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2020 has been quite different from almost any other year that we have experienced in our lives. As we enter the holiday season, we should expect holiday celebrations to be very different this year, too. If you’re recovering from addiction and substance use challenges, you already know that the holidays can be challenging. Here’s how to prepare for added challenges this holiday season during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Don’t become isolated, especially when we can’t see people face to face. COVID-19 isolation is very real

Though we are complying with social distancing guidelines in order to keep ourselves and others safe, loneliness and a lack of interaction can still feel overwhelming. This is especially true for individuals managing substance use and addiction complications, as social isolation can increase their risk of relapse.

In normal years, for many people in recovery, the holiday season can feel stressful and anxiety-provoking, as individuals worry about managing family expectations, the pressure to drink or use substances, or spending time away from family and friends. This year, the risk may be even higher, as individuals cannot interact with loved ones at all. Consider incorporating some of the following steps into your recovery plan this holiday season:

  • Schedule time with friends and family via videoconference
  • Continue holiday traditions, such as gift-giving or religious services, from a distance
  • Connect with a sponsor or peer support group at some point on the holiday dates themselves

These small steps can help individuals in recovery stay more connected to the familiar routines and structures that have helped them stay sober so far.

Prioritize our health and the health of others

In addition to a sense of isolation, COVID-19 has brought a variety of other challenges to American households, from financial pressures to concerns over school and childcare. But one of the most important areas of concern is our physical health.

While all of us are at risk for COVID-19, individuals who are struggling with addiction and substance use may be at a particularly high risk. In fact, a 2020 study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that individuals with substance use disorders comprised 15% of COVID-19 cases in a population study. This research indicated that individuals who had been recently diagnosed with a substance use disorder were more likely to become ill with the virus. Additionally, researchers noted that individuals with substance use disorders at any stage were more likely to become hospitalized or even die from COVID-19.

Substance use can weaken the immune system and leave users susceptible to infection, but can also damage the heart and lungs, two areas of the body that are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.

It’s important that we keep ourselves healthy but also avoid spreading the virus to anyone else. Though peer pressure from family and friends to attend holiday celebrations in person may be tempting, we should remember our responsibility to our health and the health of others during this uncertain time. With proper support, we can navigate a socially distant holiday season and stay safe.

Prepare our support network ahead of time

When we’re facing a difficult moment, whether that’s the stress of work or the challenges of a relationship, we may be tested in our sobriety. That’s why it’s important to prepare your peer support network to help guide you through tough times.

If you don’t already have a peer support group to help you through the holiday season, now is the perfect time to join one. Peer support can take many forms, from an organized group like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) to a less formal group of friends and family who are also in recovery. Peer support can also extend to loved ones who understand and appreciate your personal recovery journey and have pledged to support you through challenging times.

Luckily, most formal peer support groups have switched to virtual alternatives to in-person meetings for the duration of the pandemic. You can find a directory of online AA meetings and a directory of online NA meetings. Make time to see family and friends through videoconferences or even collaborative online games.

As we prepare for the holiday season and beyond, it’s helpful to think about what 2021 will bring for us all. Hopefully, we will see an end to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, but there are still plenty of decisions left under our own control, too. Make sure you’ve put together a strong and structured plan for the holiday season. There’s a new year full of new possibilities ahead of us, so don’t let social isolation and pandemic stress derail your recovery before you can get there.

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