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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Relapse Prevention During the Holidays

With Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Eve around the corner, if you're in recovery for an addiction, it's not too early to start thinking about and planning for relapse prevention.

For many people, the holidays can be a joyous time of getting together with family, friends, and colleagues to celebrate. However, if you're in recovery, it can also be a time when you are at risk for relapse.

Relapse Prevention During the Holidays

As a psychotherapist, hypnotherapist and certified Substance Abuse Professional, I see many clients who struggle with relapse during the holiday season. Even people with many years in recovery can give in to the temptation to relapse into the addiction of their choice during this time of year.

Family get-togethers, office parties, and social events with friends where there might be alcohol or drugs can lead to relapse very quickly. Feelings of loneliness, depression, anxiety or low self-esteem can be intensified during the holidays because we often feel that we're "supposed to feel happy," and if we don't, we feel disappointed, ashamed, and that there is "something wrong" with us.

Relapse Prevention  During the Holidays

For people who grew up in dysfunctional families, holidays were often a time of chaos, anger, sadness, disappointment and, possibly, even violence. During the holidays, these childhood memories often come flooding back and add to overall feelings of loss and sadness.

Even though the holidays can be a challenging time if you're in recovery for an addiction, often, some forethought and advanced planning can help you to avoid relapse.

Seek Out Self Help Groups and Sponsorship:
This is the time to re-intensify your participation in self help or 12 Step meetings (see list of resources at the end of this post).

If you've never been to a self help or 12 Step meeting, they can be a wonderful resource to get support and build a sober support network.

If you don't have a sponsor, get one. Listen to people in recovery speak and if you feel inspired by what someone has to say and he or she has a solid background in recovery, talk to that person about sponsorship.

Relapse Prevention During the Holidays: Seek Out Self Help Meetings

Many beginners meetings also offer interim sponsors who volunteer to be your sponsor until you find someone that you really like. Some people stick with their interim sponsors and others continue to look.

If you already have a sponsor and you know the holidays will be a challenge for you, talk to your sponsor about talking more often. Get a list of telephone numbers from your meeting of people who volunteer to make themselves available for telephone contact or meeting for coffee to talk.

Plan Ahead for Holiday Social Events:
Many holiday social events include alcohol and, unfortunately, some of them include drugs. There might be some parties that you know you can and should avoid.

For instance, if your old drinking buddy is having a party and you know that there will be a lot of drinking or drugging at the party that will tempt you, don't go. However, there might be other healthier social events that you either want to attend or you are obligated to attend. Being in recovery doesn't mean that you avoid all social occasions.

If you know that you have a social obligation, whether it's a family event, a friend's party or an office party, where there will be temptation for you to relapse, plan ahead.

This could take the form of "bookending" the event by talking to your sponsor before and after the event to bolster your support. It might also involve your thinking in advance about what you'll say or do if someone offers you a drink, marijuana, cocaine or some other addictive substance.

Relapse Prevention During the Holidays: Talk to a Friend or Sponsor

If you plan ahead to say "no thanks" and walk away, you're more likely to avoid relapse than if you leave it to chance and impulse.

If you know that you're a compulsive overeater and there will be lots of food at the event and, as a result, lots of temptation for you to overeat, plan ahead how you'll either have a light, healthy meal before you go to the party to avoid overeating, take only a small plate of healthy food while you're at the event, or develop some other healthy strategy to avoid relapsing into negative eating habits.

Don't Engage in All-or-Nothing Thinking:
It's best to plan ahead during times when you know you'll be challenged by a possible relapse, but if you do relapse, all is not lost.

Don't engage in all-or-nothing thinking where you think that because you relapsed, you should just continue abusing your substance of choice.

Remember that occasional relapses are often part of recovery. The important thing is to stop after you've realized that you've relapsed and get back on track with the healthy habits that you've used before in your recovery.

Seek the Help of a Licensed Psychotherapist with an Expertise in Addictions:
At times, self help meetings and sponsorship are not enough. This is nothing to be ashamed of. It doesn't mean that you're "needy," "weak" or "crazy." We all need extra help sometimes.

When choosing a mental health professional, make sure that this person is a licensed mental health professional in your state and has an expertise in addictions.

I am a licensed psychotherapist, hypnotherapist and certified Substance Abuse Professional. I have helped many clients over the years to achieve and maintain their recovery.

To find out more about me, visit my web site: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me:

Alcoholics Anonymous of NY:
Al-Anon in NYC:
Cocaine Anonymous in NYC:
Debtors Anonymous of NYC:
Gamblers Anonymous of NYC:
Narcotics Anonymous of NYC:
Nicotine Anonymous:
Overeaters Anonymous of NYC:
Sexual Compulsives Anonymous: