Understanding Holiday Relapse Triggers For Teens In Early Recovery

The challenge of dealing with relapse triggers over the holiday season is more common than most people imagine. Triggers in addiction mean stressful events or situations that lead to a potential relapse. Such triggers activate the phenomenon of craving, which leads to the desire to use drugs and escape reality for an addict in early recovery.

Given the lack of boundaries in families, the holidays are stressful for just about anyone. It’s not surprising that triggers in recovery abound during these times. However, if teenagers in early recovery see the challenge coming and their parents are willing to help, relapse triggers over the holidays do not have to lead to an actual relapse.

Holiday Relapse Triggers During Holiday Parties

Parties overflow with drinking and merriment which can be difficult for people in early recovery. As a result, extra preparation may be needed before they attend a holiday party.

Here are some useful tools to avoid relapse triggers during the holiday season:

  1. Find out if non-alcoholic drinks will be available. You sometimes need to bring your own like a favorite beverage of choice. Stay hydrated!
  2. Beyond staying hydrated, don’t forget to eat well. Yes, enjoy holiday cakes and junk food, but also enjoy healthy choices as well. Protein is essential.
  3. Institute an exit strategy if you become uncomfortable. A signal between you and family members could indicate an excuse to leave.
  4. Bookend the event with before and after phone calls to a sponsor or a sober friend. Express any initial anxiety and share the accomplishment of succeeding.
  5. Access to transportation is crucial if you need to leave an event that family or friends don’t want to leave. Uber and Lyft are smart options.

Dr. Jacquie Damgaard, Executive Director of ExecuCare, explains how a person newly sober should, “… lower the social bar during the holidays until they have better strengthened their coping strategies and regained their ability to deal with more intense situations. For those who feel ready to brave the office holiday party, be prepared with coping mechanisms if you encounter triggers, and have an exit strategy if things get too intense.”

Parents can help by suggesting ideas and being supportive. Ultimately, nothing is more meaningful for teenagers in early recovery than loving parents who are on their side and believe in them. Such belief goes a very long way on the road to long-term sober success.

Parental Support and the Challenge of Holiday Relapse Triggers

Ultimately, parental support for a teen in early recovery makes a world of difference. Katie Volk from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) comments, “Everywhere we turn, we’re reminded that it is supposed to be ‘the most wonderful time of the year.’ While for some, that may be true, yet for others, the holiday season is wrought with triggers such as songs, scents, and rituals. Then there is pressure to conform to particular social and familial expectations, increased presence of alcohol, and more interactions with family and friends.”

As a parent, give your teenager the freedom to make the best decision for their sobriety. If a teenager doesn’t feel safe or comfortable at a holiday party, permission to go to a 12-Step meeting manages and reduces potential relapse triggers. If a teenager doesn’t want to talk about their recovery, provide space, and respect such silence. Sometimes the holidays are a time to quiet the mind and relax.

Here are some steps a parent can take to help a teen in early recovery deal with holiday relapse triggers and maintain a successful start to long-term sobriety:

  • Evaluate each situation and decide if it could be a challenge for your teen. If it seems challenging or your teen confirms that perspective, offer an alternative.
  • As hard as it may be, don’t take an outburst here and there personally. Families often trigger negative emotions and anger in teens in early sobriety. Be bigger by taking the high road and showing patience for an uneasy teen.
  • Start new traditions that involve sober fun like movie night or a family hike. Also, musical performances, holiday light shows, and ice skating are all fun options.
  • Allow a teen to go to meetings and meet with people in recovery. Don’t get upset if a teenager calls their sponsor for help. Have faith in the program of recovery.

Setting Boundaries With Family Leads To A Positive Holiday Season

By setting boundaries with family, a teenager helps to ensure a positive holiday season. After all, early recovery is hard to manage. Therefore, a teenager needs the care and support of their family. Why not take on the positive role of reducing stress over the holidays?

Dr. Lantie Elisabeth Jorandby writes in Psychology Today, “The holidays can be particularly hard on those who are struggling with addiction. The end of the year is considered a time to reflect, celebrate, and enjoy friends and family. This puts a lot of pressure on those with addiction to join the celebrations.”

Though battling substance or alcohol abuse is difficult, the holidays are a special time to bond with your family, make memories, and celebrate the miracle of recovery.


Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash