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Recovering from substance use disorder (SUD) is a nonlinear journey. Often, it takes time for people to learn how to successfully navigate challenges, like triggers, in their everyday lives. Some individuals may find holiday events triggering due to the presence of drugs or alcohol. Furthermore, for many clients, the first holiday in recovery is tricky and may cause increased anxiety. Treatment programs at West Coast Recovery Centers prepare clients to cope with triggers during the holiday season.

How Can You Thrive During Your First Holiday in Recovery?

The holiday season has arrived, and with it, many events and parties. Individuals in early recovery may want to regain some sense of normalcy by attending family or community get-togethers. However, it is vital to practice self-care and avoid participating in activities that may trigger cravings or other symptoms of SUD. Many people experience stress and social anxiety when attending parties or other holiday events during early recovery. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “[O]ne of the factors that leads to drug-taking and to escalation of drug-taking, and to relapse, is stress.”

People can avoid stress and thrive during the holidays by doing the following:

  • Being mindful
  • Utilizing their support system
  • Focusing on positivity
  • Finding sober groups hosting holiday events
  • Requesting friends and family avoid serving alcohol

People want to spend time with their loved ones, have fun, and enjoy the holiday. However, part of preparing for the first holiday in treatment involves reducing potential triggers. Clients in outpatient, intensive outpatient (IOP), or partial hospitalization (PHP) programs can navigate early recovery and potential holiday triggers with the help of their care team and loved ones.

What Are Common Triggers People Encounter During Their First Holiday in Recovery?

A few common triggers people encounter during the holidays include:

  • Holiday themes movies featuring the misuse of alcohol or drugs
  • Conversations at home, work, or school about holiday events containing alcohol or drugs
  • Advertisements containing references to alcohol or drugs
  • Increased in-store ads for alcohol

Moreover, holidays trigger minor depressive symptoms for millions of people every year. Individuals in recovery have an increased risk of experiencing depressive episodes during their first holiday in recovery. Often, people feel depressed due to issues out of their control. Christmas is an especially high-risk time of the year for people in recovery. According to Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience, one study “concluded that one of the most relevant factors in Christmas depressions is the individual’s belief in the myth that everyone else is having a good time and engaged in loving family relationships.” Discussing any depressive symptoms and thoughts with loved ones can help reduce the harmful effects of triggers.

How Can You Manage Triggers During Holiday Celebrations?

Holidays are a time to come together with friends and family to celebrate life. However, not all people in recovery benefit from attending family events. Some people may have a significant number of triggers affecting their mental health during their first holiday in recovery.

A few of the most common triggers during holiday celebrations include:

  • Witnessing others actively drinking alcohol or using drugs
  • Hearing conversations about alcohol or drugs
  • Being reminded of past substance misuse
  • Interacting with people who enabled addictive behaviors

Clinicians at West Coast Recovery Centers encourage clients to consider their emotional health before agreeing to attend holiday events. Some people in early recovery benefit from choosing to spend the holiday with sober peers instead of family and friends. Having a safe space to celebrate and people who respect personal boundaries helps people in recovery manage triggers during their first holiday.

What Tips Help People Navigate the Holidays?

Planning ahead and preparing how to respond to potentially triggering situations can reduce stress and increase positivity during the holiday season. Below are a few valuable tips for navigating the holidays:

  • Set clear boundaries with loved ones
  • Stay in contact with a support system
  • Prioritize self-care and self-compassion
  • Be selective about what events to attend
  • Stay mindful and self-aware
  • Be willing to adjust plans as needed
  • Create exit strategies for every event

No matter how prepared a person feels, sometimes unexpected things happen. People in recovery should prepare an exit strategy to leave any event immediately if things begin to feel uncomfortable. For example, they can pretend to get an urgent call from a friend if they want to leave without explaining their situation.

How Can You Make Your First Holiday in Recovery Meaningful?

Spending time with loved ones during the first holiday in treatment is an excellent way to celebrate recovery. Many people find achieving milestones in sobriety more meaningful if they share the success with supportive friends and family.

Individuals can celebrate sobriety during the holiday season by doing the following:

  • Attending or hosting sober parties
  • Volunteering in the recovery community
  • Using the time to reflect and set future goals
  • Expressing gratitude for sobriety to peers and loved ones
  • Creating new traditions

West Coast Recovery Centers provides clients with essential support during their first holiday in recovery. The care team ensures clients have access to the tools and resources they need to manage potential challenges and overcome any issues they may encounter. Clients in recovery benefit from using the holidays to reflect on their growth and plan for the new year.

A client’s first holiday during recovery is a joyous and often nerve-wracking occasion. Individuals may pressure themselves to act “normal” around friends and family. However, recovering from substance abuse is not always easy. People must be willing to rely on their support system to reduce potential risk factors related to holidays. Individuals in early recovery who choose to attend holiday gatherings where drugs or alcohol are present increase their risk of relapse. West Coast Recovery Centers encourages clients to avoid unhealthy environments and stimuli during the holidays to reduce triggering cravings or intrusive thoughts. Engaging with sober peers, friends, and family is one of the best ways to celebrate holidays in recovery. To learn more, call (760) 492-6509.

West Coast Recovery Centers ( 370135CP), Valid through July 31, 2025
Jackson House Visalia (540056AP), Valid through May 15, 2025
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