While the holidays are a time of joy for many, they can also be a minefield of potential triggers for those who are in addiction recovery. Reporting a 40% increase in views to addiction rehabilitation pages over the holiday period last year, experts at Rehabs UK explain why many struggle to stay sober over Christmas.
- Views to the Rehabs UK landing pages were up 40% in the period during and just after Christmas (Dec 2022–Feb 2023 vs the three months before).
- Pageviews to the alcohol rehabilitation page were up 84% in the same period, while views to the residential rehab page were up 205%.
- Lester Morse, Rehabs UK founder and director, says: “We see an increase in people contacting us after the Christmas season, and this can be due to various reasons. It can be that family members have only just realised the extent of how bad things have gotten because they have been in close contact with the person involved and spent longer with them than usual. A new year and the lure of a fresh start can also be a trigger for the dependent person to reach out for help in a bid for a new beginning.”
From cozy nights with a hot toddy to NYE bubbles, it’s no secret that December is a boozy time. The expectation to drink and be merry is wrapped up in almost every festive occasion, and with 64% of British men admitting to having been sober-shamed, it can be a precarious time for those recovering from addiction.
However, Morse notes that while peer pressure and access to alcohol can certainly be relapse triggers, those in addiction recovery will need to dig deeper to avoid temptation and maintain their sobriety. “I guess most people would think people relapse during the holidays because there’s more temptation, but AA teaches ‘any scheme that proposes to shield a sick person from drinking is doomed to fail!’ It’s only a matter of time before they relapse if they haven’t found a solution to the underlying cause of their drinking problem.”
In short, he says, “Christmas offers a good excuse for those wanting one.”
Morse continues: “In early recovery, some people can be a bit double-minded; there’s often a battle going on in their heads: “Should I drink or not?”, especially if they have given up for what we would call “the wrong reasons,” such as swearing off alcohol to keep someone else happy or promising never to drink again after a humiliating experience or big mistake. The moment they feel better or their situation improves, they are usually at it again.”
Free-flowing booze is not the only reason why there is an increase in relapse over the festive period. While the holidays are meant to be a relaxing time, they can also be a source of stress with family pressures, relationship difficulties, and the financial burden of buying presents. As stress is one of the most common triggers for relapse, the Christmas period can create a perfect storm.
“Some people genuinely struggle with loneliness at Christmas; even when they were drinking, it was a very depressing time for them! On the other end of the spectrum, Christmas is a time when a lot more people drink far more than normal and have a jolly old time! If you haven’t found a satisfactory substitute for your social life, you may be tempted back!”
Having worked in addiction treatment for over 30 years, as well as having personal experience of addiction, Morse has a wealth of knowledge about relapse prevention. He shares his advice on how to avoid relapsing over the holiday period: “My number one answer is that if you haven’t fully conceded that you’re an alcoholic and have been getting good treatment, then you will be powerless to resist the temptation no matter the time of year!”
“In my experience, the best thing you can do to prevent relapse at Christmas is to make sure you have a good amount of support. There is no better support than people who understand what you’re going through. Find a support group like Alcoholics Anonymous; they usually have events and groups all over Christmas and the New Year!
“Plan your days out; don’t be miserable if you can help it; don’t spend Christmas complaining about the past and not being able to drink; try and enjoy yourself; get involved with helping make Christmas fun and enjoyable for your family.
“If you can’t be with your family for whatever reason, join a group that’s having an event or volunteer to help a charity. Make an effort to stay out of self-pity and consider other people. Most of us felt much better about ourselves when helping and thinking of others! Even if you find one other person who’s alone to take coffee with, eat lunch with, or go to the cinema, it’s worth repeating: “Nothing helps you get out of yourself better than helping someone else!”