Self-Soothing During the Holidays – When Alcohol and Drugs are Not an Option

Contributed by Heather Smyly, B.S., C.C.T.P., of Canyon Crossing Recovery

surferFor many, holidays are a time of rest, reflection, and celebration of hope and family. However, for others, this can prove to be a very challenging time. There are many who suffer with addictions to alcohol and drugs, and face mental health issues such as depression. In addition, there are those who suffer from grief, either from loss of a loved one, or loss or lack of financial stability.


There is a phenomena known as “Sun-Downing,” where people who suffer from grief, depression, and Alzheimer’s disease experience an exacerbation of symptoms at nighttime. Much like this phenomena, holidays seem to exacerbate existing symptoms of depression and other mental health concerns, including addictions.

These conditions and symptoms have been associated to self-medicating with alcohol and drugs in an attempt to seek relief from internal strife and chaos. However, these methods often have a much greater cost than payoff. Such costs include:

  • Impairments in role performance
  • Interpersonal relationships
  • Social/legal,
  • Biomedical consequences

Whereas the payoffs are short-lived and offer a temporary soothing reprieve at best.

So how does an individual in recovery, either from addictions or depression, find relief over the holidays? Social and familial gatherings are often buzzing with alcohol and other temptations.

Lady sleepingCan an individual in recovery safely partake in the festivities without compromising his or her sobriety? Can the person with depression, feeling isolated and immersed in grief, somehow muster up a Yuletide spirit?

Having worked with individuals who are challenged with alcohol and drug addictions, as well as mental health concerns, it is this writer’s opinion that yes, there is a way!

The desire to heal is usually fostered out of necessity to not suffer alone, further entrenching into despair. When one’s desire is greater than or equal to the necessity for change, then change is possible and self-medicating is replaced with self-soothing.


Some techniques that are introduced to this population during onset of treatment or crisis are designed to increase one’s volition and autonomy. Autonomy refers to self-supporting and self-care. Volition refers to the ability to make healthy choices for one’s life.

Some of these techniques include: getting out of “self” for the person who is lonely or depressed, which stimulates self-medicating. Being of service has pulled many persons through these hard times. One may volunteer at a local food bank or charity, facilities that provide shelter, clothing, and hot meals.

puppyIn addition, many 12-step programs offer individuals the opportunity to chair marathon meetings during the holidays. Intrapersonal techniques such as prayer, meditation, and deep-breathing also offer self-soothing and relief.

Most importantly, don’t forget- you are somebody! There is no reason one shouldn’t buy themselves that special gift, take that exciting trip, even if it’s just to the spa or barber shop.

So, what about resisting temptation? When you find yourself at a holiday party or dinner, amidst a crowd in a jocular, celebratory mood, with alcohol flowing and beautiful people glowing? Don’t forget that for many years, you may have been self-medicating the true meaning of why we celebrate in the first place.

For the alcoholic, drug-addict, or depressed person, the holidays are often a time spent remembering how alone we really feel, and how much we don’t deserve, and how much we truly have lost. These are painful realizations that often burn a desire to quench the pain within.

These are the times when it is extremely helpful to remember the past is the past. Part of self-soothing is the re-introduction to self. The reclaiming of the human within. The human being that is spiritual in essence, and deserving of life, peace, and happiness.

Praying Hands with Holy BibleSelf-soothing is the realization that “I am going to be okay, I am breathing, my heart is beating.” It is through self-soothing that the holidays may become not only survivable, but enjoyable.

There is a great comfort in realizing that as long as we have ourselves, we are never really alone. We no longer act as if we are nobody. Self-soothing may also include becoming comfortable, sometimes with being alone.

And that it is in these times when we learn the most about ourselves, our strengths, and our resourcefulness. The holidays, when embraced, may present an opportunity to reintroduce and become familiar with the spiritual essence that is our human nature.

Community Discussion – share your thoughts here!

What does self-soothing look like in your recovery? What tools do you return to in order to have a festive and sober holiday?

Heather SmylyAbout the author: Heather Smyly, B.S., C.C.T.P., of Canyon Crossing Recovery holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Psychology from Grand Canyon University. She is currently pursuing her Masters of Science in Psychology, and a Doctorate of Clinical Psychology at the University of California, Southern.

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 discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from a combination of 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.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on November 12, 2015
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