The holiday season can be a joyful time of parties and celebrations, but for those in recovery from substance abuse, it can also be challenging.
Darryl Butson, MS, a certified alcohol and drug counselor at the Sharp McDonald Center, shares advice for people recovering from substance abuse, as well as their loved ones, on how to help navigate sobriety throughout the holiday season.
1. Develop a proactive plan. “We encourage individuals to plan an escape route and use it if necessary,” says Butson. Suggestions include driving separately, stepping outside to call a sober peer for support or even taking a short walk to refocus on recovery.
Additionally, Butson encourages those wishing to remain sober during the holiday season to prepare some responses in advance if someone offers a drink, to avoid being put on the spot. He suggests using responses such as “No thanks, I’m not drinking tonight,” “I’m the designated driver” or “I’ve stopped drinking to improve my health.”
2. Continue attending a recovery program. For someone in recovery, experiencing emotions of any kind, whether happy or sad, can be a trigger to use substances. “It’s very important that a recovering person continue or even increase their attendance at recovery meetings to connect to other sober people and carry on doing the things that have kept them sober,” says Butson.
Recovery programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous offer marathon meetings that run 24 hours straight on holidays so a recovering person could attend and get support anytime of the day or night.
3. Celebrate sobriety and recovery. “See the holiday season as an opportunity to rejoice in a new life in sobriety,” says Butson. “Think of all you have to be grateful for and how the rest of your life will be if you maintain your sobriety.” Additionally, he suggests using the holiday season as an opportunity to create new traditions — ones that you will be able to fully enjoy without regrets.
For those who have someone close to them who is recovering from substance abuse, Butson advises communicating directly to ask them how you can best support their recovery. Additionally, be patient with a recovering loved one as he or she may need to take time to go out to a meeting, leave a party or connect with their sober peer support.
For 24-hour phone support for recovering people who are struggling, please call Alcoholics Anonymous Central in San Diego at 619-265-8762 or Narcotics Anonymous San Diego at 619-584-1007.