Senior caucasian man sitting on a couch and waiting alone for Christmas / New Year's eve.

The holiday season, with its festive gatherings and societal pressures, can be a challenging time for individuals navigating the path of sobriety, particularly those dealing with substance or behavioral addiction. Stress levels tend to soar during these months, fueled by the expectations of gift-giving, social engagements, and family dynamics. Mielad Owraghi, LMFT, clinical lead therapist at Loma Linda University Behavioral Health – Murrieta, sheds light on the unique challenges faced by those on the journey to maintaining sobriety during the holidays.

For individuals facing addiction, the holiday season intensifies the usual stressors. Owraghi highlights the omnipresence of substances compounds the challenge for those striving to maintain sobriety, making it crucial to develop effective strategies to navigate through these situations.

Read: Home for the holidays with a side of anxiety: Retracting to childhood coping mechanisms as a healed adult

The two A's: Accountability and accessibility

Owraghi introduces a practical framework for individuals seeking sobriety: the two A's. Firstly, increasing accountability involves being transparent about challenges and recognizing that perfection is unattainable. Secondly, decreasing accessibility means minimizing exposure to triggers that can lead to relapse. This may include removing substances from the home or requesting family members not to engage in activities that could be triggering. 

According to Owraghi, the utilization of the two A's is increasingly imperative during early sobriety/recovery and is just as important for individuals who have achieved sobriety for a long time.

“Whether you're taking your first steps or have traveled a long path of recovery, the principles of accountability and reducing accessibility to triggers are timeless pillars that fortify the foundation of lasting sobriety," he says.

Mindfulness as a key tool

Mindfulness emerges as a cornerstone in the arsenal against relapse during the holidays. Owraghi emphasizes the importance of being present in the moment, steering away from mindlessness. Techniques such as breathing exercises and meditation are recommended, with a particular nod to the accessibility of wellness practices through technology. Platforms like YouTube enable individuals to engage in activities like Pilates and yoga from the comfort of their homes.

Another critical aspect of maintaining sobriety involves being aware of cognitive distortions, Owraghi says. All-or-nothing thinking and minimizing one's feelings about a situation can be detrimental, especially under the heightened stress of the holiday season. This self-awareness becomes even more crucial for individuals dealing with addiction, given the increased susceptibility to relapse.

Read: Brandon’s journey from addiction to recovery – the power of surrendering

Psychoeducation for Support Systems

Many individuals lack a proper understanding of addiction as an illness, often believing it to be a controllable behavior. Attending groups like AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) or NA (Narcotics Anonymous) can provide not only crucial support for those struggling with addiction but also help educate family members on the challenges faced. Al-Anon is a specialized support network, offers a tailored approach for family and friends seeking insights on how to cope with a loved one grappling with addiction.

“Sobriety is not just an individual pursuit; it's a collective effort. Support networks and psychoeducation are vital elements, fostering understanding, empathy, and lasting recovery," Owraghi says.

Maintaining sobriety during the holidays requires a combination of mindfulness, self-awareness, and strategic planning. Owraghi's insights provide a roadmap for individuals to navigate the complexities of the season while emphasizing the significance of support networks and education. As we approach the holiday season, these strategies can serve as valuable tools in promoting a healthier and more fulfilling celebration for those on the journey to recovery.

Loma Linda University Behavioral Medicine Center ­– Murrieta provides a holistic approach to behavioral and mental health needs, focusing on mind, body, and spirit. Learn about and request more information about the program.