The list of summer get-togethers seems endless—and all of them present challenges to summer sobriety.
There are beach trips and pool parties. Outdoor concerts and festivals. Weddings and graduations. Backyard barbecues and sporting events, and the list goes on.
By the time the season officially starts in late June, social gatherings are in full swing, and there are more than enough ways to fill up those long, sunny, hot days, and warm nights, with things to do.
For a person in recovery from addiction, however, accepting invitations to such events likely requires a second, and maybe even a third, thought. Unfortunately, all of them come with potential temptations that can lead to a lapse or relapse. And, for many, the challenge to maintain summer sobriety—and still have fun with others who are not in recovery—is real.
There are many benefits of living an addiction-free life, but enjoying them takes a great deal of work on behalf of people who are recovering from substance use disorder and other disorders.
Social events can turn the clock back for attendees who have a history of drug and/or alcohol abuse. For them, it is always important to be aware of the possibilities of going out before saying “yes” to a good time.
Summer: A challenging time for recovery
The summer season is traditionally a time to relax during breaks from school, work, and other formal settings. The long, lazy days, and extra free time are perfect for trips and other outings with families and friends. But a flurry of activities can also be stressful and distracting, causing some to focus more on planning for outings that may push back recovery meetings designed to keep them on track.
Those who have been in recovery for a short time may find navigating their new life while making social plans to be a bit of a balancing act that could bring on feelings of despair and uncertainty. The need to bond and connect with others is important, but the need to get and stay well is important, too. Thankfully, there are strategies they can use that can help them stay on the course to summer sobriety. Those are discussed below.
SAD and dual-diagnosis
Summer can also be an emotionally trying time. The season can be associated with losing a personal relationship, longing for the “good old days,” or sparking memories of a happier time or place. The summertime blues, known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, affects about 4 to 6 percent of the US population, says WebMd. The condition is said to occur more in women than men, and typically, it causes depression as the days get colder and shorter. However, nearly 10 percent of the people with the disorder have symptoms triggered by the summer.
Depression is a trigger for a relapse as well as sadness. Drug and alcohol abuse is common among people who are diagnosed with SAD and other depressive disorders, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).
Mood changes, such as depression, that are linked with seasonal changes fall under the dual-diagnosis category, and affected persons take antidepressant medication to manage the symptoms. If you are in recovery and are experiencing SAD symptoms, such as increased depression, seek a medical professional who can help you address your condition as soon as possible.
If the disorder goes unaddressed, the temptation to use a substance to manage the symptoms could surface, and that only hurts the recovery process. Self-medicating with drugs or alcohol only makes the situation worse as withdrawal intensifies the depression.
Other things you can do to manage SAD:
- Establish a sleep routine in which you get up and go to bed at the same time each day. Make sure you get plenty of rest at night.
- Exercise regularly. Outdoor activities are plentiful, from hiking and running to walking, yoga, weightlifting, and more. Meditation also has been found to be helpful for managing SAD.
- Follow a healthy diet. A balanced diet containing fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, whole grains and proteins, and fiber is beneficial. Also, limit your intake of salt, sugar, caffeine, and saturated fats.
- Fill your space with natural light as dark spaces can make SAD symptoms worse.
Ways to achieve summer sobriety
Staying sober during the summer doesn’t have to be a situation where you stay home and have no fun. Instead, it takes planning with one main objective in mind: taking care of yourself so you can fulfill your goal of staying sober and drug-free.
Recovering substance abusers may have to do some extra planning to navigate the possible pitfalls that can derail their summer sobriety plans. Here are some tips to help you have an enjoyable summer.
Commit to your recovery daily. That commitment will not look the same for everyone, but the result is the same: achieving and maintaining sobriety. For some, staying committed to being sober may mean going to places where no alcoholic beverages are served. For people battling an eating disorder, it could mean going only to restaurants where you can follow your diet plan. Each person has to determine what they can handle and how to tailor their recovery plans in a manner that works for them. Only you can determine if you feel strong enough to pass up an offer of a drink or cigarette or other substance. If you do, have an exit strategy with summer sobriety in mind, one where you know what triggers you mentally, emotionally, and physically, and what you can do to manage the situation and stay in control of it and yourself.
What you can do: To reaffirm your commitment to your summer of sobriety and beyond, write down your intentions and objectives and put them in a place that you look at daily, perhaps on a mirror, by the morning coffee pot, or the front door, where they’ll be easy to see as you leave your house. You can also recite affirmations, statements designed to help change the way you think and keep you focused. If you’re on the internet, find a recovery forum where you can link up with others to discuss your daily challenges and maybe help others find solutions to their recovery challenges. Remember, you can control where you go in your spare time. It’s OK to dine out, but call and ask beforehand if the place you’ll be going serves non-alcoholic drinks or healthy selections on the menu. Map out a clear plan of what your recovery looks like to you, so you’ll be able to weed out activities that don’t support your plans.
Identify your triggers. Social events, especially ones held around holidays, can spark cravings for substances and other ways to self-medicate, such as with food, as one attempts to manage that stress. The acronym HALT, which stands for hungry, angry, lonely, and tired, identifies some of the common triggers.
What you can do: Bring non-alcoholic drinks with you, if you’re going to an event where drinking is taking place, and fill up on healthy snacks or small meals, especially if you’ll be out late. Getting rest before important social events and outings can help you manage stress, stay alert, and aware of what is going on around you.
Keep stress to a minimum. Busy events often come with stress and anxiety, which can also set off alarms internally. “Science has taught us that stress, cues linked to the drug experience (such as people, places, things, and moods), and exposure to drugs are the most common triggers for relapse,” says the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). If you’re feeling stressed, take a breather and figure out why.
What you can do: Put matters into perspective. Take a step back and ask yourself how important the issue is, and if it will be important a week from now? A month from now? A year from now? Evaluate your role in the situation. Are you putting too much stress on yourself? Others? If you’re upset or angry, journaling or taking a walk can help you think things through. Talking with a trusted friend or counselor can also help. Set reasonable expectations. Sometimes, we want too much, or our expectations are too high. In those cases, we need to reevaluate the situation. Having a realistic view of what you can and cannot do and then creating a plan of action on that can help keep your anxiety at bay. Speak honestly about your feelings. Doing so is proactive and can help you stay in control of your emotions and your role in the situation you are facing.
Have an accountability buddy. If you’re going out, take someone along. Make sure it’s someone you trust and who has your best interests at heart. Such a person can keep you focused on your intentions to achieve summer sobriety and give you a nudge when it may be time to exit a situation that is not good for you. For example, this person can pull you away from people who may be pressuring you to drink or do drugs. They may find a graceful way to change the conversation or pull you away to talk to someone else, or just find a way to usher you out of the event.
What you can do: Ask a friend or family member to accompany you to the event. Set up some ground rules before you go to the event, such as how long you will stay and what activities you will (or won’t) take part in. For example, you may want to make sure you stay no longer than two hours and leave when the party turns a bit more frenzied, such as when the music gets louder or the dance floor fills up. If you can’t take someone with you, make arrangements with someone who has agreed to be on standby via telephone, text message, instant message, or some other form of communication, who you can call and check in with. Express if you’re feeling stressed or anxious so they can encourage you to take the next step that is best for you. That person may be the voice of reason to help you find your way out of a situation so relapse does not occur.
Other things you can do:
- Spend time with others. Isolation, or spending large amounts of time alone, can bring about negative emotions that may spur substance use. Engaging in activities that encourage interaction with other people is healthy and can eliminate the blues.
- Seek out sober-focused events. Find support groups that are sensitive to your needs for summer sobriety and plan events where people can have fun without using or abusing substances.
- If you can’t find a drug- and alcohol-free party in honor of your summer sobriety, throw your own and invite people who support you. Fellow people who are on the same journey as you are may appreciate such an event.
- Just say no. Sometimes, there will be no easy way to attend an event and stay true to your new life at the same time. In times like these, remember your goals and find other activities where you can remain true to them.
Then you should call us right away. It is OK to reach out for support, and we are here to help you. We at Pathway to Hope want every prospective client to understand who we are and how we treat addiction at our rehab and treatment center, where we always place our clients first. Our addiction specialists are available 24-7, ready to assist you immediately. Click or call us today at (844) 557-8575.