One week from today will mark the official start of the holiday season, at least according to the retail industry. For some of us this means making travel plans, getting gifts, performing good works, reconnecting with our families and preparing large meals. For those in recovery, however, the holidays can often mean trying to keep their heads above water as they face increased vulnerability to relapse. While the holidays are meant to be a joyful, easy and cherished experience, they can often bring to bare a variety of elements that can trigger emotional distress for those who have overcome drug or alcohol addiction. Some of these factors include, but are not limited to:
For those who have never struggled with addiction, it may seem like rehabilitation is the final step to lifetime sobriety. Unfortunately, the challenge of long term sobriety is a lifelong task as those who complete addiction rehabilitation must constantly battle with old triggers and temptations. This concept became even more vivid to me with the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman and a Chicago Tribune article, “Actor’s death offers lesson in addiction,” which calls attention to the long-term struggle of addiction even five or 10 years after successful drug treatment and sobriety. I am not sure how much you know about Hoffman’s life and struggle with addiction, but the latest relapse came after 20 years of sobriety, which unfortunately resulted in his sudden passing. With his death, the light has been shined on the issue of addiction and the long-term struggle with sobriety that one faces. According to the article, a study in 2007 “found that 2 of 3 people within their first year of sobriety relapsed. But for those with at least three years of clean time, the relapse rate dropped to 1 in 7. 1” Even though the numbers get better, that still isn’t great when you consider that most people expect those in recovery to be completely healed and living in sobriety for life. The article also says the reasons for relapse shortly after rehabilitation are very similar to that of long-term relapse – “the triggers that can prompt a return to drugs or alcohol — stress, poor coping skills, the belief that substance use can be managed — don't change over time. ”
I do not want to suggest that it is OK to make excuses for addictions, but it is important to understand situations and triggers that can aggravate addiction or rehabilitation. In this case, let’s examine the role of stress. Stress can trigger in morning traffic, at the beginning of the month when bills have to be paid or even just with a simple disagreement with a coworker. While everyone experiences some degree of stress every day, it is especially relevant when someone is struggling with addiction or is on the road to recovery. Some choose fatty foods or candy in stressful situations, which can cause obesity. Those struggling with addiction may turn to drugs or alcohol to trigger the pleasure sensation in their brain to avoid the situation. They use the substance to avoid their problems, which only prolongs the suffering and introduces life-threatening consequences.