Navigating Recovery During the Holiday Season

While the holiday season is a joyful time for gathering with family and sharing love within our communities. However, for anyone in any stage of recovery, engaging with the many facets that come with holiday gatherings can bring real challenge and strife to the mind of a recovering person. Whether you’re in recovery or supporting someone who is, it is important to be mindful of the potential for stress and anxiety that a person in recovery could experience during this time.

The increased availability and offering of alcohol can act as a trigger for someone in recovery for alcoholism. The expectation and pressure to consume alcohol alone can be extremely anxiety-inducing. Studies also show that binge drinking is highest during the winter holiday months, with 44% of people binge drinking on New Year’s Eve, and 21% during Christmas.

One can also feel pressure or an obligation to put on a front that they are doing well at that moment in recovery. With the pressure to sustain the holiday mood, often challenging—but necessary—conversations are not had. Someone struggling with their recovery may not feel comfortable being honest to avoid any potential judgement from their family and loved ones.

Families and friends hold a certain level of responsibility as a support system for someone actively using or in recovery. It is easy as a family member or supporter to want to watch to make sure they are physically and emotionally well throughout the course of a gathering. However, it is important to not hover around the person struggling. Feeling crowded or watch could contribute to a recovering person’s anxiety or feel as though they’re being judged. Additionally, families may consider finding new ways of celebrating and giving thanks that does not revolve around alcohol or drugs.

Many experts encourage families to talk openly with their recovering members and ask them what can be done to make them feel at ease and more comfortable navigating the environment during the holidays. In a conversation with Social Work Today, Robert W. Mooney, MD, an addiction psychiatrist and medical director at Willingway Hospital, a treatment facility in Statesboro, GA stated, “communication within families about these issues is really important, and families need to talk about them.”

The Recovery Research Institute, a leading nonprofit research institute of Massachusetts General Hospital (an affiliate of Harvard Medical School), developed a planning guide to protect your sobriety ahead of and during any holiday event. They suggest people in recovery consider bringing a sober friend or family member to accompany you to events where there will be drugs or alcohol present, or telling a friend or sponsor that you’ll check in when an event is over.

The holidays can be a challenge navigating for a person in recovery, which often triggers the feeling of being alone. In addition to SAARA’s regularly scheduled peer recovery meetings, we are hosting a holiday peer recovery meeting Saturday, December 19th at 11:00am, dedicated to this topic. We plan on sharing what makes the holidays the best and worst time for people in recovery, and tools for dealing with these challenges. At SAARA, we fight to work with both individuals in recover and families to create a judgment free, safe environment—all are welcome to join the meeting. Register for the peer recovery meeting here, or share it with a loved one.

Check out our Alive RVA warmline this holiday season.

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