• Viktoriya Fine

Navigating the Holidays in Recovery

Updated: Dec 14, 2021

By Loretta Graceffo


The Centers for Disease Control reports that December and January typically come with a spike in drug-related deaths. For many people, the holiday season is a time of loneliness, family stress, renewed feelings of grief, seasonal depression and financial uncertainty. This time can be especially difficult for people in recovery, who may have to navigate increased emotional triggers along with holiday parties where drugs and alcohol are present.

Although avoiding a relapse during the holidays can be daunting, there are steps you can take to prepare for the challenges you may face in the coming months. One way to practice self-care during the holidays is to create or revive an individual relapse plan. This plan can serve as a tool box to cope with situations that are painful or triggering, and may include walking away from a situation, going to the ER, going to recovery meetings or therapy more frequently, or calling a friend or sponsor during moments that are especially hard.

While it’s important to surround yourself with a healthy and loving support system during recovery, increased family time can often be painful for people who grew up in toxic or abusive environments, or households where drugs were present. Angela Graceffo, the Executive Director of Adult Family Health Services, says it helps to be prepared to say no to situations you don’t want to be in, and to remove yourself from a gathering if you feel your sobriety may be at risk.

“When holiday parties revolve around alcohol, it can be easy to feel left out,” said Graceffo, LCSW. “But this can be an opportunity to develop new traditions, and to find ways to celebrate that aren’t focused around alcohol. In moments when it gets hard, remember that recovery is the greatest gift you can give yourself.”

Many people take on increased stressors during the holidays, but be mindful of overextending yourself. Although not everyone will understand, there’s no reason to feel guilty about prioritizing your mental health and wellness -- even if that means disappointing someone or setting a boundary with a family member. It’s equally important to avoid putting too much pressure on yourself. Approaching the season with realistic expectations can keep things in perspective during moments when anxiety, depression and temptation set in.

“A lot of recovery is sitting with uncomfortable feelings and learning to accept them,” said Graceffo. “It doesn’t always feel like it in the moment, but difficult feelings always come and pass.”

If you are in recovery and find the holiday seasons especially hard, just know that you are not alone -- and if you have a family or friend who suffers from substance use, now is an important time to make sure they know they are loved and that they have someone on their team.

“Don’t be afraid to ask how it’s going or offer your support,” said Graceffo. “It can be hard to know what to say, but expressing that you’re aware they’re struggling and that you’d like to be there for them means a lot. Struggling with substance use can be alienating, and sometimes the most supportive thing you can do is affirm that you care.”

Recently, Adult Family Health Services opened a substance use outpatient clinic at our agency in Clifton, New Jersey. This new recovery program is tailored to meet people’s individual needs through medication monitoring, group work, and individual therapy, while also addressing the intersection between substance use and mental illness.

“We’re proud to have a program that allows people to access the services they need as soon as possible, in a safe and family-based atmosphere,” said Graceffo. “And if you’re a person who's been thinking about getting help for addiction, this is a good time to start. The holiday season is about connections. We want to connect with people who are struggling, and people who need our services. That’s what we’re here for.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health or substance use issues, we can help. Call us at (973) 773-7600.

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