Addicts and alcoholics often describe their addiction as cunning, baffling and powerful.  It has the ability to destroy their careers, financial savings, relationships, hopes and dreams.  During the holidays it is particularly brutal, ready to bring potentially disastrous consequences into the lives of millions. For the part of the brain that controls addiction, the holidays are the perfect storm; family drama, money issues, parties, too little rest and too much temptation all lead people to the nearest coping mechanism.

Woman struggling with her addiction over the holidays“I hate the holidays,” says John, a recovering addict in his forties.  “When the family comes together, the old tensions are just below the surface.  As soon as my relatives walk through the door I think about using to shut out the chaos. It’s especially hard not to use when other people are, and harder still when my cousin keeps offering to share some weed.  I’ve thought about staying away, but then I would have to face the loneliness and feelings of depression.”

So what can people do to avoid abusing drugs and alcohol and stay in recovery?  How do you weaken the power of addiction during the holiday season?  Here are some tips for surviving this time of year:

1. Be prepared:  You probably know some of the uncomfortable questions you may be asked, the awkward family situations you could encounter. Think through your responses in advance, and come up with alternative plans to avoid difficult situations and people you don’t want to see. This will reduce your anxiety and give you confidence that you can manage these events.

2. Manage your stress: The holiday season brings unlimited opportunities for more stress.  Make sure you make time for the activities that help you calm down and unwind.  Take a walk, go skiing or snowboarding, listen to music, go to the gym, read a book or take a nap.

3. Avoid “high risk” situations: There are some places, people and things that need to be avoided if you want to dodge the temptation to use drugs and alcohol.  Don’t be guided by pride, assuming you can master your cravings.  Think about the behaviors that get you into trouble and avoid them.

4. Don’t isolate yourself:  For many, the holidays can be a time of loneliness and depression.  Keep busy and be with other people; reach out to long lost friends or go to for events in your area.  You can also invite some friends over, go to a movie, volunteer to help out, or go online to find events for people in recovery, such as AA or NA meetings.

5. Find some support: Always have someone to call if you start feeling down or your cravings to use start to grow.  Addiction is too powerful to fight alone, everyone needs help.

6. Discover inner peace:  A critical part of self-care is looking after your own spiritual needs. Reflect on all that you are grateful for.  Count your blessings.  Think about your purpose in life and pray for strength and guidance.

With careful planning, you can enjoy the holidays and disappoint your addiction.  Just like Sara, a recovering alcoholic; “The holidays had become a time of year when my addiction ran my life.  Now I am in control because I spend time with people who respect my desire to stay sober, I take extra care of myself physically and emotionally, and I have a sponsor supports me when I feel any hint of a craving.  For 16 years I have beaten my addiction into submission at Christmas time.”

Happy holidays and best wishes for the New Year!

By Michael Campbell