Being in recovery from a substance use disorder (SUD) entails many challenges. We may have mistakes to correct, relationships to repair, or come face-to-face with the widespread stigma surrounding SUD that sadly still exists. In addition, fun celebrations, so common during the holidays, can actually require special care and planning. This year, we also have to navigate a global pandemic that is compromising support systems and creating added stress and worry.
Most people associate the holidays with merriment, family get-togethers and parties, but this year will be different. Since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 40 states have reported increases in opioid-related mortality as well as ongoing concerns for those with a mental illness or substance use disorder. Even under “normal” circumstances, we may see higher rates of a recurrence of SUD symptoms (aka relapse) due to stress and loneliness, as well as people giving themselves permission to use because “it’s the holidays.” The percentage of people who have a recurrence of their SUD illness after a period of remission is similar to rates for other chronic medical illnesses: between 40-60 percent. Sadly, drug-related deaths are consistently higher during holiday months. And on one recent Christmas Day, 37 percent of fatal crashes involved alcohol and 39 percent did for the New Year’s holiday period.
Many Americans, including people in recovery and those who are not, will find the holidays more difficult this year. Sometimes termed the “holiday blues,” we may feel especially sad and lonely, or even downright depressed due to financial stressors from job losses and furloughs, conflict over recent social issues, and quarantine-related grief. But fear not – there are some things we can do to help us maintain our recovery.
Here are five tips to help get through the 2020 holiday season substance-free:
- Have a support system, virtual if necessary. Social support is crucial since social isolation is a risk factor for relapse. While we may have to physically distance, we shouldn’t “socially distance.” We all need people to relate to and depend on during our struggles. This can be your sponsor, a family member, or a friend, whomever can provide you with open ears and a caring heart. This holiday season will be unlike any other, so support will be crucial to getting through it! Many believe that the key to recovery from addictions is being connected to others. Establish days and times that you regularly communicate with your support system and try using video calls when possible to keep that connection strong. You can also find virtual support groups online.
- Stay active. Ever hear “idle hands are the devil’s workshop”? Don’t be idle! Run, walk, ride your bike, do yoga, anything that gets you moving and keeps your mind and body busy. These activities are great for both your mental and physical health and produce endorphins which literally help you feel better.
- Practice self-care. Taking care of ourselves may seem so obvious, but who do we most neglect when life gets busy? Our kids, parents, partners, or friends can sometimes sap the energy and strength right out of us. Practice self-care through activities like meditation, mindfulness, or even home spa days. Allow yourself to be pampered in soothing ways to ward off stress that can trigger drug or alcohol thoughts or use.
- Eat well. The holidays can often feel gluttonous with all the available tasty treats, and unhealthy eating can make you feel lethargic and “blah,” which can breed feelings of “why not?” Why not eat that cake, shop online, drink that alcohol, or take that drug? Help prevent this by eating nutritious, nourishing meals that will make you feel better from the inside out. Eating well is fundamental to good health and well-being.
- Know your triggers – and prepare for them. Treatment and/or a therapist likely helped you identify your triggers and now is not the time to forget. Understand what leads you to want to use drugs or alcohol – an old friend, a certain place – and steer clear if not entirely, at least on days you may be feeling particularly down. If your family stresses you out and drives feelings of wanting to use, the coronavirus actually gives you an easy “out” this year with regard to getting together in person. Opt instead for a video call to send your love and share holiday wishes, then lean on your trusted support system.
Ultimately, everyone is having to cope with changes and challenges this year and being in recovery adds that extra responsibility of maintaining recovery to our current circumstances. But we are stronger for it. The holidays during a pandemic are not ideal for anyone but being in recovery has helped us lay the groundwork to be prepared for and cope with the highs and lows. We’ve identified our shortcomings and learned better ways for coping with life’s cups and downs. We’ve got this. You’ve got this!
Importantly, if you are struggling and feel your hard-won recovery is in jeopardy, it may be time to consider getting some additional treatment. The ability to reach out for help when you are struggling shows your commitment and strength. So please, reach out to Recovery Centers of America at 1-800-RECOVERY if you need help!