How holidays, festivals, and summer can be a trigger for addiction relapse and how it can be avoided.

Summer vacations, the summer holidays when kids are off school, and festivals of all kinds can all be potential triggers for an addiction relapse for a number of reasons.

Before we delve into potential triggers for relapse, it is important to remember your personal triggers that you would have identified during your addiction recovery process and remain aware of them along with your personal coping strategies. This will help you navigate summer whilst still being able to enjoy the warmer weather, sunny days, and social occasions that come with it. Our blog People, Places, and Things may help to remind you of your triggers so that you can avoid or cope with them better. It may also be worth reading our blog about the Bank Holiday Party Mentality in preparation for the bank holiday at the end of August. The more prepared you are, the better you’ll be able to cope with any potential triggers for relapse.

Potential triggers for addiction relapse to look for during the summer:

Increased stress

It’s not just summer that stress could trigger a relapse but organising vacations, attending festivals, or planning and managing the summer holidays while your children are off school can increase the amount of stress you normally experience. Summer also brings about more social occasions and expectations, and the financial pressures of holidays, children’s days out or childcare can also lead to more stress. For those recovering from addiction, this heightened stress can lead to a desire to resort to the substances or behaviours they became addicted to as a coping mechanism.

Social and peer pressure

During the summer period there is often a greater emphasis on socialising, going out and enjoying the weather, or even celebrating. There is normally an increase in the number and regularity of parties, be it house parties, garden parties, barbecues, or nights out. These social gatherings usually involve alcohol consumption and can often include drug use too.

Being around family or friends who are drinking alcohol or using drugs may create a sense of social pressure to join in, whether it is verbally encouraged or not, and for a recovering addict, this can make it harder to resist.

Emotional triggers

The holidays can bring about memories from the past, both positive and negative, and for some recovering addicts, this can be an emotional trigger that may lead to cravings for substances that they associate with those memories. 

Isolation and loneliness

Summer isn’t always about socialising and partying. It can be quite a lonely and isolating time for some people, especially those without a strong support network. For some recovering addicts, particularly those early on in their recovery journey, the best way to prevent relapse is to avoid triggers altogether. This can lead to being isolated from former friends or family and feelings of loneliness, especially when those close to them are socialising together. These feelings can often drive them towards substances as a coping mechanism.

All inclusive holidays

All inclusive holidays can be fantastic for many people, but for those recovering from addiction, the abundance of easily accessible and freely available alcohol can make it easier for them to overindulge and potentially relapse. Easy access to alcohol or drugs can be a significant challenge for anyone trying to maintain sobriety and when cost isn’t a barrier, it can be very difficult to resist.

Drug culture at festivals

Festivals, music festivals or festivals with a very large attendance in particular, can be environments in which drugs are more readily available and substance use is virtually normalised. The accessibility and normalisation can be a strong trigger for individuals in recovery.

How to avoid relapse during summer, whilst on vacation, and at festivals

While there may be potential for triggers for relapse to become more frequent over the summer period, that does not mean recovering addicts will relapse. Most former addicts that have gone through an addiction recovery process, such as recovery treatment for addiction at The Recovery Lodge, will have been taught coping mechanisms and tools to help manage any potential relapse triggers they encounter.

Some precautions that recovering addicts can take include:

Planning ahead

Over the summer, plan activities and events that don’t revolve around substances. Engaging in sober activities with friends and family can help create new positive associations with social events and get-togethers. 

If you plan on avoiding events that could include potential triggers, such as parties involving alcohol, by being proactive and organising your own sober events, either as the main organiser or with help, you can counter any potential for isolation or feelings of missing out by having social activities that you can attend.

Build a strong support network

Surround yourself with supportive and understanding people who are fully aware of your recovery journey and any potential triggers for relapse that may arise. Having someone you can talk to or turn to during any challenging times can make a significant difference, and if they are aware of your triggers, they could actively help you avoid or cope with them.

Attend support meetings

If you are part of a recovery program, continue to attend or make an effort to attend any support group meetings, group therapy sessions, or counselling over the summer holiday season. The ongoing support provided by these sessions will help you stick with your recovery journey and counter any potential relapse triggers you may encounter. Sharing your experiences with others who understand what you’re going through can also provide encouragement and motivation to continue with your recovery process.

Avoid high-risk environments

This may seem like common sense but the social aspect of summer activities can sometimes cloud our judgement. If you know a particular event, occasion, activity, place, or people will be or will include a very strong trigger for you, try to avoid it during the holiday season. It is perfectly ok to say no to invites and prioritise your well-being over any perceived social obligations. If you feel uneasy or uncomfortable about an event or place, there’s probably a reason why.

Practice stress relief and management techniques

Develop healthy coping mechanisms to help manage your stress levels during the holidays. You may have been taught some during your addiction recovery treatment and discovered what works best for you, so use those if you can. Meditation, exercise, or creative hobbies can also be a great way to reduce stress and anxiety. The Mental Health Foundation also has a great guide on How To Manage And Reduce Stress that includes 101 tips to manage stress that have been contributed by real people who use them themselves. You can even download it so that you can refer back to it whenever you need to.

Create your own summer traditions

If a lot of summer activities that occur regularly each year include potential triggers for your addiction, why not create your own traditions, establishing new ones that don’t involve substances or addictive behaviours? This can help you create positive memories and associations with the holiday season. Why not organise a sober BBQ or beach day, where there is no alcohol allowed? Or book a holiday with friends each year where you explore the local area without any substance use? It could even be something as simple as a regular games night, where you play a new board game with friends or family each time.

Have a relapse prevention plan in place

Work with a therapist or counsellor to create a relapse prevention plan that is tailored to your specific triggers, needs, and circumstances. Having a plan in place can offer self-guidance when faced with challenging situations. At The Recovery Lodge, as part of our recovery process, we can identify your addiction triggers and create a prevention plan with you, tailored to your specific triggers, to help you on your recovery journey.

Attend sober events

Search for recovery-focused events during the summer period and at festivals. Many communities offer sober gatherings and activities that can provide a safe and supportive environment – this has increased in popularity in recent years, too. Many festivals now also offer sober activities or places on site where you can go for support or to enjoy the festival atmosphere while remaining sober.

Find an accountability partner

Get yourself an accountability partner – someone you can rely on to check in on you and hold you accountable for your sobriety over the summer. Much like with a fitness program or exercise regime, having someone to hold you accountable to your journey can help motivate you to stick to it. Your accountability partner can offer support and encouragement when you feel vulnerable, helping to keep you on the road to recovery.

Most importantly, don’t struggle alone – seek support

It is always important to remember that whenever you are struggling during your addiction recovery journey, seeking support and help is essential to maintaining sobriety. Don’t hesitate to reach out to the professionals helping you on your journey, local support groups, supportive family members and friends, or call a helpline. Addiction recovery is a journey, and with the right resources and support, it’s possible to navigate through holidays, summers, and festivals without relapse.

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