The holiday season is typically a stressful time for everyone, but often even more so for those suffering from addiction or mental health issues. Event planning, family dynamics, relationship issues, or financial difficulties are just some of the triggers that can cause added stress and difficulty. These situations can cause people to have deteriorating mental health issues or put someone in recovery from addiction at risk of relapse.

Preparing for the Holiday Season While in Recovery

However, the good news is that these pressures and stressors do not show up unannounced. Annually, as the fall season turns to winter and the weather gets colder, everyone knows the holidays will be fast upon them. So it is important to recognize for those battling substance use disorder, living in recovery from addiction, or dealing with mental health issues, that each year the holiday season can bring joy and festivities, but also dangerous situations and unwanted stress. Acknowledgement that the holiday season can be stressful and awareness of the potential for difficulties are vitally important in order to adequately prepare for the holiday season and guard against unwanted and challenging situations. Preparedness and awareness are the first steps in then creating healthy coping mechanisms and positive support to ensure that the worst that can happen during the holidays doesn’t occur.

First, recognize that the holiday season puts added pressure and stress on everyone. Stress on our schedule, pressure on our relationships, difficulty with our time management. Many people have to deal with difficulty or inflexible family members, a difficult work-life balance, and travel. Additionally, for those people who have extended families, like divorced parents or the children of divorced parents, there is often difficult figuring out who to spend time with and when. Strained family relationships and friendships can often bend or brake during the holiday season with the added pressure, and adding alcohol or other drugs into the mix, as is often the case during holiday events, can make stressful situations even more unmanageable.

So, it is important to plan properly during the holiday season. Set boundaries. Make an honest self-assessment of your availability and what you can take on. Take some time before the holiday season to prep your family, friends, and loved ones for what you can and cannot do, what time you may have or may not have, and what you can or cannot take on in terms of planning or execution.  Set a schedule. Have conversations beforehand with those with whom you are making plans, and be honest and transparent about the issues you are dealing with that may be triggered during the holidays. Understand, boundaries are for you and your well-being; they often may not make others terribly happy. However, they are to help you protect against any dangers or difficulties you may face if you’re currently battling addiction, living in recovery from addiction, or dealing with mental health struggles.

What if I’m Newly in Recovery During the Holidays?

For individuals that are recently sober or in early recovery from addiction, the holidays can be that much more difficult. Dealing with family members who are drinking, not having a lot of experience in large family gatherings or in social situations where others aren’t sober, or facing family members for the first time in sobriety or recovery can be challenging. The guilt and shame of past behaviors, strained relationships, or ruined holidays in the past can compound the emotional challenges of early sobriety. So, it is vitally important to create the plan outlined above, while taking extra steps to have healthy sober support and ongoing recovery support. Things like making sure the holidays include sober connection and recovery events, a meeting schedule throughout the holiday season, and regular people in recovery to call like a sponsor or other sober people are extra added defenses for the holidays in early recovery.

Finally, try to remember that the holiday season is supposed to be fun and full of joy. It is, after all, what they say is the most wonderful time of the year. So, try to remember what you love during the holiday season. What activities or events bring you joy? What people do you love spending time with? What are things that help your recovery, sobriety, or mental health? Be mindful of these things and then be purposeful in your planning to make sure you are engaging in those activities and with those people. What are the behaviors and activities that regularly support your mental health or sobriety? Make sure you are keeping those practices, engaging in those behaviors, and not deviating from those things that have been a positive outlet for you in terms of your health and wellness. For example, if you regularly go to the gym, take a weekly yoga class, or run every morning, continue to do those things and make sure the hectic holiday schedule is worked around those activities. If you’re in recovery and have a home group every week or have regular meetings you attend weekly, make sure you continue to attend those during the holidays and don’t miss them. Whatever supports your health, wellness, or sobriety, those things should not just stay consistent during the holidays, but they should be paramount.

The holiday season is stressful and holds many opportunities for dangers and difficulties for those people battling addiction and mental health challenges. However, with a good plan and vital support, the holidays can turn from a triggering situation into a wonderful experience; a time of worry and fear into a time of joy; and a time of past bad memories into an opportunity to make incredible and wonderful memories for the future.

If you or someone you know needs help for addiction or co-occurring disorder issues, please give us a call. Maryland Addiction Recovery Center offers the most comprehensive dual diagnosis addiction treatment in the Mid-Atlantic area. If we aren’t the best fit for you or your loved one, we will take the necessary time to work with you to find a treatment center or provider that better fits your needs. Please give us a call at (410) 773-0500 or email our team at For more information on all of our drug addiction, alcohol addiction and co-occurring disorder services and recovery resources, please visit our web site at