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12 Steps to Stay On-Track in Recovery: Holiday Edition

by Landmark Recovery

December 6, 2021
12 steps

It’s the most wonderful time of the year – until your social anxiety sets in, you begin stressing over gift purchases and family dynamics, and are confronted with the urge to cope with alcohol or drugs. The holidays can be the most difficult time of year for many people, including those in recovery from an addiction.

This is why having a relapse prevention plan and a solid support system is so important for navigating the holidays, especially if you have recently completed rehab. If you are the least bit worried about relapse during the holidays, here is a complete guide for conquering the end of the year in a sober and safe manner.

  1. Have a plan in place

The biggest danger to your recovery journey, and your mental health in general, is not having a plan for how to respond in stressful situations. Create a plan (ahead of time!) for any holiday event that might potentially trigger a relapse. This could mean going to a meeting before or after an event with your sponsor or a sober friend, or making sure that you can leave the gathering at any time.

A few ways to do this? Bookending, limiting, and DEADS.


When you “bookend,” this means you set up telephone calls with your sponsor or a friend before and after your event. This allows you to check-in and be held accountable.


Limiting is setting your own limits for how long you are willing to be in a stressful situation. If you want to limit a visit with a family member to two hours or less, stick to it. Have another appointment that you need to get to if you know a friend will want you to stick around for a drink. Limiting gives you the power to determine what is best for yourself.

DEADS Approach

The DEADS approach is a prevention plan from SMART Recovery that can help you in any situation in which you feel the urge to use again. Each letter stands for a useful way to think through your situation: “D” for delay, “E” for escape, “A” for accept, “D” for dispute, and “S” for substitute. Read more about each on SMART Recovery’s site.

  1. Avoid places, people, and situations you know will be triggering

This one should be obvious, but sometimes it needs to be restated: If you know that a situation is going be difficult or triggering for you, you might consider avoiding it or do your best to reduce your exposure.

For example, if your uncle is going to tease you about your recovery or offer you an alcoholic drink, you can try to avoid that conversation, or him, altogether. If your old party crew invites you to hang out and you know that drugs or alcohol will be present, politely decline. If you know the office holiday party is going to have booze, make a brief appearance and leave when the party starts to pick up speed.

  1. You can say “no”

One of the first things to remember about the holidays is that you can always say “no.” Family and friends are important. However, if you are worried that visiting your family or friends will trigger a relapse, then you need to prioritize your recovery.

Even if your family does not understand, your recovery and health comes before holiday obligations. Likewise, if you believe that staying home alone during the holidays could also trigger a relapse, then consider calling someone you trust to spend time with, or host your own festivities.

  1. Set boundaries for events

Before going home for the holidays, determine your boundaries and plan to stick with them. This goes back to having a plan in place. Regardless of your family or friends’ willingness to honor your boundaries, you need to do what is best for you.

For example, saying “please don’t offer me alcohol,” “please don’t invite this person,” or “please allow me to smoke outside” are requests you can easily communicate. By stating your boundaries ahead of time, you will be justified in removing yourself from the situation if these requests are violated.

  1. Bring your own transportation

If you are able, having your own transportation can be a simple solution to lots of potential problems. While it may be convenient to catch a ride with someone else, having your own transportation allows you a getaway option if you feel like a situation is too much to handle.

  1. Bring a trusted friend or loved one

Think of a person who is supportive of your recovery journey. If they are available to join you for a trip home or for an event where you know you will encounter a person you are nervous about, they can be a source of support and strength.

  1. Take a moment for a reality check

If you find yourself on edge about the approaching holiday season, you may benefit from a reality check. Talk with a sponsor, friend, or therapist who understands that you are in recovery and relay the stresses and anxieties you are feeling. Besides, just think of all the progress you have made thus far in your recovery and be proud of your accomplishments!

Think of the benefits: Instead of showing up to a holiday event stressed or defensive, you can arrive open minded, positive, and accepting. You can also take this time to practice gratitude. Ask, What do I have to be thankful for this time of year? Maybe it is time off work, the chance to see family members and friends, good food, or the blessing of a second chance to live your dreams.

  1. Find a safe space

Designate a safe location to regroup if you encounter a stressful or triggering situation. This could be a room, your car, the garage, or even a close friend’s house. This needs to be a place where you can go to escape, recharge, and de-stress. If you feel overwhelmed, this also will be a place to remember your why for your recovery, whether its your health, your goals, or your happiness.

  1. Start new traditions

This one is not necessarily vital to your recovery, but it can be a fun and lasting way of enjoying the holidays sober. Why not host your own holiday party? Or you could purchase new games, create a holiday craft, go ice skating, and even volunteer.

There are many ways to spread joy, especially through community service or simply by helping others. The holiday also offers many opportunities for spiritual growth. You could serve a meal at a homeless shelter, reach out with hospitality to a newcomer at a support meeting, or spend time with a neighbor.

  1. Avoid airing grievances

While the holidays may feel like your only chance to confront or resolve disputes with family members in-person, consider if there is a time and place that might be more constructive. Think about it: the holidays are likely not the best time to ask your family members to hold themselves accountable for ways they may have hurt you in the past. It is also not the time to be hard on yourself about the ways in which your addiction has affected your family.

Instead, choose to be gentle with yourself and those in your family and set aside time preferably before, or even after, the holidays.

  1. Exercise

The holidays are normally the time of year when we give ourselves a little break, but that winds up wrecking our entire healthy routine. Exercise is a great way to relieve tension and work out frustrations (as well as a great way to make room for all that food you’re going to be eating).

Try your best to keep to your exercise routine, whether it be yoga, lifting weights, or running. Your brain – and body – will thank you!

  1. Avoid H.A.L.T.

HALT stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. In other words, if you are feeling hungry, get something to eat. If you are feeling angry, talk to somebody about it. If you are feeling lonely, call up your sponsor, a friend, or attend a meeting. If you are feeling tired, try and get some rest. Celebrating the holiday season should be about enjoying the break. The better you feel physically and emotionally, the better you will be prepared to face stress. Take the time to enjoy some personal reflection, find quiet time for relaxation, and nourish your spirit.

Next Steps

Landmark Recovery’s drug and alcohol rehab facilities help individuals suffering from substance use disorders and their families take the first steps towards recovery. Our therapy programs help individuals recognize and replace their destructive ways of coping with the tools they need to live healthy, purposeful lives. Our caring staff is trained in residential treatment, individual and group therapy, as well as an intensive outpatient program and detox treatment.

Speak with a recovery specialist 24/7 today. Call 888-448-0302.

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About the Author

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery was founded with a determination to make addiction treatment accessible for all. Through our integrated treatment programs, we've helped thousands of people choose recovery over addiction and get back to life on their own terms. We're on a mission to save one million lives over the next century. We encourage all those struggling with substance use to seek professional help.