What Are 4 Holiday Stressors to Watch for in Recovery?

When people think about the holidays, they often consider the joyful, fun elements and forget there are people who struggle with holidays and don’t always find it a happy time. There are ways and means to get back to the joy of the holiday season with some helpful hints and tips. Stressors come and go in recovery, it is how people handle them that matter. The following four common holiday stressors can be a risk factor for relapse, so it is important to know ahead of time what may happen in order to make a plan for how to cope.

Create a Safe Action Plan

A safe action plan is one that supports healthy, healing movement through the holidays without going over the edge. This might mean planning to avoid relapse, avoiding stressors, finding alternative plans, and seeking opportunities to party sober where friends and family get what is going on and are not going to make things harder. That is not always the case as a family is a family and they will do what they do in the holidays (traditions being what they are). The goal is to embrace what is happening rather than fight it and begin to set up a plan that will work for keeping sobriety intact.

Party Planning

Think about the holidays as a time when everyone wants everyone else to like them. They want them to have fun, enjoy themselves and will go out of their way to make that happen. People decorate, bake, cook meals, send out invites, and stock up on food and alcohol. Often, just the fact there is a party to go to is enough to add to a person’s stress if they are already stressed in recovery. The honest truth is that recovery is beyond stressful, especially the first year. Having a party plan that includes knowing where and when drugs or alcohol may show up (and creating a plan) can turn things around quickly and make it a positive event, rather than stressful.


There is nothing more stressful than finances and money on the holidays. Early in recovery, people are often strapped for cash, looking for work, or returning to their lives post-rehab. This step in successfully navigating the journey of recovery means it is best to avoid buying expensive gifts or doling out lots of money if it means it will come back to bite. It is okay to pass on gift-giving and let people know that is not in the cards this year. Those who accept that will be okay with it. 

Emotional Health

Along with finances and party planning, emotional health is one of the top stressors for people in recovery. Especially for those with dual diagnosis, brain trauma, or other issues, they can find the holidays extremely stressful. When it comes to emotional turmoil, there are also factors that include:

  • Shame
  • Humiliation
  • Anger
  • Resentment
  • The frustration of unmet needs or goals

Families often struggle to connect with one another at the holidays around someone who has been in recovery or just finished rehab. There may be myriad feelings going around and it is hard to navigate that safely without feeling triggered. Many people in recovery report anxiety to use drugs again goes way up because of emotional triggers. The way to deal with this is to seek emotional safety in self-care practices. Breathing in and out help anxiety, yoga, and other meditative practices help during times of stress to bring down heightened emotions and make a person feel more positive and engaged without disconnecting emotionally.


Coping with conflict is difficult in recovery, but especially during the holidays, it seems to increase tenfold. The biggest thing to deal with in conflict is family members and loved ones who are attending parties or gatherings where it is harder to remove oneself from the fray. Open wounds, old trauma, past issues all come up and it can be enough to drive a person to want to drink or use drugs. In times of conflict, it helps to have a conflict resolution plan. This means setting out ahead of time what needs to happen to feel successful in recovery. This might mean having friends and other loved ones on speed dial to get away from the issue quickly. It might mean learning some phrases and tools that help in times of heightened conflict that will help a person navigate the scenario and get away from it either emotionally or physically. 

Avoidance Versus Coping

In treatment for addiction, there is discussion around how to navigate issues that come up. Some problems are ones that may be medicated. Then there are situational challenges that no medication can help a person deal with. Even though medication may help a person physically, emotionally, or psychologically feel strong enough to cope with life, they are not likely to avoid or be able to deal with conflict and stress appropriately by running the other direction. Hiding from family is not going to work (forever) but the best way to cope is to have strategies ahead of time that are well-thought-out, intentional, and preplanned so as to avoid any further conflicts. 

The holidays can be hardest for people with addiction because of compounded stressors. Add to that addictive behaviors, it is a challenging space to navigate. If you or a loved one find the holidays difficult because of addiction, Burning Tree Main is here to help. We offer 12-step programs and dual diagnosis treatment for people who struggle to quit using drugs or alcohol and have relapsed multiple times. Our goal is to provide a healing space with a holistic approach of mind, body, and spiritual work. Call Burning Tree Main if you are ready to quit drugs or alcohol: 866-287-2877


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