Unique Challenges Recovering Addicts Face After the Holidays AND a Pandemic

Man in recovery at home

The holidays are challenging enough for recovering addicts without the added stress of the COVID-19 pandemic piled on to the heap of worry and stress. We have all had our ups and downs this past year, but these translate into possible relapse for recovering addicts. Add holiday stress (or any other stress) to the mix and we find any recovering addict in a fragile position. Recovering addicts and their families should be alert to circumstances that could contribute to relapse and work together to create a happy and sober new year for all.

Challenges Recovering Addicts Face During and After the Holidays

There are challenges and liabilities any recovering addict faces. These can be augmented during the holidays, with the emotional effects remaining after the holidays are over. The help of family and friends will be needed. Here are some tips on how to navigate possible pitfalls.

  • Schedules. Anyone in recovery from drugs or alcohol can find stability with daily routines. A schedule provides structure, accountability and predictability. When holidays or any new change comes around, life gets busier and routines are easily broken. A smart way to avoid disruption is to include special events on the recovering addict’s schedule, without removing everything else. Activities like shopping and family get-togethers should be predicted on the schedule. The recovering addict should continue to make time for daily activities such as exercise, recreation and spending time with a supportive family member or loved one.
  • More alcohol-related activities. There is the likelihood that a person in recovery will be exposed more to alcohol-related activities during the holiday season or other special occasions. There are two choices for the recovering addict regarding get-togethers where there might be alcohol. They can be avoided by declining the invitation or they can be attended with precautions. It’s okay to opt-out of these events. But if an event with alcohol is attended, the person in recovery should take a sober friend, leave early or plan to stay in touch with a sober coach or supportive loved one. If one’s recovery is on shaky ground, or one is early in recovery, such activities should be avoided altogether.
  • Feelings of guilt over past holiday mistakes. Another challenge recovering addicts face is reminders of past events, spent under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Holidays, birthdays and anniversaries (especially of deaths) can drudge up bad memories. Depression, anxiety and guilt can resurface during these times, creating the potential for relapse. The family should stay close to anyone in recovery during these periods as a reminder that this is a new time and place. The past is the past, and the future can be bright.
Mother with daughter
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  • Financial stress. Recent global events have created financial stress for many and the holidays add to financial demands, often by creating debt. Financial stress is a risk factor for relapse. As a countermeasure, the family can help the person in recovery budget appropriately, while letting it be known that quality time with loved ones is more important than gifts.
  • Unhealthy foods. Anyone in recovery should have a healthy diet and be encouraged often to actively work towards healing the body. When a recovering addict feels good physically, there is less of a likelihood to reach for a drug to feel better. Unhealthy foods can be part of the slippery slope to a potential relapse. Unhealthy habits and activities beget more unhealthy habits and activities. During the holidays and at any time where there is an invitation to eat unhealthy foods, a recovering addict should take extra precautions to find something enjoyable, but tasty to eat.
  • Family events. This one is tricky, especially this year. On the one hand, many recovering addicts began using drugs and alcohol because of troubles and difficulties with their family life. In this scenario, seeing those same family members around the holiday season can be stressful and even dangerous. And on the other hand, because of COVID-19, many recovering addicts will stay home, as a precautionary measure, and not see family this year. If there are family members that one would like to see but can’t, it can accentuate loneliness. Loneliness is a real factor and a fundamental contributor to relapse risk. Anyone in recovery should receive phone calls and video chats frequently especially during holidays or special occasions.

These are just a few elements of risk that can crop up during and after the holidays and other special occasions. There are others, and risk factors will vary from person to person. It is critical to encourage anyone in recovery to seek support and help when needed. A recovering addict should never feel afraid or ashamed to reach out for help and support during the holidays or any time of year.

Risk Factors Exacerbated by the Coronavirus Pandemic

All of the above risk factors are exacerbated due to the pandemic. It mandates circumstances where in-person interaction with supportive, pro-recovery family members and loved ones is difficult or impossible.

The recovering addict and the family should organize calls and video conversations with family members, loved ones, friends in recovery, counselors, support groups, and anyone who can provide assistance, a morale boost, or even just solidarity and kindness.

Treatment—Where to Turn if a Relapse Occurs

If the recovering addict relapses during or after the holidays, it is not the end of the world or the end of the line. If the proper assistance and communication has been set up, it should not be hard to

seek appropriate help, including from a residential drug and alcohol addiction treatment center.

A relapse is not a failure or a loss of all hard-won efforts. It does mean that some issue, relevant to past drug abuse, went unaddressed during treatment and that a trip to a rehab center will be necessary to effectively address all of the underlying issues, triggers and pitfalls of their addiction.

If you or someone you care about is struggling with a relapse this holiday season, please contact Narconon today.

Reviewed by Claire Pinelli, ICAADC, CCS, LADC, RAS, MCAP



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.