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How to Handle the Holidays if You (or a Loved One) is in Recovery


Another Black Friday has come and gone and that means we are in the full throes of the holiday season. The marketing campaigns, bright lights and holiday music have already told us that this is the “festive” time of year. And it’s true, the holiday season is a time for fun, joy and merriment, but revelry comes with a lot of associated stress, and overindulgence.

For people in recovery, the holiday season can be especially stressful. This post offers some things to think about and remember for this group, and family members reading it may find it helpful to know what their loved ones are experiencing.

Parties and get-togethers

For most people, the holidays mean get-togethers, whether with work colleagues or families. To avoid any discomfort when you’re offered a drink at a work function, you might say alcohol doesn’t agree with you, or just, ”No thanks.” Or, keep a glass of something in your hand, whether it be cranberry juice, non-alcoholic punch, or the like. Remember you don’t have to attend work get-togethers you think will be difficult for you.

Family get-togethers may be even more stressful because they can bring up emotional issues concerning certain family members. You may feel guilty about things that happened in the past, for example. Let it go. Hopefully you’re comfortable talking about how you’re doing, should people ask. Remember the anxiety that accompanies the holidays can be an issue for relapse and take whatever steps you need to for staying on a healthy path. Put recovery first, as some treatment programs advise.


When you find yourself feeling anxious, do whatever you can to stay grounded. Don’t try to be a perfectionist. Use some of the stress reduction techniques available. Meditate, exercise, listen to music, call your sponsor or a friend. Take time for yourself but don’t isolate yourself. Manage expectations, both yours and others’. Help someone, but don’t take on responsibilities you don’t feel capable of doing. If you feel yourself getting depressed, reach out for help.

Holiday Triggers

Be especially mindful of your triggers during this time. Don’t skip going to meetings. Look for (or consider hosting) a get-together with others in recovery. Everyday Health has “10 Ways to Avoid Holiday Addiction Relapses.” It’s a clunky title, but the list has some good advice, such as “Start each day with a plan to stay sober when temptation abounds.”

Holiday Worksheets

Here is a helpful holiday worksheet for people in recovery that we think is valuable: LINK TO HELPFUL HOLIDAY WORKSHEET (IF YOU CAN PUT UP WITH THE ADS!)

Start with the second one: The Coping with Holiday Stress Worksheet: Creating my Own Plan for a Happy and Healthy Holiday. Here’s the first task on that one:

Let go of unrealistic expectations:
You can’t recreate the past.
You can’t have perfect holidays.

[Fill in the blank] One thing I would like to have happen this holiday season that probably won’t is:__________________________________________

Our next recommendation comes from Living in Recovery and Avoiding Relapse During the Holidays from the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation.

We also find the Smart Recovery’s Change-Plan Worksheet can be helpful during the holidays.