Six tips to get through Christmas when you’re in recovery
By Rachel Britton, Director of Pharmacy, and Gerry Flanagan, Recovery Worker
For many people, Christmas is a time of indulgence. This often means drinking far more than usual — from hitting the tequila at the work christmas party to the bucks fizz on christmas morning, healthier choices are banished to the new year.
But for people in recovery, Christmas can be a minefield of temptation. If you’re worried about getting through the next few weeks, or know someone in this position, here are some simple tips to help you negotiate the festive period.
1. Be honest with people close to you
Unfortunately, rather than being supportive, some people can be a bit flippant when they realise someone doesn’t drink. “Go on have one, it’s Christmas” is an all too common response to people choosing orange juice over beer.
If you’re worried about being pushed towards temptation, try to take the time to explain to people close to you the reasons why you’re abstaining. Once people understand the journey you’ve been on they will often be far more accepting and respectful of your decision, meaning you’ll feel less pressure to drink.
2. Ride it out
A strong alcohol craving — that intense ‘I really need a drink feeling’ — tends to only last for 10–15 minutes. If you can ride this initial period out then you may be surprised by how easy you find saying no going forward. When you feel a craving coming on, try and distract yourself or let someone close to you know so they can help you through it.
3. Have an exit plan
However, if you’re going somewhere where you know alcohol will be flowing, do give yourself permission to walk away if it gets too much. Some people worry that this will come across as rude, but if you’re honest with the host they will normally be understanding. If you sometimes struggle to communicate how you‘re feeling, set up a special signal with your partner or a friend you trust, letting them know you’d like to leave. This can be easier than trying to find the right words in the heat of the moment.
Another clever tactic is to try to time your social situations to traditionally non-drinking hours. For example, if you are meeting up with family who enjoy a tipple, arrange to go for breakfast rather than doing something in the evening. That way you can keep temptation to a minimum.
4. Give people options
Conversely, if you’re holding an event and you’re concerned about one of your guests giving into temptation, make sure there are lots of non-alcoholic options available. People don’t want to feel like they’re drinking a child’s drink so credible alternatives like non-alcoholic cocktails are a great idea at making sure those not drinking don’t feel left out. But be careful about pushing alcohol-free beer or wine, especially to people in the early days of recovery. The familiar taste can have a psychological impact, and may make them crave an alcoholic drink. Also, remember that alcohol isn’t the only way to have fun. Throwing a dry party can be a great way of letting someone in recovery know you care and respect their choice.
5. Don’t give yourself a hard time
If you do find yourself waking up with a foggy head one morning, don’t give yourself a hard time. Remember that recovery is never a straight line, there will always be blips along the way. I liken it to being on a diet, if you’ve had one bad day where you’ve gorged on crisps or cake, that doesn’t discount the months or years of amazing work you’ve put in beforehand.
It’s easier to recover from short blips if you’re honest about what happened. Keeping a drink diary and documenting what you’ve consumed helps keep things in perspective. It maybe you had two glasses of wine when in the past you would have drank three bottles. Shame is a big factor in problematic drinking, so understanding how far you’ve come and not blaming yourself can prevent a blip from becoming something bigger.
6. You don’t have to go through it alone
If you feel yourself struggling, talking to someone can make all the difference. Reach out to a loved one who knows your situation, your GP, or, if you’re still in treatment, contact your key worker.
Alternatively, Addaction runs an online webchat service where you can talk anonymously to a trained advisor. Just visit www.addaction.org.uk.