For many, the holiday season is the most wonderful time of the year. But for people battling addiction, it’s a particularly challenging and vulnerable time. Research shows that drug and alcohol relapse rates surge by 150% during these occasions. And Halloween, which is primarily a candy-and-costume-centered revelry, is no exception.
But, with the help of this blog, you can better prepare yourself for such gatherings. We’ll help you overcome temptations as we share practical tips and underscore the importance of seeking professional assistance.
The Connection Between Holidays and Relapse
During holidays and social events, you can be exposed to various relapse triggers.
For instance, you will feel the pressure to conform to social norms, such as drinking (or even using drugs). And when you can’t cope with peer influence, you could be tempted to give in to your cravings — and worse, go downhill from there. On the other side of the spectrum, loneliness and isolation in these times can also increase vulnerability to relapse.
Additionally, holidays can be stressful occasions. Research shows that 8 in 10 people are moderately to overwhelmingly stressed during celebratory events. Whether it’s because of family dynamics or financial pressures, it can prompt you to turn to substances as a coping mechanism.
Holiday celebrations, including Halloween festivities, also tend to disrupt daily routines, which makes it challenging to maintain sobriety.
Why Halloween Can Be a Trigger
Halloween has been synonymous with “trick or treat.” But here’s another t-word to consider in the context of recovery: trigger.
Indeed, Halloween celebrations brim with aspects that may trigger relapse if you’re attempting to break free from alcohol and/or drug addiction. These include:
Alcohol- and drug-fueled parties
Many Halloween parties, or any other social party, have alcohol as a central element. In fact, Halloween ranks fifth in the list of booziest holidays, only behind Mardi Gras, New Year’s Eve, St. Patrick’s Day, and Fourth of July.
While not as conspicuous as alcohol, drug use is also prevalent on these occasions. Not wanting to dampen the atmosphere at these gatherings might lead you to consume alcohol and drugs again.
Given how parties like Halloween are linked with acts of drinking alcohol and consuming drugs, it doesn’t come as a surprise if you have your memories of past substance abuse during the same setting.
Exposure to the same environment can make it hard to resist old habits. It also doesn’t help if a particular Halloween festivity is taking place at a triggering location or involves people who share the same addiction.
If you’re feeling pressured to socialize, make small talk, or engage with others in events like Halloween, you’re not alone. As stated previously, this situation can be overwhelming. And this stress can be a trigger for you to use substances just to cope with that social anxiety that has been eating you up.
Recognizing Your Triggers
One way to protect your sobriety while attending social events like Halloween is to identify your relapse triggers. Here are some tips to keep in mind.
- Take the time to reflect on past Halloweens. Determine memories involving substance use and trace back what prompted you to consume them.
- Apart from personal reflection, attend counseling sessions to understand your emotions better. These include stress, anxiety, or excitement, which can all trigger your desire to use substances, especially during Halloween.
- Besides your emotions, take note of environmental cues, ranging from decorations and costumes to specific venues that may evoke cravings.
- Be honest and assess the company you keep during Halloween. Consider whether anyone encourages or enables substance use. Always watch out for peer pressure situations where friends or acquaintances may try to influence you to participate in drinking or drug use.
- Thoroughly evaluate your support system’s strength, especially during the holiday season. Be in the company of people who will help you effectively manage triggers.
Strategies to Avoid Relapse During Halloween
While maintaining sobriety is a tricky thing to do, healthy coping mechanisms are available to help you avoid relapse.
Plan ahead and set the mood right
Every individual has a unique response to holiday-specific triggers. So, upon knowing your triggers, develop a plan and outline how you can potentially cope. Additionally, you can attend extra support group meetings around this time to help set the tone in a positive way.
Lean on your support system
Bring a sober loved one for that much-needed support when heading to a party. It is invaluable to have someone who truly understands your recovery journey and wants you to be successful in it.
Learn to say ‘no’
Prepare confident responses for drinks or drug offers. You can even prepare a script and practice it with your sober, supportive friend or family member. You should also plan how you can leave any triggering situations promptly. Practically speaking, ensure you have your transportation or pre-arranged means to avoid being stuck in a challenging scenario.
Celebrate the meaningful way
If you want to really avoid being amid triggering factors, it’s better to attend sober parties. Or, as the National Alliance on Mental Illness suggests, consider celebrating Halloween in a purposeful and healthy way. Don your favorite costume and head on to a local shelter to distribute candy, Alternatively, you can also spend time at a nursing home to help older people enjoy the festive spirit.
When Prevention Fails: Next Steps After a Relapse
You’ve done your best and given it all. But sometimes, relapse can still happen. In these times, remember that such a setback doesn’t necessarily equate to your failure. Even outside the holiday season, relapse does occur. What matters more is what you do next.
Instead of viewing a relapse as a complete defeat, consider it a learning opportunity. Acknowledge it, and take valuable lessons from it. Also, don’t forget to ask for help. Reach out to a professional to discuss your relapse and reevaluate your addiction treatment.
Your physician and counselor will help you get back on track. They will guide you on how to adjust your recovery plan and, ultimately, prevent similar situations.
While Halloween presents various triggering scenarios for people grappling with addiction, there are ways to avoid relapse. Recognizing the risks, having a solid plan, and tapping professionals are essential.
And if relapse happens, know that it’s not the end. You can always begin again.