holiday addiction triggers

Common Holiday Triggers and How to Manage Them

SoCal Detox
SoCal Detox

SoCal Detox editorial contributors include writers, editors, mental health and substance abuse treatment professionals who are trained to create credible and authoritative health information that is accurate, informative, and easy to understand.

It’s no good trying to hide from it. The holiday season has many wonderful aspects, but it has some tougher parts as well. It can be especially rough for someone living in recovery. Particularly for someone early in their journey. Managing and maintaining sobriety is a day-by-day process, but something about the hap-hap-happiest time of year brings a certain amount of potential pitfalls for a person in recovery from a substance use disorder. Why is that?

Celebrating together with family and friends is one of the greatest parts of life. Except when it isn’t.

The holiday season comes with numerous demands: parties to go to, cooking to manage, work gatherings to attend, endless shopping to accomplish and expense, traveling near and far, and so much more. For a person in recovery, the stresses of the seasons might be enough to make them waver in their commitment, or simply miss a couple meetings, which can be a slippery slope.

Holiday Triggers

Then there are the triggers that are distinct to the season. Triggers can be anything that elicit an emotional or psychological response in us. In particular, people in addiction recovery will find that certain people, places, times of the year, or even songs will elicit a craving. Here are a few that are specific to the holiday season to keep an eye on.


The stresses of the season were mentioned before, and there are probably many more in each individual’s personal experience. Studies show that preventing stress has a major influence on sustained recovery. When life seems overwhelming, a person in recovery is vulnerable.

How to counteract: Practice your breathing. Make sure you are getting your sleep. Practice mindfulness or meditation throughout your days (or prayer if that is part of your tradition).

Lack of Structure

Routine is your friend. Especially in early recovery. So the erratic traveling and demands of your daily structure will affect your emotional state and is a potential holiday trigger that could put you at risk for relapse.

How to counteract: Say, “No.” It is not mean to turn a few things down. Maybe you skip out on buying gifts this year. Maybe you don’t show up at the seventh party your friends are having. It’s not mean. It’s life or death—yours. Also, on the other side, continue to say yes to some of your regular activities, such as maintain your bedtimes and wake times, keep your exercise schedule, eat healthily and regularly. And please make your support groups a massive priority!

Family and Social Engagements

Some family relationships are so good and so healthy for us. While others are toxic. And some are going to model horrible behaviors that you know are destructive. You likely know the difference, and there will probably be one or two of all of those in your path in the next few weeks. It’s the toxic ones and the family dysfunctions that you have to watch out for. The amount of emotion and anger they are able to evoke can rise to dangerous levels for any recovering addict. As well, some of these parties will have drugs or alcohol at them. 

How to counteract: Be smart and stay clear where it matters most. Feel free to avoid the people and places that will do harm this season. Especially avoid parties where drinking or drugs will be prominent. You always have the option of not showing up where you know certain members of your family are going to be. For the gatherings you decide to attend, keep an escape plan in mind. If things get too intense for you excuse yourself and find a healthier option. Before your family gathering, talk to someone you love and trust, and see if they would be willing to jump in where necessary or help you leave the environment.

Sadness and Happiness

Sadness is kind of an obvious one. Though it is still quite lethal. The holiday season has a way of making loss feel even keener. It also has a way of making solitude sting that much more. On the other side of that coin is happiness. Or maybe over-confidence. A person is highly at risk for relapse when they actually believe they are beyond the need for vigilant recovery management. It comes with such thoughts as, “Well one glass of champagne won’t hurt. It is Christmas after all!”

How to counteract: Always remember that your emotions affect your decisions. Track them and manage them. But most of all don’t isolate. The holiday season is the time to stick to your support community. The good news is that being around other like-minded individuals who are maintaining sobriety can help alleviate nearly all these triggers. Talk through your days. Challenge your thinking together. Be held accountable, and hold others to the same standard. And give each other lots of grace.

Concerned About Yourself or a Loved One?

Even though triggers are part of the journey, are you concerned that you might have already given too much ground? Do you need some kind of help or stabilization? Or have you relapsed already? Call us today. Our addiction specialists are here to help you understand your options: 888-590-0777.

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