By Liz Karter
Had enough holly to last a lifetime?
Looking forward to a New Year and a brand new start?
You are not alone. If you have been struggling with addictive patterns, Christmas is a time of triggers. Spending time with family you would usually avoid and even having more time with the people you love can mean that underlying relationship tensions build. If you are alone and would choose not to be, movies showing Christmas done Disney-style only rub salt in to the wound.
Maybe you found yourself having a glass or two too many? Or reaching for another pack of cigarettes? Maybe gambling on the internet offered an escape from the tinsel trap.
As an addiction therapist, I find that many of my patients are vulnerable over Christmas as stress levels rise and depression deepens. Addiction is on a spectrum and to be a problem for you it does not have to mean you reaching rock bottom. Maybe you are moving along from recreational use of alcohol, cigarettes or gambling to regular use (especially at times of stress, such as the holidays) and are concerned that you could reach the next stage on the addiction spectrum, where you have a problem.
The upside is that at Christmas we have time to reflect on the past year and see stuck patterns we wish to change. We make resolutions and it is a great time to include resolving to reduce or give up addictive patterns, from cake to cocaine! We all know, of course, the downside is that New Years resolutions are notoriously hard to keep. One reason is that we make them using the words ‘always’ and ‘never.’ We start with unrealistic expectations, fail a few times and give up.
Make realistic resolutions and when giving up anything on the addiction spectrum do not just take things away from yourself without giving yourself something in exchange. Especially at time of year that is cold and dark and you crave comfort. Work out what you get from your addiction and give yourself a healthier alternative. For example, if you smoke cigarettes when stressed, what can you do next time? With no alternative coping strategy, your default strategy – ‘smoke’ – will kick in and you will have a harder time with cravings.
Here are some tips for setting yourself up for success this New Years:
1. Prioritise:If you want to give up more than one thing, it may be easier to focus on one behaviour at first. You can then use the skills you have learned to give up something else.
2. Aim for four weeks addiction free.At the end of four weeks you will be surprised at how much cravings are reduced.
3. Focus on today.Telling yourself “never again” is daunting and unrealistic. It is normal to slip along the path to becoming addiction free. Telling yourself “just for today I will not eat cake,” feels easier, and those days soon add up.
4. Buy a diaryand being noting significant daily events and your thoughts and feelings about them. You will soon start to notice patterns. Maybe a day when you found it hard not to have that glass of wine you had an argument and were feeling angry, or sad. Maybe a day when you hardly thought about drinking you spent time talking with a friend. Identifying your emotional triggers for addictive behaviour helps you know what to look out for. Recognising what actions make thoughts of addiction disappear helps you to prepare and to get going on your alternative coping strategies!
5. Cope in a healthier way.Use your diary to recognize where you need to deal with stressors in a healthier, more rewarding way. If your diary shows that gambling is about escaping stress, can you make life adjustments? Can you watch a movie, talk to a friend, or walk the dog when stressed? These solutions might seem simple, but they can really can help.
6. Focus on becoming who you want to be, not beating yourself up for who you were. If you have wasted money and time on your addiction, put on weight or neglected relationships, sinking into guilt will only depress you and drive more cravings. Instead, focus on the positive, and reward yourself for making these changes.
By four weeks, the worst cravings will have passed. You should feel in more control of when you choose to drink, eat cake or gamble and experience the great feeling of freedom of choice!
If you are still struggling, do not lose heart, but seek professional help. Remember: be realistic about the time it can take and the support that may be needed to beat addiction.
You really can do it, and your realistic resolution is the first positive step to a great addiction- free New Year.
LizKarter is a therapist in addiction, specializing in gambling and women. Practicing since 200,1 she has helped hundreds of men and women successfully move beyond addiction to experience rewarding lives .Liz is author of the books Women and Problem Gamblingand Working with Women's Groups for Problem Gambling.
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