With the holidays come an increase in imbibing. For battling addiction, the ubiquity of temptations can make attending social events, even those that are virtual or small in-person outdoor gatherings can be difficult, but not impossible, say local mental health practitioners.
“Staying sober is a daily, sometimes even hourly, choice,” said Carolyn Lorente, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Northern Virginia Community College and a private practitioner in Maryland. “During a pandemic, this may be especially difficult because of loneliness and social isolation. In order to protect ourselves from spreading the virus, so many people are experiencing being lonely, which is hard at any time, but especially during the holidays.”
Advanced planning when anticipating times when there might be triggers or temptations to drink is important.
“Build in activities, set up alternative things that are pleasurable,” said Linda McKenna Gulyn, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology, Marymount University. “Keep yourself busy with tasks or appointments to greet or meet people virtually, by phone or go out on a brisk walk. And tell a trusted loved one that you are planning, too.”
Have plans in place to help with those urges, says Lorente. “I also encourage my clients to make a list of tools that they will use to counteract the urges that I call choosing health and happiness, such as going for a 15 minute walk,” she said.
Give forethought to situations that might lead to temptation. “It is important to have a plan and work your plan,” said Lorente.
Even if conducted virtually, make sure to participate in regular meetings, advises Lorente. “Stay in touch with your recovery support person, whether it is a sober friend or a dedicated sponsor,” she said. “And to counteract the isolation that many of us are feeling, reach out to help another person,”
“Make a list on your phone of why…you want to maintain your sobriety and check it whenever you start to get the urge.”
— Carolyn Lorente, Ph.D.
There are a variety of options for those looking for support. “For instance, call someone you know is alone,” said Lorente. “Meet up for a socially distanced coffee with a neighbor or friend where you each bring your own thermos and blanket.”
Practice benevolence, suggests Lorente. “Volunteer to help provide food to those that need it,” she said. “When we help others, we help ourselves.”
It is important to acknowledge and understand the reasons why sobriety might be challenging during this time of year, advises Jerome Short, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at George Mason University. “It may be difficult for people to stay sober during a pandemic holiday because many of us are experiencing anxiety, depression, or loneliness and want to feel better,” he said. “We also have expectations that we should enjoy the holidays and do fun social activities. Alcohol and other substances may help us feel better briefly and stop thinking about problems.”
When spending time with difficult family, or navigating gift giving and money shortages, alcohol or other substances might appear to provide temporary stress relief. “Those feelings are fleeting so engaging in or developing hobbies can help fill the void normally satisfied by substances,” said Short.
Maintain one’s physical health, continued Short. ”Get adequate sleep, exercise, and nutrition to reduce urges to use substances.”