Understanding Relapse Triggers During the Holidays

The following information is a “recap” of the discussion with Dr. Paula nelson on 11/15/18.

The word “trigger” when it is applied to addictions means a situation or memory that causes the person to flash back to old memories. These memories can create tension or anxiety which can then provoke a return to addictive behaviors.

One situation that can cause a relapse during the holidays is family dynamics where just being together generates tension over unresolved conflicts from the past.  Since addictions typically “run in families”, there may be childhood “wounds” that have never healed.  The holidays often re-open those wounds.

Financial stress is another area that can cause a “trigger” reaction.  There may be travel expenses in addition to gifts, meals out and hidden costs which result in a need to de-stress.  Sometimes it seems easier to deal with “life” if alcohol or drugs are available and during the holidays, “cheerful beverages” are one area that is certainly in abundance.

Another problem is the “normal routine” which has been a coping mechanism in the past is no longer in place to help the addictive personality stay on track.   Between Thankgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, self-care may not be high on a person’s agenda.  Becoming overly tired and irritable may create the perfect storm for falling back into old habits where the addiction once lived.

The most common problem during the holidays has always been depression and loneliness.  If there has been a major loss in prior holidays, celebrating with others feels awkward and is in direct contrast to the feelings the person is experiencing emotionally.  Support groups often have meetings during the holidays to help people cope with loss.  Local funeral homes as well as hospice groups will advertise these meetings and it’s often beneficial for families to attend a meeting together.

The key to maintaining sobriety during the holiday season is to become aware of your personal triggers and do whatever needs to be done to put healthier choices within your reach.

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