Because addiction is not a disease that is ever cured (it can be treated, but not cured), this time of year can be particularly difficult for those in early recovery (or just in recovery, period) attempting to maintain their sobriety. With ads flooding all facets of media for different types of cocktails, wine, beer and liquor; and relatives and friends “bringing in the merry” with drinks in hand—it can make for some very stressful triggering situations. It is imperative in these situations to assist addicted clients to utilize their resources. For example, in many areas, there are 12 step programs running “alcathons,” or 24 hours of AA and other meetings because of this peak relapse time.
Also, it is important for alcoholics or other drug addicts to take their addiction “one day at a time,” and be willing to set boundaries with loved ones. Maybe they need to tell aunt or uncle so and so to not offer them any alcoholic drinks. Maybe they need to tell mom/dad/whomever that they cannot be around alcohol at all, and as a result, they cannot show up for said event. It is important for the addicted clients to keep this in mind, and also for them to be communicating with their support network in AA/NA/Celebrate Recovery/Smart Recovery, etc., throughout this time, to create game plans and backup plans for those initial game plans.
These plans need to include what will happen if family/friends do not adhere to the client’s boundaries. As a result, many of those backup plans need include some kind of escape plan—with all of those contingencies, etc., communicated with the closest family members ahead of time. It may look something like this: “mom, if I get triggered, I may need to go into another room and speak to my sponsor. If that doesn’t help, I may need to leave early—and it may even be super early. If that happens, it has nothing to do with you—but I have to respect my sobriety and do what I can to keep that intact.” Trying to “tough out” a situation out of guilt or a feeling of obligation, can ultimately result in relapse. Like they say in AA: “Anything you put above your sobriety, you will end up losing.” That includes family as well. Sobriety has to come first, or everything else will fall apart if not.
Summer Jeirles is a Licensed Professional Counselor and a Certified Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor with a background in addictions and co-occurring disorders in adults. She currently practices in Virginia.