Understanding the Difficulty of Holidays in Addiction Recovery

happy father and daughter sniffing freshly baked thanksgiving turkey

The holidays can be a difficult time for those in recovery from addiction. You may be exposed to triggers, such as friends or family drinking alcohol in your proximity. You might also feel stressed due to the holiday season, especially if you need to travel this holiday season. Individual family members may also be triggering for you, as family relationships can sometimes be strained or complicated. While you get ready for the holidays this year, remember to care for yourself. You may feel obligated to meet up with many people to catch up or attend family engagements. It is also possible to get caught up in all the running around and stress of the holidays to leave yourself vulnerable to relapse.

The Stress of the Holidays

The holiday season may be one of the most stressful times of the year for many people. You might be expected to spend your time with many different people and need to travel much of the day with little downtime. You may also have no one with whom to spend the holidays – being alone during a time when many others are coming together can be stressful and triggering. You may feel like you are missing out if you spend your holiday alone. Whether with family or alone, the pressures of the holiday season can be overwhelming. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this holiday season may be particularly stressful and unique for everyone. Some coping skills that help you during your recovery can be especially beneficial during this time of the year. Remember to continue to utilize these skills, even if you are busy. You may need to take time for yourself to:

  • Take deep breaths and meditate to keep your stress and anxiety low
  • Take a break when you can
    • If you are traveling between a few places this year, take advantage of your travel time to take a break!
    • Use your time traveling to decompress, listen to music, focus on the scenery, or engage in other mindful activities to lower your stress.
  • Get some fresh air and exercise
  • Try your best to continue healthy eating habits with portion control and limiting sweets

Special Considerations for the Holidays

While this year may be much different for many due to potential restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic, you may still encounter some of the unique stressors present during this time of the year. Keep some of these additional tips in mind to get through the holidays to minimize stress and reduce your risk of relapse:

  • Plan ahead for holiday gift-giving
    • Make sure that you schedule a time to go holiday shopping to avoid last-minute rushes to the store
    • Create a list of whom you plan to purchase a gift
    • Create a budget for yourself to shop
  • Learn to say “no”
    • You may not be able to make it out to see everyone, especially during COVID
    • Prioritize the places that you would most like to spend the holidays 
    • Consider sending holiday cards or making a phone call to those people that you cannot see
    • Understand your limitations and remember to enjoy the holidays (sometimes, less is more)
    • Have a plan for triggers
    • Will you see a relative this year who stresses you out? Will some of your family members be drinking alcohol to celebrate? Create a plan to get ahead of these triggers – you may need to minimize or avoid time with relatives that trigger you.
    • Give yourself time to take a break and destress
    • You do not have to wait until you feel stressed to take a break – give yourself a break periodically during the holiday season

Being Alone on the Holidays

When you have no one to spend the holidays with, schedule something fun or meaningful for yourself. You can try some of the following:

  • Volunteer for the day
    • You can connect to others by doing volunteer work
    • You can find meaning and purpose for fulfillment during the holidays
  • Find community events or meetings
    • Look online for community events that can fill your time 
    • If you are in a 12-step program, inquire about a meeting on the holidays
  • Treat yourself
    • Go out for a nice meal
    • Spend your day doing something meaningful and engaging for you
  • Reach out
    • Remember to reach out to your support network if you are feeling stressed or triggered
    • While you may not have somewhere to go, you might have people to call or chat with online if you are feeling lonely


The holiday season can be stressful for everyone. When in recovery, you may be feeling vulnerable and prone to triggers, which may make staying sober challenging. We are often obligated to spend time with many people and feel required to spend much more money than usual during this time of year. We may have no one to spend the holidays with and feel like we are missing out. Remember to continue utilizing healthy coping skills, like mindful stress reduction, exercise, and healthy eating habits. You may need to say “no” to some activities due to time constraints or potential triggers present during some events. Be sure to have a plan to deal with triggers if they occur! Find something to do to occupy your time if you are alone this year. There may be events in your community or volunteer opportunities for the holidays. If you are struggling with addiction, Choice House is here to help you. Call us today at (720) 577-4422.