of 50% within the first 12 weeks after completion of intensive inpatient programs (lasting 4-12+ weeks).

Relapse manifests steadily, and it’s crucial to recognize these signs before things progress. Adjusting to life without substances could make you feel lost and alone. There are no standard relapse prevention programs, despite the resources available for addiction treatment.

Emotional Stage

The emotional stage of relapse is typically the first portion of relapse. You may not be conscious of the emotional withdrawal that comes with relapse. Your eating habits and sleeping habits might have changed.

You could be missing out on group meetings and withdrawing. Adapting to these lifestyle changes requires time and you could be experiencing denial. It’s important to recognize the importance of self-care and identifying these patterns in a relapse prevention plan.

Mental Stage

The mental stage can be expressed through thoughts of use.  Holidays and social events can inspire a person to use during this stage. This stage of relapse is the most present and difficult to process through. In a substance abuse prevention plan, this section would highlight scenarios where you feel most vulnerable and how to approach them.

Cravings for the substance become more apparent, as you fantasize about past use and seek to maintain control. People, places, or things that trigger use can become more influential.

Some people could encounter difficulty with this stage. You must understand that these feelings are normal but don’t have to control you.

Physical Stage

The physical stage is where the person has a plan of action to use. The physical stage of relapse can occur when a person believes they won’t be caught. This stage can be dangerous because you might assume your tolerance is at the same level it used to be. One drink or hit can send you reeling considering the detox period you experienced.

How To Avoid Relapse Over The Holidays

The holidays can be a wonderful time to reconnect with others, despite certain obstacles. If you’re in recovery, reevaluate your relapse prevention plan to determine what’s best for you.

Make sure to get plenty of exercises and rest during the holiday season, as you may be tempted to break your routine. Self-care should be your mantra.

What Are Common Holiday Triggers?

  • Conflict among family members or friends
  • Alcohol-related traditions
  • Alcohol or substance use present during gatherings
  • Financial difficulties
  • Travel complications
  • Pre-existing conditions

How To Avoid Triggers?

  • Have a plan of action or exit strategy
  • Ask if drug and alcohol will be present at any social events
  • Be transparent about your feelings
  • Contact a friend or family member
  • Distract yourself
  • Practice breathing techniques
  • Avoid people/place/things that remind you of substance use

Treatment During The Holidays

The continuum of care is designed to provide evidence-based treatment options to those with substance use disorders. For example, a recovering individual can expect to create a relapse prevention plan for recovery. It’s important to treat each stage with deliberate care as you navigate the stages of recovery.

  • The Abstinence Stage
  • The Repair Stage
  • The Growth Stage

Psychotherapy such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and group therapy could be viable options. Relapse can make you feel helpless and vulnerable. The intense feelings can draw you into a spiral, especially after making progress. Therapy can help channel these thoughts and feelings into a constructive model.

Motivational interviewing is another approach to help you set goals and identify your destructive patterns through questioning. Motivational interviewing can inspire a patient to discover their strengths through focus and building motivation to adopt new behaviors.

Inpatient treatment programs offer a trigger-free environment for those struggling with addiction. With 24/7 quality care and medical observation from staff, a patient with moderate to severe cases of addiction can receive treatment. 

Outpatient treatment programs are a more flexible option for those who can’t commit to a residential facility. Outpatient treatment programs are generally less costly compared to inpatient treatment, yet offer most of the services for addiction recovery.

Sober living homes and support groups are some reliable extensions of addiction recovery programs. Support groups are tailored for members of the community to share their truth, specified by the substance or behavior that needs to be changed. Sober living homes are great for those transitioning from an inpatient residential program for substance abuse. Sober living homes usually require someone to have a job and can receive support.

Medication is an invaluable source of treatment for drug and alcohol use. Individuals recovering from substance abuse might have difficulty controlling their cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Depending on the substance, frequency, and amount used of the substance, a person can experience deeply uncomfortable sensations.

For example, opioid addiction can have drastic effects on the body due to its potency and highly addictive qualities. Medications such as Methadone and Buprenorphine have been used to alleviate the symptoms in patients.

Practice Relapse Prevention 

A relapse prevention plan could be the tool you need to hammer away from the temptations that come your way. A relapse prevention plan can be defined as a set of guidelines for you to maintain recovery based on your specific history. 

Typically a counselor will work with you to identify your triggers and scenarios where you might use them. For example, if you were using substances in specific locations, map out these places to outline potential triggers.

A substance abuse relapse prevention plan works as homework for your recovery. You can list some techniques and practices to express those cravings into something positive. Shame and guilt can fester from within, especially if you find yourself in a scenario where you’re most vulnerable. Be transparent about these feelings to receive support.

Multiple reports have indicated that individuals who remain in the continuum of care beyond their initial treatment have an increased chance of maintaining sobriety. Aftercare programs and online substance abuse treatment can be viable options. Working with a counselor after treatment can help develop your relationship with yourself.

How To Stay Motivated

Staying motivated to remain sober can be frustrating when distractions come left and right. Sobriety requires you to dig deep and authentically practice healthier coping mechanisms. Rely on your relapse prevention plan to provide you with insight. 

Remind yourself of the amount of growth you’ve made and how you’re capable of much more. Self-confidence in your recovery could be your guiding principle, as there are many chances to grow from these mistakes.

Hobbies play a vital role in addiction recovery. Whether it’s a team sport or painting in your room, hobbies eliminate the time for you to crave substances. Boredom and stress are powerful factors that could push you to use them. Meditation and journaling can help you keep track of your progress as you reflect.

Support groups are a great way to connect with others on a similar path. Investing in recovery could enforce a sense of direction and demonstrate to your support system that you’re trying your best.

Little Creek Has A Path For You

With the holidays approaching, this can be an inviting opportunity to reconnect with loved ones over the past year. Your recovery is a delicate and complex process that demands patience. Understanding the resources you have available when you feel overwhelmed or confused could spare you from cravings. Little Creek Recovery is determined to provide you with the tools for everlasting change. If you or a loved one are combating a substance use disorder, contact us today.



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