8 Alcohol Relapse Triggers To Prepare For This Thanksgiving

Kimberly Langdon, M.D.

Medically Reviewed By: Kimberly Langdon, M.D.

on December 10, 2022

Relapse triggers can have a cumulative effect over the Thanksgiving holiday. People can prepare for them with a relapse plan, healthy lifestyle habits, and the perspective that relapse isn’t a failure, but a step on the path to sobriety.

The holiday season brings with it opportunities to relax, reconnect with family and friends, and enjoy traditional meals.

However, some people find the holidays to be stressful. This can be due to social expectations, travel, or tasks such as preparing meals or shopping for gifts. 

For people in recovery from alcohol addiction, Thanksgiving can be an especially challenging time. 

Addiction triggers can accumulate this time of year and create an overwhelming effect. Being prepared for them is one of the best ways to avoid relapse.

Although triggers are different for everyone, some are common among people in recovery.

  1. High-Stress Levels

Perhaps the most obvious addiction trigger, stress can throw us off balance and have a negative impact on nearly every aspect of our physical and mental health.

Mental health is particularly important for people in recovery from a substance use disorder to protect in order to prevent relapse.

Stress during Thanksgiving can result from traveling, shopping, socializing, managing finances, seeing many people at once, or hosting a meal.

It can also result from perceived expectations and challenges.

  1. Other Intense Emotions

In addition to an emotional and physical stress response, Thanksgiving might evoke other strong emotions.

For example, the loss of a loved one could trigger a relapse during the holidays if sadness or depression becomes overwhelming. 

If unresolved family issues around things like parental favoritism or other family conflicts haven’t been addressed, old emotions could resurface and act as a trigger. 

Some people experience seasonal affective disorder this time of year, which is a form of depression that results from decreasing daylight hours.

  1. The Presence Of Alcohol 

The first few social events where alcohol is present are often the hardest for newly sober people. 

Avoidance is an effective way to handle this trigger, but traditional Thanksgiving meals can be harder to skip out on for various reasons.

This trigger might involve the smell of alcohol, someone handing you an alcoholic beverage, or even just being with people you previously drank with.

  1. The Urge To Smoke A Cigarette

Stepping outside to have a cigarette could also trigger a relapse, as scientific studies have found that smoking and alcohol use relapse often occur together.

Smoking cigarettes is also associated with binge drinking, more severe forms of alcohol abuse, and more alcohol-related problems.

People in recovery from alcohol abuse who also smoke may benefit from applying any healthy coping mechanisms learned in therapy to quit smoking.

  1. Hunger

In an effort to enjoy their Thanksgiving meal all the more, or maybe just to make room for all the food, some people might skip breakfast or engage in other forms of fasting.

However, this could be triggering for people in recovery, according to research that links food cravings and alcohol cravings.

When people who consume large amounts of alcohol received a dose of the hormone ghrelin, which stimulates the appetite and food intake, their cravings for alcohol increased.

Ghrelin levels tend to be the highest when the stomach is empty or near empty.

  1. Loneliness

Although being alone and experiencing loneliness are not the same thing, being alone on Thanksgiving and other holidays can lead to loneliness.

This is due to expectations related to spending time with family and friends during the holidays.

Loneliness can be triggering for people in recovery because it is closely associated with uncomfortable or painful emotions. 

  1. Tiredness

Like strong emotions, feeling tired can trigger some people to want to drink. 

Feeling tired is a common alcohol withdrawal symptom, and it can be a reminder of the first days of sobriety, when choosing not to drink was more difficult.

Feeling tired can also increase the likelihood of being overwhelmed by difficult emotions because we aren’t rested enough to handle them.

  1. Treatment Disruption

Alcohol use disorder is a long-term mental illness that often requires ongoing aftercare treatment, such as therapy or participation in a 12-step group.

With changes to daily schedules and routines during Thanksgiving, there is an increased chance that treatment will be put on pause.

Although not necessarily a trigger in itself, skipping therapy or a group meeting can boost other holiday triggers, because normal support systems aren’t in place.

Preparing For Thanksgiving Triggers

Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be a time of high stress for anyone, including people in recovery from alcohol abuse.

There are simple actions that people in recovery can take in advance of the Thanksgiving holiday to prepare for and “defuse” any addiction triggers.

Create A Relapse Plan

Knowing that you have a plan in place should a relapse occur is great for reducing stress and anxiety.

For an effective plan, keep each step simple and make sure that anyone in a supportive role is aware that they’re a part of your plan.

Your relapse plan might include calling a sober friend or a therapist, having a designated driver take you to the nearest 12-step group meeting, and staying overnight with a sober friend.

Make Home A Safe Place

Having a reliable, alcohol-free home is critical for some people on the path to recovery from alcohol abuse.

Some addiction treatment centers’ aftercare services include helping people find housing, including sober living.

Sober living provides an alcohol-free environment and housemates who are also dedicated to living a sober life.

Embrace Healthy Habits

Just as stress can have a snowball effect and become overwhelming, practicing healthy habits can also have a positive cumulative effect on our health.

Getting at least seven hours of sleep is critical for overall health. Creating an environment conducive to good sleep can help offset any bad nights of sleep.

If you’re having trouble getting enough sleep, try stopping any screen use at least one hour before bed. Make sure that your bedroom is as dark and quiet as possible.

It’s also important to stay hydrated. We tend to require more water as we age, but the average requirement for adult women and men is 11.5 cups and 15.5 cups of water, respectively.

A nutritious diet can also make a big impact on our mental and physical health. Eating cooked vegetables during winter months can aid with digestion and nutrition absorption.

Be Gentle With Yourself

It’s not uncommon for people in recovery to experience a relapse. It’s part of the disease of addiction, not a character flaw.

Relapse allows you and your recovery care team to reevaluate where you’re at and make any required adjustments to your treatment.

Once you’ve completed the steps included in your relapse plan, try to get back on track with your healthy lifestyle habits as soon as possible.

Ask for help if you need it, such as requesting a day off of work to talk with a supportive loved one or enjoy time in nature.

Final Thoughts: Strengthened Sobriety

When you make it through a holiday party without drinking, acknowledge your strength and your success. 

Researchers are helping develop cue exposure therapy using virtual reality to lower relapse rates. 

The technology is based on research that shows the more someone is exposed to triggers and doesn’t drink, the stronger their sobriety becomes. 

Getting Help With Alcohol Abuse

Being aware of triggers and having tools to address them can help people in recovery from alcohol addiction stay sober over the holidays and beyond.

If you or a loved one needs help to overcome drug or alcohol addiction, Ohio Recovery Center is available to help.
Call us now to learn about our personalized addiction treatment plans.

  1. National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Library of Medicine — Cigarette smoking and risk of alcohol use relapse among adults in recovery from alcohol use disorders https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4592419/
  2. National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Library of Medicine — Relapse Prevention and the Five Rules of Recovery https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4553654/
  3. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) — Recovery and Recovery Support https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/recovery

Written by Ohio Recovery Center Editorial Team

© 2024 Ohio Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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