How to Create a Relapse Prevention Plan for the Holiday’s

The Holiday Season can be a stressful time. Don’t lose sight of your accomplishments. Continue to strive for a sober and fulfilling life. After all, recovery is the best holiday gift!

Becoming aware of potentially triggering situations and knowing how to prepare for them can help minimize your risk of relapse and allow you to enjoy your Holiday Season.

Triggers in Addiction: Holiday Parties

Holiday Relapse Prevention Plan (PDF)

This time of year, can see many occasions where there are ample opportunities to drink and use; from family get togethers, office parties, holiday markets, and having time with friends. Remember we do not have to go to every (or any) event we are invited to! Perhaps if we do not attend these festivities this year to protect our sobriety, it will enable us to be able to attend these events for many years to come. We all have different levels of acceptance and comfort with our disease to determine which of these tips are applicable and realistic to you.

Note: If there is nothing realistic in the list below, consider whether should you be going to these events at all.

  • Choose wisely. If there’s a party, family or work gathering you know that will serve alcohol, ask yourself if you have to go to that one. If you don’t think you’ll feel comfortable or there might be pressure to drink, ask yourself why you think you should attend. Maybe this will be a good excuse not to see cousin Francie…
  • Keep a non-alcoholic beverage in your hand. When you arrive, immediately get a non-alcoholic beverage (or bring your own). That way, you can avoid being asked why you aren’t drinking. When it’s time for another beverage, serve yourself to avoid someone accidentally (or on purpose) giving you alcohol. Perhaps bring a hostess gift of a non-alcoholic beverage (there are many, many options from water, juice, coffee, tea, and pop, to non-alcoholic beer, wine, spirits, “fizzy” cider drinks, and kombucha). There are even “drink sleeves” that you put over a can of pop or juice so it looks like you are drinking something else.
  • Have a preplanned response. Perhaps people are not aware that you are no longer drinking or using, or perhaps they just don’t care? If you expect to be offered a drink, having some preplanned response can be very helpful. Remember, we do not owe anyone anything! Here are a few examples:
    • “No, thank you” is enough (using the “broken record technique” can be useful as well.
    • Additional ideas can include, “I’m not drinking tonight.” “I have an early day tomorrow.”
    • Try “Yes please, I’ll have a Coca-Cola.” “Not right now thank you”
    • Use humour if that works for you:“Not even the best stuff will be tempting enough to throw away my recovery,” “there is not enough here for me,” “1 is too many, 1000 is never enough,” “oh, you don’t want me to drink/use, there will be no winners in that situation,” “my cat gets pissed when I am wasted.”
  • Accountabil-a-buddy. Ask a sober friend, a trusted family member or a peer in recovery to come with you to a party or gathering. Have someone you can turn to if the pressure to drink feels overwhelming. If you can’t bring them to the party set regular check-in times and let them know you will call if things get risky.
  • Have an exit plan. We can’t always predict how one evening turns out, even if we have great confidence in our recovery. If you can’t miss a particular event, devise an exit plan for when you’re ready to leave. If you drive, make sure no one has blocked you in. Have money to use Uber/taxi/public transit. Have a support person who is ready to pick you up, if you need it. Employ some preplanned responses if you are asked about why you have to leave: “the babysitter, the dogs, weather warning, I’m picking a friend at the airport, a reindeer pooped on my lawn and I have to go clean it.” If you need to slip out without saying anything to anyone, then that is what you do!
  • Set your limit. Establish a time you will arrive or leave the party. If the hard stuff gets brought out at 9:00 p.m., then you should leave by 8:00 p.m. If the hard stuff gets brought out while you are still there, leave immediately. The food is gone, streetlights come on, somebody ralphs. What will be your sign it is time to leave?

Families for Addiction Recovery

The Holiday Season is often about spending time with family members. If you have a strained relationship with your family, spending a significant amount of time with them could cause stress and symptoms of depression or anxiety. It would be great if every family member actually understood the disease of addiction, but that is just not always the case.

Anticipate anxiety. Have a healthy way to manage stress. Plan some “cope ahead” activities.

Seeing your family could also lead to you feeling guilty or ashamed about the effect your previous addictive behaviors had on your loved ones. These emotions can be triggering, especially if you used alcohol or drugs to escape them in the past. Practice self-soothing activities (breathwork, meditation, distract on your phone, call a friend, take a walk, make a gratitude list, pray to your Higher Power if you have one).

Some of us may not have family. Spend your Holiday Season with people who love you and promote your sobriety. Bring a supportive or sober buddy to events which you believe will be challenging to your sobriety. Creating your own family of supportive individuals and having holiday plans will help in these situations

Staying Sober:
Plan Your Holiday Season

Have a plan for each day, to keep you occupied and your mind off of the temptations of drinking/using. A thorough plan does not leave room for boredom and alcohol use. Plan activities that aren’t focused around drinking or using drugs. This is particularly important if we decide not to attend any social/family outings so we can avoid any “poor me” attitudes before they lead to a “pour me” decision. There are lots of community markets, coffee shops, winter activities, meetings, that are available.

Take Care of Yourself

Eat well, get enough sleep, attend therapy and support group meetings, and otherwise keep yourself healthy and composed. Keep your daily routines of exercise and healthy eating, which helped you achieve your sobriety in the first place. Continue to meditate or practice yoga, if that’s what helps you stay focused on your goals. Carve out a piece of the busy day to take care of yourself, and your sobriety! Be easy on yourself. Respect your limits, it is okay to say “No.” Celebrate your recovery. Remind yourself why sobriety is important to you. Before worrying about getting gifts for others, make sure you are well taken care of. Before worrying about getting gifts for others, make sure you are well taken care of.

Get Your Shopping Out of the Way

The stress of holiday shopping can become overwhelming. Do your shopping early to avoid any unnecessary additional stressors. And don’t stress about the presents you are giving. Set a budget, and stick to it. For the people who truly care about you, your sobriety is a great enough gift!

Begin New Traditions

Traditions of Holiday Seasons past may have centred around drinking, but it’s never too late to begin new traditions. If your old tradition was drinking wine around the fireplace at your Christmas Eve party, start a new tradition of making homemade hot cocoa and decorating cookies for tomorrow’s festivities.

Find a Meeting or Plan a Phone Call

The Holiday Season is a demanding time of year, which can cause a lot of stress and temptation. Don’t let this get the best of you! In anticipation of these provocations, schedule a virtual or in-person 12-step, SMART recovery, Refuge recovery etc. meeting. There are many areas that run 24-hour in-person meetings over the holidays

About the Authors

Renascent Staff
The staff at Renascent is passionate about helping people with substance addictions so they can reach their full recovery – with compassion, respect, empathy and understanding. Our staff includes our counsellors, all of whom have lived experience of addiction and recovery.