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Holiday Weight Gain… Addiction… Relapse: Heading into the Holidays with a Plan

Published in Addiction Services, For the Health of It Author: Scott Abrams,MD

As Thanksgiving approaches, most of us are facing the very real prospect of eating too much. For some of us, it's simply a time to enjoy food. Perhaps we've been eating healthy, and now, during the holidays, it's a time to indulge with family and friends. For others, it's a time of stress, during which we attempt to eat our feelings away. Either way, for most of us, it's a time to let go of our self-control, surrendering to our appetites. Then, once Christmas has passed, January remorse will likely set in as we step on the scale, weighing the consequences of our recent life decisions.

Those of us in recovery from drugs or alcohol face a similar quandary. For many of us, the holidays have historically been a time of celebration, during which we used that celebration as an excuse to indulge. Now, in recovery, we may be over the physical dependence of drugs or alcohol, but the memories remain and when everyone else is enjoying themselves, we feel that we should be able to as well. For others, the holidays are a reminder of the things they've lost. As they see other families getting together, it's a painful reminder that some relationships have never been repaired. As they sit alone, knowing that oblivion is just a drink or a pill away, it can be profoundly difficult to remain sober.

The consequences of course, aren't the same. If I put on five pounds over the holidays, I may simply have to buy new pants. If I relapse though, I won't stop until I repeat the dramatic destruction that I've previously caused in my drug use. For the one struggling with a substance use disorder, the consequences of indulging are profoundly higher than simply overeating.

For those of us in recovery, we must be purposeful about our decisions, often making choices ahead of time. If I go into a Thanksgiving meal hungry and with no plan, I'm probably going to eat until I hurt, regretting it later. It's not that much different with addiction. Going into the holidays, I must continue working on my recovery every day and I may have to plan ahead to avoid certain situations.

For those who don't wrestle with chemicals, but have loved ones who do, you can still help. You may not personally understand drug or alcohol addiction, but you likely have some struggle that can prove insightful. If you've ever stepped on that January scale with regret, then you understand addictive behavior. In understanding your own triggers for overeating, you can become aware of those things that may make holidays a difficult time for those who struggle with chemicals.

We all have some struggle and we're all in this together. The holidays are a time to celebrate together but also a time for love and compassion.