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12 Christmas Triggers and How to Handle Them

Christmas is a busy time, with many of us overexerting ourselves socially, physically as well as financially. This period can be stressful for everyone, especially those in recovery, and overdoing it can often contribute to relapse during the holiday season.

People experience all kinds of struggles during the festive period. There is a huge focus on food and drink, and for those suffering with or recovering from an eating disorder or substance use disorder, this time of year can be difficult. There are also people struggling with depression or who lack support, during this period, and the focus on family and can reinforce feelings of loneliness.

While these Christmas gatherings are a source of comfort for many people, there are also those dealing with family trauma who find it especially challenging.


1. Parties

Any environment where drugs and alcohol are present is usually a huge trigger for people in recovery and peer pressure usually plays a major role in relapse.

Be honest with yourself: If you’re concerned about being at a party, and don’t feel comfortable in a place where alcohol is served, it’s important you’re honest with yourself about it, and politely decline the invitation. It’s not uncommon for people in recovery to convince themselves that being around drugs and alcohol isn’t a problem anymore. However, things can escalate rapidly, and one night can have you falling back into old habits.

2. False sense of security

There is often a lot going on around Christmas, and the distraction of the festive period might lure you into a false sense of security, especially once you see other people drinking or using. Perhaps you start to question why others can enjoy themselves over Christmas and you can’t. This thought process can be extremely destructive and can quickly lead to relapse.

Stay grounded: It’s easy to let yourself get carried away with the festivities. However, there will still be consequences to face afterwards. Attending meetings such as AA or NA is a great way to keep yourself focussed on your recovery amongst the chaos of Christmas.


3. Confrontation

Whether it’s a heated exchange with a colleague or tension between yourself and a family member, it’s important you don’t let arguments ruin your holidays. Confrontation often breeds anger, clouded judgement and impulsive acts.

Let it go: While it’s easier said than done at times, making a conscious effort to let things go is a way of protecting yourself in heated situations and prevents them from escalating.


4. Loss

The holidays can be especially difficult for those who have lost someone close to them. Dealing with loss at Christmas can feel terribly painful, and it’s not uncommon for people to turn to drink and drugs to help them deal with this.

Stay connected: Avoid isolating yourself during the holidays; doing things alone makes life so much harder. Loneliness can often make using alcohol or drugs more tempting. Surround yourself with friends or others in recovery during this time to help you stay strong and maintain your sobriety.


5. Loneliness

While many of us associate Christmas with family gatherings, this isn’t the case for everyone. For some people, the holidays are a reminder of strained relationships and feeling alone.

Reach out: Christmas time is about community. Staying connected with any community that’s helping you stay sober will help you maintain sobriety during this period. Reach out to trusted family members and friends and let them know you’re staying sober this Christmas.

6. Resentment

Revisiting past resentments during this period can do a lot more harm than good. Recovery teaches us to talk about these issues and let them go once and for all. Allowing them to come back up can leave you reaching for the bottle before you realise it.

Know your boundaries: If you feel a family member is trying to push your buttons, or your friends are behaving inappropriately, communicate the issue and then step away from the situation. Keeping it to yourself will only cause it to manifest in other ways.


7. Returning home

Returning to your childhood home is a major trigger for some. The pressure to be around family and friends may be triggering to someone who has spent so long being socially isolated.

Communicate: Communicating with family members that you trust and asking them to check in with you can give you a support system in case you begin to feel too overwhelmed.

8. Pressure

Many people find themselves under immense pressure at Christmas time. From buying the perfect gifts to hosting the best Christmas Day dinner. Unfortunately, using substances to cope with pressure is extremely common. If you haven’t adopted alternative healthy coping strategies, you may find yourself slipping into old behaviours.

Give yourself a break: If the pressures of party planning and present buying are stressing you out, give yourself a break by managing expectations. If cooking at home sounds too stressful, suggest eating out at a restaurant. Set a gift budget for each person or start a tradition like Secret Santa.


9. Busy schedule

Health and well being when recovering from addiction

The festive season is often chaotic and action-packed.   However, while getting involved is great, try and avoid burnout. Neglecting your health and wellbeing can have you looking for instant relief in the form or drugs or alcohol.

Self-care: Self-care is extremely important during recovery, and especially during busy periods like Christmas and New Year. Taking time for yourself is just as important as spending time with loved ones.

10. Violence

Domestic violence cases increase during the Christmas period, with many people turning to drugs and alcohol in order to cope. Survivors who have left abusive relationships may also experience painful reminders of past trauma during the holidays and may even find themselves missing toxic partnerships around the holidays.

Set boundaries: You should never have to speak or interact with someone who has harmed you. While you may face pressure from family members to attend gatherings, it’s vital that you protect your own mental health and wellbeing first and foremost.


11. Food

eating disorder at christmas

Eating disorders and substance abuse often go hand in hand. For many people, the thought of sitting down for Christmas dinner surrounded by people fills them with dread.

Make your intentions clear: Let your family members know that you don’t intend to overindulge this Christmas, and you can even bring your own food if it makes you feel more comfortable.

12. Happiness

Yes! Even happiness can be a trigger for engaging in destructive behaviours. While happiness is a positive emotion, for someone in active addiction, it’s an excuse to use or drink.

Be vigilant: It’s easy to become complacent, even in recovery. Identifying potential triggers and addressing them using appropriate coping mechanisms could prevent a relapse.



Above all, take care of yourself, eat well and drink only for your sobriety. Temptations will arise, but they soon pass. Focus on finding a healthy state of ‘merry’ free from drugs and alcohol.

If you need extra support or further advice, do not hesitate to contact one of our experienced counsellors today on 0800 170 7000