5 Relapse Triggers to Watch Out For This Holiday Season

Author: IAFF Staff

December 10, 2018

Considered by some as “the most wonderful time of the year,” the season between Thanksgiving and New Year’s can be just the opposite for those in recovery from substance abuse and addiction.  

As a fire fighter or paramedic, you’re trained to anticipate and respond to any number of worst-case scenarios. When fighting to protect your sobriety throughout the holidays, consider using the same approach to anticipate and prevent setbacks to your recovery.

This season, stay vigilant by planning for these common relapse pitfalls:

1. Changes in Normal Routine

As a fire fighter or paramedic, your weekly schedule is anything but normal, but it probably works for you. During the holidays, this schedule is likely to change in some way — for example, you may decide to take a day off or pick up extra shifts to help cover your crew. This means that established times for behaviors that support your sobriety may be disturbed, including attending meetings, getting adequate sleep, exercising or relaxing with loved ones. If you know your routine will be thrown off this holiday season, plan to schedule time for critical self-care.

2. Access to Alcohol and Other Substances

Keeping an alcohol- and drug-free home is essential to your recovery. But during the season of holiday parties and gatherings, alcohol is often accessible and readily enjoyed by those around you. Plan to avoid situations where there is pressure to partake in substances. For any gatherings you feel obligated to attend, consider reminding the organizer ahead of time that you are not drinking, or commit to bringing a friend who can double as an accountability partner.  

3. Holiday Blues

Regardless of what you celebrate, for many, the holiday season symbolizes fellowship, rituals and connection with loves ones. For IAFF members who have suffered the loss of a coworker or loved one, or have divorced or experienced a recent major life transition, the holidays can reopen unresolved wounds. While the physiological cravings of your addiction may be gone, intense emotions including grief, depression or anger can trigger psychological cravings at any time. Be vigilant by anticipating ahead of time what specific days or situations are likely to generate the blues.

4. Family Stressors

Your self-care throughout the year undoubtedly relies on surrounding yourself with positive support, while limiting time with those who cause you unnecessary stress. For some, family get-togethers can trigger unhappy memories of seasons past or an unpleasant encounter with a toxic relative. Setting personal boundaries is essential to your recovery 12 months of the year and the holidays are no exception. If seeing family is stressful for you, have a plan for how you will cope before, during and after the encounter.

5. Disruption in Treatment

For those struggling with addiction and co-occurring mental health issues, you deserve access to consistent quality mental health care throughout the year. However, you may find that during the holiday season it’s more difficult to get a timely appointment or a returned phone call from your provider. Missing routine appointments or medications that help regulate your mood is an unfortunate, common and preventable relapse trap. Plan by ensuring you have an adequate medication supply and consider attending a support group if your counselor or therapist is unavailable.

While the holidays present a vulnerable time to fall off the wagon, taking a vigilant and proactive approach to self-care will ensure you enter the new year feeling clear and on top of your game. If you have already suffered a setback in your recovery or feel you need more intensive support, don’t wait until the new year. Call the IAFF Center of Excellence for Behavioral Health Treatment and Recovery at 855-999-9845 for a confidential, obligation-free screening.

The IAFF Center for Excellence is a 64-bed comprehensive treatment center designed exclusively for IAFF members struggling with PTSD, addiction and other co-occurring mental health problems. Timely help is one phone call away.

We can help. Call 855-900-8437 or

Get Help Now