Avoiding Holiday Relapse

By Erin LoPresti, NCC, LCPC, CADC

As many can attest, the holidays can be a joyous time of year. However, the holidays can bring many different elements and levels of unwelcomed stress in our lives. Avoiding holiday relapse can be extremely challenging. According to the Forever Recovery Drug and Alcohol Rehab Center, statistics show that recovering addicts are more likely to relapse around Thanksgiving and Christmas than any other time of year.  Evidence shows that there is not just one factor that causes relapse, but rather multiple factors. Factors are different for each individual. However, stress plays a significant role in the course of relapse. It is important to remember, stress interacts with these factors and increases addiction vulnerability and relapse risk (Sinha, 2009).  Although the probability of relapsing is higher this time of year, it is not impossible to stay the course of sobriety. Being aware of your own triggers and stressors will not only help prepare you for them, but also allows you to create an action plan.


Some of the top holiday stressors include but are not limited to: family conflict, schedule changes, financial stress, and obligatory events. Family conflict arises for several reasons. Families are in close quarters with each other, and they may be used to only coming together a few times a year.  Often, alcohol is served at family events, which could also create tension and difficulty for people to hold back disagreements and opinions. Another holiday stressor can include schedule changes. Part of recovery focuses on structure and routine that helps maintain sobriety. However, change in routine such as staying up long hours to meet deadlines, taking off work, not being able to stick to your exercise routine, not maintaining healthy eating patterns, or neglecting your self-care can be detrimental in recovery. Often, people will find themselves traveling to see relatives with jam-packed schedules. It can be difficult to remain focused on your sobriety needs during this potentially chaotic time. Lastly, the financial stress during the holidays is all too familiar and can’t be ignored. From over-indulging in expensive holiday feasts, buying gifts, and additional bills, we can find ourselves waist-deep in financial debt.


Although the holidays are a time of celebration, having a holiday relapse prevention plan is key to remaining sober. Remembering those coping skills to help manage the increased stress is crucial. Making sure you stick to your routine and build in time for what’s important to you, including meditation, exercising, reading, yoga, etc. Creating daily lists and obtainable goals can give you a sense of accomplishment without a feeling of being overwhelmed. Also, know when to say “no”, and don’t feel guilty about it. Keep yourself out of stressful situations, or know how to successfully remove yourself from a stressful situation. Come up with a reasonable budget for gifts and keep a spreadsheet or checklist to keep you on your financial goal for the holiday season. Continue to seek healthy support during the holidays, reaching out to sponsors, attending AA or NA meetings, and keeping therapy appointments, if possible. Avoiding a relapse around the holidays is possible with a strong relapse prevention plan. Happy holidays!



Sinha, Rajita (2009). Modeling Stress and drug cravings in the laboratory: implications for addiction treatment development.  Addiction Biology, Vol. 14 Issue 1, p 84-98.


 Forever Recovery Drug and Alcohol Rehab Center. 2016 Statistics