The holiday season can be both a joyous and a stressful time for many, including people in recovery from substance abuse. The prospect of reuniting with family members, buying gifts, or extending yourself emotionally in other ways can be overwhelming for people facing their first sober holiday season.
Experiencing a relapse, especially in early recovery, isn’t uncommon. According to a study published in the Journal of American Medicine, between 40 and 60 percent of people who are treated for substance abuse in the United States relapse within a year.
What’s important to know is that your relapse doesn’t define you. Overcoming a relapse and getting back on track in time for the new year is possible.
What To Do If You’ve Relapsed Over The Holidays
Not everyone’s definition of relapse is the same. For some, a relapse might look like taking a sip of alcohol, while for others, it can refer to a pattern of lapses. How you define relapse, and how your relapse affects you, can help determine your next steps.
If you or someone you know has relapsed this holiday season, here are some suggestions for how to respond to a setback.
Be Honest With Yourself And Others
Many people feel a sense of shame or embarrassment after a relapse. This can make it difficult to seek help or tell loved ones that you’re struggling. But many sober people can attest to the fact that relapse is not uncommon.
What’s important, first and foremost, is to be honest with yourself and others in your support system who can help you overcome the hurdle of a setback. Be patient with yourself. Be kind to yourself. And name your relapse—whatever that looks like—for what it is.
Identify Next Steps
After experiencing a relapse, your next steps will largely be determined by what your relapse looks like and how severe it is.
If you take a sip of alcohol at an office party, for instance, this may be something to name and recognize as a lapse. But it may not necessarily require that you seek intensive inpatient treatment. Talk to a sponsor, sober mentor, or counselor for guidance.
However, if you’ve returned to a pattern of drinking or drug use, you may need to seek professional guidance. If your relapse is having significant effects on you physically, mentally, or emotionally, a substance abuse professional can offer guidance for what your next steps should be.
Seek Professional Help
Even in the case of a minor relapse, it’s important to let others know what’s happened. Remaining accountable in your recovery and communicating your needs are important strategies for relapse prevention and responding to a relapse when it has occurred.
Talking to sober friends or family members about your struggles may be helpful. But if you’re struggling to bounce back after relapsing, you may need professional help.
What seeking help can look like:
- talking to a counselor or psychiatrist
- beginning an intensive outpatient or day treatment program
- attending virtual support groups facilitated by a clinician
- finding online 12-step meetings
- seeking community-based recovery resources and support services
Coronavirus And Holiday Relapse
The COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult for many people in early addiction recovery to access professional addiction treatment and support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA). This disruption can be difficult to navigate, especially if this is your first holiday in sobriety.
This year is not like most years. Many holiday parties and holiday events have been cancelled or altered to comply with safety guidelines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This can cause greater stress, feelings of loneliness, depression, and uncertainty—all of which can become relapse triggers.
How To Know If A Loved One Has Relapsed
Identifying when someone has relapsed isn’t always easy, especially if your only forms of communication with that person are from a distance.
It’s common for people who have relapsed to become less communicative, close themselves off from others, and behave in ways similar to when they were in the depths of their addiction.
Signs of a holiday relapse might include:
- making excuses to avoid phone calls, video calls, or other in-person family gatherings
- poor mental health
- acting recklessly
- lying about what they’re doing or where they’ve been
- skipping counseling sessions or recovery support groups
- changes in sleep or eating habits
Signs that someone has relapsed can look different for everyone. If you’re planning to confront someone about their suspected drug or alcohol use, try to be patient and understanding.
If they’re unwilling to talk to you, if they lash out, or deny their relapse, consider reaching out to a substance abuse professional for advice.
Getting Help After A Relapse
If you or someone you know has relapsed over the holidays and needs professional support, Recovering Champions may be able to help. Our Massachusetts rehab center offers a range of outpatient treatment services that can help people who have experienced a setback in their addiction recovery.
For more information about how to help someone who has relapsed over the holidays, call our Massachusetts rehab center today.