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Relapse Prevention: Holiday Edition

Updated on October 31, 2013
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Kim is licensed in mental health and addiction counseling. Her education is in business, counseling, and health administration.

Holiday parties without liquid spirits may still seem a dreary prospect to new A.A.s. But many of us have enjoyed the happiest holidays of our lives sober—an idea we would never have dreamed of, wanted, or believed possible when drinking.   Alcoholics Anonymous

Learning to recognize stressors related to holidays and ways to cope with these stressors can help prevent a relapse during the holidays.
Learning to recognize stressors related to holidays and ways to cope with these stressors can help prevent a relapse during the holidays.

Recognize Holiday Stressors

Holidays present an increased risk of relapse for people in recovery from addiction and alcoholism. Learning to recognize stressors related to holidays and ways to cope with these stressors can help prevent a relapse during the holidays. Your risk for relapse is determined by how well you cope with increased stress.

In early recovery, your ability to cope with stress without using can be very limited. This is partly because your use has been your only coping mechanism. You haven’t learned or practiced other ways to cope without using. Also, in early recovery you are still experiencing some chemical, biological and psychological changes as a result of stopping your use, and your body has not yet adjusted. This adjustment is stressful in itself!

As you put more time and effort into your recovery, your coping skills and ability to cope improve. As you practice new coping skills and experience success with them, your confidence increases. As your confidence increases, your ability to cope also increases. The experience of successfully coping without relapsing increases the likelihood of continued successful coping and continued sobriety.

Minimizing or denying the existence of stress, or exaggerating your ability to cope with stress can lead to relapse. An accurate assessment of stressors and a clear plan for coping with stressors will increase your chances for coping successfully. The quiz below was designed to help you identify some stressors related to holidays. Answering these questions honestly and accurately can help you identify holiday related stressors, and assess whether your risk for relapse is mild, moderate or severe. Using your quiz results, you can then develop a realistic plan that will help you respond effectively to holiday stress.

Holiday Stress Quiz

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Relapse Prevention - Ways to Avoid Urges

Ways to Cope

By taking the quiz you have already increased awareness of holiday related stressors. You have also assessed your own risk for relapse as mild, moderate or severe. Next let’s look at ways to cope with the stressors identified.

  • Keep doing what you are already doing that has kept you sober so far!
  • Make a daily schedule and stick with it.
  • If traveling, find meetings where you will be going and plan to attend them.
  • If traveling, schedule phone meetings with your sponsor.
  • Keep your phone list with you.
  • Avoid stressors if possible.
  • Schedule sober activities that you enjoy.
  • Get plenty of rest
  • Increase meetings
  • Plan to attend a meeting immediately after the stressor.
  • Take a walk
  • Write in your journal
  • Read meditations, literature or the Big Book
  • Use breathing, relaxation and mindfulness skills
  • Think of urges and cravings as waves that will pass in time
  • Think of the benefits of staying sober
  • Think of the costs of a relapse
  • Identify and correct any irrational or addictive thoughts.
  • Offer to help someone
  • Exercise
  • Look at things from someone else’s point of view
  • Memorize an affirmation and repeat it throughout the day
  • Prepare and rehearse a positive way to respond to a particular stressor
  • Remember it’s ok to make mistakes. That’s what people do.
  • Be able to laugh at yourself
  • Smile
  • Use AA slogans: A Day at a Time, Easy Does It, Progress Not Perfection, Let Go Let God, etc.
  • Do something fun
  • Go to a movie
  • Meditate
  • Avoid negative self talk
  • Practice positive self talk
  • Remember a lapse or slip does not have to lead to a full blown relapse.
  • Respond to a slip by increasing recovery activities.
  • Accept yourself as you are.
  • Accept your feelings as normal, understandable and manageable.
  • When people bring up past, using behavior let them know you are trying to change.
  • When people say things that are hurtful, politely let them know that you don’t appreciate it.
  • Prepare a “no” response when someone asks you to use.
  • If you’re uncomfortable, leave.
  • Avoid big scenes or drama.
  • Make a deck of index cards with these coping skills. When triggered, pick a card and DO it!

Consider how confident you are that you will be able to substitute one of the above suggestions to cope with a stressor. Rate your confidence on a 1 – 10 scale. If you rate your confidence as 4 or below, consider avoiding the stressor and increasing recovery activities. If your confidence rating is 5-7 consider practicing the above responses until they are more comfortable, or identify sober responses that would be more comfortable for you. If your confidence rating is 8-10, you are very well equipped to respond effectively to holiday stress. Remember to keep up your recovery activities though. If your rating is above 10 and you think you don’t need to keep up recovery activities, you are overconfident and in danger of relapse!

Have a Happy Holiday!


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    • kimh039 profile image

      Kim Harris 7 years ago

      thank you. thank you, Micky Dee.

    • Micky Dee profile image

      Micky Dee 7 years ago

      Another great hub Kim.

    • kimh039 profile image

      Kim Harris 7 years ago

      Thank you daydreamer. Let me know of any feedback you get if you do pass it along. Pulling together a hub is a labor of love. It's challenging to create, and so rewarding to know someone might be helped by it.

    • daydreamer13 profile image

      daydreamer13 7 years ago

      Great advice! I know some people I can pass this on to. Thank you!

    • kimh039 profile image

      Kim Harris 7 years ago

      I knew you were having some tough times lately, vern, but I didn't know you were struggling with sobriety. I'm glad you found my hub supportive. It sounds like you're working a good program. I'm really sorry to hear of your pain, and at the same time, I'm glad you're doing some healing. I hope you're not "old school" and avoiding meds that can help. Thanks for sharing so honestly and openly Vern. God Bless You.

    • vrbmft profile image

      Vernon Bradley 7 years ago from Yucaipa, California

      Hi Kim

      Thanks for the very supportive blog. I was sober for seven years many years ago, and did okay over the holidays, but now I have been sober for almost ninety days and tons and tons and tons of painful stuff is shooting through like a geizer. I have really gotten so much out of my morning meetings which I go to six days a week and have people I can call. So I am looking forward to remaining sober and enjoy the feelings associated with being sober. It actually feels better, obviously, than being loaded or drunk. This was a timely and imported hub