|It'll come to you...|
1) Stay out of your medicine chest. Cough and cold season is here. It's especially easy to overdo the cough meds. In typical addict fashion, the think the dosage on the label is only a suggestion and if a small amount works, the whole bottle will really kick the symptoms to the curb. Not so. And the little buzz from an OD of the over-the-counter drug can lead back to the drug of choice.
2) Stay out of your medicine chest: Part II. Another relapse trap in the medicine chest is sleep aids. With the time change and extra holiday-season stress, sleep is a casualty of the calendar. Alcohol is a depressant. Sleep aids are depressants. The brain doesn't make such an exact distinction between the two and, historically, drinkers have used alcohol as a sleep aid – or excused their drinking by saying it helps them sleep. It isn't just the prescription sleep aid like Abilify. It's also the OTC one, and especially concoctions like Motrin PM or Tylenol PM.
3) Find sober celebrations. Not as rare as you might think. If you're timid, take someone along with you who might be even newer to sobriety. If there aren't celebrations, it could be time for a diversion like a museum or pick a dry theater and watch The Last Jedi. All the older kids are doing it.
4) Bail out. There is nothing wrong with the word 'no.' We were all pretty creative with excuses for our drinking. If you are even slightly apprehensive about an event, put the same creativity to use for why you can't go. And if you're busted telling a little white one… isn't it better than possibly challenging your sobriety? Real friends understand.
5) If you can't bail, bring candy. Seriously. Satisfying an oral fixation can make a difference. The taste on your palate will make alcohol flavorings less inviting, too. If you've ever had a beer on top of a candy cane, you know.
6) Never stay late if you do go. Our reputations as the last soldiers standing – gone. Be the first leaving. Everyone has seen a dreaded morning after, or the photos of the night before, and uttered the words, 'I shoulda left way earlier.' The more tired you get, the weaker your defenses become. My grandmother's rule was that nothing good ever happens after 10 p.m. anyway.
7) Go help another alcoholic who might be struggling. The twelve-steppers founded their fellowship on this simple act. Even if you're not a twelve-stepper or vow to never become one, give this a try. It works. There's a flawed thinking that the holidays are an inappropriate time to challenge someone who's challenged by drugs including alcohol. It may be the best gift you ever give the person with the disease of addiction – and the family around him or her. Inside every sick person sick with this disease is a trembling, sorry, sad person dying to feel well again. Invite him or her out onto the path to recovery. In the case of the disease of alcoholism, there's no worse time than waiting for tomorrow or the New Year. You wouldn't imagine postponing treatment for a chronic, fatal, progressive disease like cancer. Why postpone it for a chronic, fatal, progressive disease like alcoholism? If the worry is that it wouldn't be the holiday without that person near, what have the past few holidays told you about that… and what if there isn't a next holiday?
8) Breathe. The holidays are loaded with financial stress, family stress, traffic stress, cold-and-flu stress, and end-of-the-year work stress in addition to the normal, everyday stress of life. Alcoholics and non-alcoholics alike drink to relieve stress. There isn't a single stressor that is cured by drinking: There isn't one that got worse because you chose to just breathe rather than drinking it off the calendar.
9) Be brutally honest with yourself. The biggest charge in the holiday minefield is in the eight-inch gap between your left ear and your right. Nearly every relapse comes in the collision between reality and the five words, 'It won't happen to me.' Here's the very alcoholic reason why I still have Ibuprofen PM in my own nightstand: Because it won't happen to me, the second warning above is only for those other guys, right? Right.
By the way, these nine aren't just for the end of the year and the start of the new one. They work anytime.
– Scott Stevens is the author of four, award-winning alcohol and health books, The A-Files: Alcohol A-Z DVD series, Alcohologist.com, and the Alcohology app for Android. He is a founding influencer of the world's largest medical portal HealthTap, and serves as Editor In Chief for AddictedMinds & Associates, the only professionally-vetted treatment center directory. Stevens originally published this article in Keys to Recovery. Image by Marina Gloria Gallud Carbonell used with permission.