Holiday Travel: 5 Strategies for Combating Substance Use3 min read

Holidays are supposed to be a joyful break from daily routines, but it doesn’t always feel that way. Sometimes people have to interact with family members, friends or other people who don’t respect their recovery during holiday vacations. These are a few ways I’ve learned to make recovery easier while traveling during the holidays.

1. Create Backup Plans

Travel and substance use can seem like an unchangeable combination. It also doesn’t help when you travel to see people who don’t support or care about your recovery. The thought fills me with intense anxiety before the holiday arrives, making substance use even more appealing.

It’s so important to create backup plans for those challenging moments. I like to bring a few mocktail recipes when I visit family and ask everyone to try them with me. It turns sobriety into a fun activity and a bonding experience.

You can also plan polite ways to decline substances so you always know what to say. If everyone’s getting high, you could say you’d rather not join because you don’t like how the substance makes you feel. Arming yourself with phrases that simplify sobriety will also make your holidays more enjoyable.

2. Use Your Support System

It’s nearly impossible to get sober and stay in recovery alone. Remember that your support system is always one text or phone call away. Before trips back home, I often let my closest friends or family members know they may get a call from me while I’m away. They’ll understand what I’m up against and be ready to encourage me if things get challenging.

3. Find Local Meetings

There’s always a way to find a 12-step meeting while traveling. Cities and towns will have meeting schedules posted on the websites for each organization based on what you’re recovering from. My family lives in a rural area, so I prefer to find a virtual meeting and join via video conferencing. You’ll get the support you need when things get tense, which unfortunately tends to happen when families and friends get cooped up for the holidays.

4. Set and Respect Your Boundaries

Setting boundaries is part of recovery. I decided I wouldn’t drink alcohol anymore, which is a healthy boundary that improves my life. However, travel and substance use make it more difficult to stick by that boundary. Before leaving home, I always review affirming steps to stand my ground in case someone tries to pressure me to join them.

It’s also good to remind yourself that you don’t have to stick around if someone tries to push through your boundaries repeatedly. Get a hotel room if you’re staying with a toxic individual or walk out of the house to get some distance. You’re an adult, so no one can force you to stay in an unhealthy situation.

5. Remember Your Self-Care Resources

You’ve likely developed some self-care activities to reach this point in your recovery. If you have to travel during the holidays, keep them in a handy list for easy reference. I often write down my favorite breathing exercises because I forget them when I’m not in my usual routine. Including steps like inhaling for four counts, holding it and slowly exhaling makes it so much easier to reduce the anxiety making substance use so tempting.

Even if your version of self-care is venting into a note on your phone or following a meditation video on YouTube, keeping a list nearby will help you stay in recovery if the holidays become challenging.

Enjoy Your Travel During the Holidays

Travel and substance use don’t have to be an unavoidable part of life. Enjoy the upcoming holidays by preparing yourself with these five strategies. You’ll know how to manage your anxiety, access help and stay firm in your recovery no matter what the future holds.


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