Helping Family Members Avoid Relapse During the Holidays

In addition to helping families with substance abuse issues manage the stress of the holidays, social workers may be called on to assist recovering addicts concerned about relapsing during the holidays. There are many strategies people in recovery can use to stay clean and sober amid the merriment of the season, according to behavioral health professionals contacted by Social Work Today. Among these strategies are the following: • Prepare ahead of time. Recovering

addicts should assemble a “recovery kit” they can take with them before joining their families for holiday celebrations, says Robert W. Mooney, MD, an addiction psychiatrist and medical director at Willingway Hospital in Statesboro, GA. At a bare minimum, this kit should include the contact information for the recovering person’s sponsor and a backup. Recovering people who are traveling out of town also should bring reading material, such as the Alcohol Anonymous Big Book and books of daily meditations, and attend support meetings available at their destination. • Arrive early, leave early. People in recovery who are attending holiday parties should consider arriving and leaving early since alcohol and drug use typically becomes more prevalent as the party wears on. Recovering addicts should not worry that an early departure will offend the host, Mooney says. • Bring beverages. Mooney encourages recovering addicts, especially recovering alcoholics, to bring their own beverages to holiday parties. That will allow the person in recovery to have more control over what he or she drinks and not fall victim to other attendees’ attempts to spike beverages with alcohol or drugs as a joke. “Many people don’t take [the importance of recovery] seriously. For them, it’s no big deal,” Mooney says. “For [the recovering person], it can be a matter of life or death.” • Have an escape plan. If a situation

arises at a family gathering, such as an argument or pressure from relatives to drink alcohol, the recovering person may feel tempted to relapse, and he or she needs to take corrective action as quickly as possible, says Donna M. Hunter, LCSW, CAP, a social worker in Booneville, AR. “I tell people in recovery that if they feel uncomfortable or feel that they need to use again because of the family situation, they need to get out or do what they
need to do to maintain their sobriety because ultimately, that’s what’s most important,” she says. Recovering people must remember that they are the ones who control whether they will relapse during the holidays, Mooney says. “They have to realize that it’s not the family’s responsibility to keep them sober; it’s their responsibility,” he says.

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