How to Overcome 4 Common Relapse Triggers at Thanksgiving

How to Overcome 4 Common Relapse Triggers at Thanksgiving

Just when you think you’ve seen the back of grandma’s recipe for orange-ginger sauce for another year before you know it… Argh! Thanksgiving is back again. There you go. Not, of course, that you’re not glad that 2020 is coming to an end in less than a couple of months. Seriously, you’d be hard-pushed to find anyone who has enjoyed 365 days of lockdowns, social distancing, and so on.

You’re trying really hard to be grateful that you survived another year – especially this year – but honestly, who wants reheated turkey dinners for the next 6-8 days? Or a visit from lecherous, old Uncle Harry, either? It leaves you thinking “Why, oh, why?” It also leaves you thinking how do they rear a turkey that’s twice as big an ostrich… Did Mom have to hunt it for days on end in the African savannah first before she got it into the oven?


Love it or loathe it, Thanksgiving is here again. There must be people somewhere that actually enjoy it. Me? Uh-uh! No way. Family you haven’t seen for months (for good reason, too), and then – KABOOM! You’re sitting across from the family dining table from them, just trying to look like you’re enjoying yourself, smiling politely at Harry’s annual comedy stand-up, and thinking just one more small taste of that orange-ginger sauce, and you’ll be heaving your guts up all afternoon

I celebrated Thanksgiving the old-fashioned way.

I invited everyone in my neighborhood to my house,

we had an enormous feast…

and then I killed them, and took their land.”

– Jon Stewart, U.S. comedian, writer and television host

Still, get it over with. Survive it, like every other day you’ve managed to survive this year – the not-to-be-fondly-remembered “2020: The Year of The Corona.”

However, if you’re in addiction recovery, you really do want to see an end to this year… like, yesterday. AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) and NA (Narcotics Anonymous) 12-Step meetings being held online is nothing like the real thing – no quick cigarette outside the church hall before it starts, no catching up with your friends, no warm embraces and smiles from those who know exactly what you’re going through right now; for many other reasons, too, it’s just not the same. Support meetings aren’t alone in this – counseling and therapy sessions are being held online, too. Like I said, it’s just not the same.

As a reasonably seasoned recovering alcoholic myself, with 8 years under my belt, starting the day I left the alcohol rehab in Colorado that pretty much saved my life, and gave me a real future to look forward to, I can testify that addiction treatment and recovery needs to get back to being face-to-face as soon as possible. Many others, under the cloud of isolation, feel the same, and some… well, they’ve sadly relapsed.

That’s what this article is all about – overcoming the common relapse triggers we all face, come days like Thanksgiving, with its obligatory “family gathering” that is just another emotional minefield waiting to be crossed. Yes, for the recovering alcoholic, Thanksgiving is not nearly as amusing as this introduction was initially intended to be. Here’s “How to Overcome 4 Common Relapse Triggers at Thanksgiving”:

The 4 Most Common Relapse Triggers

At Thanksgiving (and other times of traditional family celebrations, like Christmas, New Year’s, and so on), the 4 most common relapse triggers for those in recovery from substance addiction are these:

  • Stress: Easily the most dangerous of relapse triggers for the recovering addict, whatever time of year it is. However, when stress becomes unmanageable, many in recovery return to their substance of choice as a way of coping – a futile attempt at self-medication.
  • People or Places Associated with Addictive Behavior: Even your family members can be a potential trigger, especially if they’re going to be drinking themselves, or simply because they know better than anyone how to make you feel as vulnerable as a child again. Yes, the other side of “family.” For others, just being in your childhood home, with its wealth of good and bad memories, can be enough to relapse.
  • When Your Substance of Choice is on the Table: Literally! Seeing or smelling alcohol when you’re a recovering alcoholic can prove fatal, especially if you’re feeling unsure and vulnerable.
  • Difficult or Negative Emotions: The emotional minefield that is the family reunion. Deeply-entrenched emotions that we have trouble dealing with effectively can be relapse triggers. They could well be the initial triggers that led you into addiction in the first place.

Overcoming Your Relapse Triggers

In order to overcome these common relapse triggers, here are the strategies – sourced from addiction treatment specialists – that you need to start using now, and, following Thanksgiving, you should continue with them as an intrinsic part of your complete recovery process:

#1. Learn Stress Management

There’s a saying in recovery circles: “Failing to prepare when you’re in recovery really is preparing to fail.” A lack of preparation makes a relapse statistically more probable, especially if you have trouble with stress. Therefore:

  • Keep a Journal: If you don’t already keep a journal, start one now. Write about the people or things that make you feel stressed or tense. Think about your own triggers – make a list of them, as acknowledging them makes you more prepared. 
  • Your Support Network: Get in touch with all the members of your support network, and make them aware you are attending a Thanksgiving celebration.
  • Controlling Stress: If your treatment took place in a residential rehab, part of your daily routine would have involved learning how to manage stress; for example, breathing techniques, such as yoga and meditation. If you don’t already do these, join a class now. 

#2. Thanksgiving Preparation

Prepare for Thanksgiving by:

  • Inviting a Friend: Why not take this one step further and actually invite a sober friend to attend too. As they say, there is strength in numbers.
  • Help Others / Volunteer Instead: One of the best ways that recovering addicts can stay sober over Thanksgiving is to help others in recovery. Helping others is a great way to actually help yourself – plus, you’ll stay sober.

#3. Being Around Addictive Substances

There is the strong possibility that addictive substances, eg. alcohol and weed, will be present at the gathering. Family members or friends that may not be supportive of your recovery may well be present, so be prepared:

  • Leave Early: If you know addictive substances will be present, leave early, and certainly before the heavy drinking or substance misuse begins. If you do wish to stay, and it’s ok to be around those substances, simply respond to others who offer you something that you no longer drink or use. If you are tempted, do as the advice says, and “Get outta Dodge!

Whatever you decide to do this Thanksgiving, remember to stay safe and stay sober. Recovery is your No. 1 Priority. Don’t let someone else dictate otherwise. Best wishes for your continued recovery.

Related Posts