Managing risk of using alcohol / drugs over the Christmas season

With the festive season arriving, there is likely to be Christmas parties that you are invited to, and perhaps expected to attend. This time of year can prove particularly difficult, especially for those who suffer with problems controlling their alcohol intake or indulge in drug use. Festive functions are considered ‘high risk’, as people are likely to be more inclined to ‘push’ drinks or possibly drugs your way, and there could be pressure to join in and be ‘merry’. Of course, the invitation to be ‘merry’ is the last thing a person wants to hear if they are trying to achieve, or maintain, abstinence from drinking / drug use.

Question: So, what can a person do to help maintain their abstinence or control their alcohol / drug use?

Answer: You could approach this issue either by practising avoidance, or through confrontation (Kouimtsidis et al. - 2007; Spada - 2010).

(1) Avoidance is advised if you have only recently stopped, or significantly cut down, your alcohol / drug use. The early days of maintaining abstinence or controlled use can be difficult, and your coping skills to resist using alcohol / drugs are likely to still be developing, and not as reliable and practised as they could be.

  • Therefore, if you believe you are at risk of lapsing back into alcohol / drug use over the Christmas period, then perhaps don’t attend certain places or events during this time altogether.
  • The same applies to particular people you have past experience drinking or using drugs with. They may need to be avoided on occasion, where chance of using alcohol / drugs is significant. Some friends, family, and colleagues can prove very persuasive, especially when trying to get others to join them for ‘a couple of drinks’. For people with an alcohol problem, ‘a couple of drinks’ will probably quickly escalate to several more, because the habit has previously been established.

(2) Confrontation means being able to confront and respond to urges and thoughts about using alcohol / drugs. The skills and techniques listed below are commonly used in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) treatment for alcohol / drug issues.

  • You could challenge in your mind ‘permissive thoughts’, that might emerge aiming to justify use of alcohol / drugs. For example, a permissive thought might be, "It’s been a stressful week. I deserve a drink to relax." Challenging this thought, could involve considering the alternative methods you could use to help you relax, then putting one of these safer relaxation methods into action.
  • It will be likely you need to use assertive 'refusal skills' when offered alcohol / drugs. Being able to say ‘no’, directly and in a confident manner.
  • You may need to use skills to tackle ‘cravings’. For instance, being surrounded by alcoholic drinks at a party, are likely to trigger cravings to use alcohol. Sometimes it can help to delay the decision to have that first drink or to use drugs by 20 minutes, by which time, the craving should have subsided to a degree.
  • It could help to try and stay around people who are non-drinkers / drug users, then you will be less likely to pick up yourself.
  • If you believe you have to make an appearance at a Christmas party, then do just that. Perhaps plan to stay for the first hour and then leave. There will be more temptation to use alcohol / drugs, the longer you stay in an environment where they are available to you.

There are many confrontation or coping skills, that you can use and develop into your own personal ‘generic coping plan’ (Kouimtsidis et al. - 2007). This coping plan can be developed through your own self-help efforts, or by working collaboratively with therapist.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London, EC4N 4SA
Written by Dr Nigel Campbell, CPsychol BPS HCPC
London, EC4N 4SA

Hello, I'm a Chartered Counselling Psychologist and Cognitive Behavioural Therapist (CBT). I have over 15 years experience working with a diverse range of clients and presenting difficulties. I take a professional yet down-to-earth approach to therapy offered in a non-judgemental environment. Taking...

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