Reintegrating During the Holidays after Addiction Treatment

Contributor: Blue Ridge Mountain Recovery Center clinical team member Ryan Poling, M.A.

Christmas snowmanCompleting an addiction treatment program is a major milestone, and anyone who completes a treatment program has no doubt had to overcome many obstacles.

Unfortunately, however, many people who complete treatment during the holidays find themselves facing a whole new set of obstacles once they return home.

Regardless whether your holidays are lonesome or filled with family and friends, there are likely a unique set of challenges awaiting you after treatment. The good news, however, is that just as you overcame many difficult circumstances to get to where you are now in your recovery, you can successfully overcome new challenges as well.

Before discussing the new types of challenges you may face, it would be helpful to explore why transitioning out of treatment can be difficult in the first place

Life in Addiction Treatment

One of the reasons that intensive addiction treatment programs are so powerful is that they can take you out of a difficult environment and bring you to a healthier environment, free from the temptations of the outside world. These programs often include residential programs, in which a person lives, eats, breathes, and sleeps treatment.

Man driving truck home after Addiction TreatmentOvercoming substance abuse becomes a person’s sole focus, and he or she is surrounded with individuals also working on their recovery.

Because addictions are often kept alive by a person’s environment, leaving that environment provides a person with an opportunity to overcome his or her addiction with the ongoing support of others.

In many ways, an addiction treatment program can be a retreat where a person can escape the daily pressures of life to focus on healing and recovery.

Because this retreat-like atmosphere is so conducive to recovery, transitioning out of it and back into everyday life, especially during the holidays, can bring a bit of culture shock. Many people who use substances do so as a way to cope with changes and stressful situations.

As such, transitioning out of treatment can sometimes be the first test of a person’s developing ability to manage stress and change without turning to substances.

While the change, by itself, involved in transitioning out of treatment can tempt a person to return to using substances, the environment into which a person transitions can also present unique challenges.

Returning from Treatment to Isolation

Because the holidays are often a time when people gather together to celebrate, people who do not have strong support networks can be particularly hard-hit by feelings of loneliness and isolation when they transition out of treatment during the holidays.

young women bikingThis isolation and loneliness can push a person towards numbing by using substances and may encourage a relapse.

While loneliness and isolation are difficult at any time of the year, these feelings can be especially poignant during the holidays.

If you are transitioning into an isolated environment during the holidays after completing treatment, one of the best things you can do is seek out others to support you.

Keep in touch with your sponsor, like-minded people you have met in treatment, friends, neighbors, or anyone else who can provide support. Having good social support is one the most effective ways of managing stress, so surround yourself with good, caring people.

Returning from Addiction Treatment to Family and Friends

While it may seem that returning home to family and friends after treatment is a much better option than returning to an empty home – and in many ways it can be! – coming home to family and friends can present a unique set of challenges to those who are newly sober.
Chief among these challenges might be how to handle the attention of your loved ones.
They will likely want to know how you are doing and may have lots of questions about treatment. Family members who have not been informed about your treatment may wonder where you have been, and you may want to exercise your right to privacy but are not sure how to maintain it while also respecting your loved ones.

Consider some of the following options:

  • If you are overwhelmed, give yourself permission to take a break. Going to an empty bedroom to take a few deep breaths, walking outside to get some air, or even contacting your sponsor can all give allow you some space to collect yourself.
  • Take things slow and give yourself time to readjust. Things may feel as though they are moving very quickly, so pay attention to what you are feeling and take breaks as necessary. Now is not the time push yourself.
  • If a relative or loved one is asking more about your treatment than you would like to disclose, maintain your right to privacy. If it feels genuine, you might consider saying something like, “Thank you so much for checking in on me. I had some things I was working through, but I’m feeling a lot better now,” or, “That’s really kind of you to ask. I’m just glad to be home and glad to see you again.”

One of the other major challenges of the holidays may also be the presence of substances. Wine, eggnog, beer, liquor, and other substances are common at holiday gatherings, and for some people, this will be their first exposure to substances since being in treatment. It is up to you to decide what is best for you.

If you feel that it would be too difficult to be around substances again after treatment, you are absolutely within your rights to decline to attend certain parties or events. If you want to be with your loved ones and feel you might be able to handle being around substances, tell a few friends and family members so they can help watch out for you.

You might also consider bringing a support person, such as your sponsor, to the event. Consider keeping a cup of water, soda, or other non-alcoholic drink in your hand at all times that you can sip on throughout the party. Before making a decision, talk with those closest to you and seek out their wisdom.

Though completing treatment during the holidays can bring a unique set of challenges, with the help and support of others, it is possible to resume your life and continue to build upon the progress you have made in treatment.

About the Author:

“Reintegrating During the Holidays after Addiction Treatment” was written by Blue Ridge Mountain Recovery Center’s clinical team member Ryan Poling, M.A. Ryan has experience working clinically with a wide range of populations and presenting concerns. He is a clinical psychology doctoral candidate and has also earned Master’s degrees in psychology and theology. He was an adjunct professor of psychology at Azusa Pacific University from 2012 to 2015.

About Blue Ridge Mountain Recovery Center:

With care that is focused on treating the whole person, Blue Ridge Mountain Recovery Center is an outstanding provider of residential treatment services for men and women who are struggling with chemical dependency concerns and co-occurring mental health conditions. Through the use of evidence-based medical interventions and holistic therapeutic approaches, the staff at Blue Ridge, of which is comprised of trained medical staff, experienced mental health professionals, and qualified addiction specialists, administers care with the utmost compassion and dedication to meet the needs of all who come for care.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from multiple physical, emotional, environmental, and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on November 23, 2015
Reviewed and Updated by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on January 13, 2021
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About Baxter Ekern

Baxter Ekern is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He contributed and helped write a major portion of Addiction Hope and is responsible for the operations of the website.