Mental Health

Dealing with Holiday Triggers: Alcohol, Food and Family Conflict

Last week I wrote a blog post of tips on how to survive the winter blues.

A point that I made was to “try to limit or not to do things that trigger you.”

Today, in this post and my next post, I’m going to expand on that. Through my experience and research, I’m going to talk about the following:

  • Holidays and people recovering from an eating disorder
  • Holidays and recovering alcoholics
  • Holidays and family conflict
  • Holidays and mental illness

Holiday and People Recovering from an Eating Disorder

I have no personal experience dealing with an eating disorder, but Demi Lovato, who struggles with an eating disorder stated in her “Staying Strong Documentary” in 2012:

“Thanksgiving is a lot of food, and it’s a really triggering holiday for anyone with an eating disorder.”

Then a few days after, she stated “Yesterday was just a bad day in general…I think the thought of all the food I ate on Thanksgiving Day was in my head. I didn’t think I was going to make the whole day without throwing up.”

She made it through with the help of her family and sponsors. Here are others things you can do:

  • Eat regularly. Don’t skip meals or eat too many meals. “Keep a regular and moderate pattern.”
  • Discuss anticipation with your treatment team so that they can prepare you and make a plan for any possible triggers.
  • Have a well thought out plan. Know your exits and contacts, and how you’ll recognize when it’s time to use those.
  • “Think of someone to call if you are struggling with addictive behaviors, or with negative thoughts or difficult emotions. Alert them ahead of time; let them know of your concerns, needs, and the possibility of you calling them for emotional support.”
  • “Consider choosing one loved one to be your ‘reality check’ with food, to either help fix a plate for you or to give you sound feedback on the food portion sizes you make for yourself.”
  • Focus on not only food goals, but personal and relationship goals as well.
  • “Work on being flexible in your thoughts. Learn to be flexible when setting guidelines for yourself and expectations of yourself and others. Strive to be flexible in what you can eat during the holidays. Take a holiday from self‐imposed criticism, rigidity, and perfectionism.”
  • Stay active in (or join) a group, whether it’s a support or recreational group.
  • Avoid overstressing or overbooking.[1]
  • “Avoid ‘fat talk’, diet talk or food conversations that could be upsetting.”
  • “Be assertive with people who pressure you to eat more/less.”
  • “Get right back to structure if you engage in any eating disorder behaviors.”
  • Don’t host or bake if it’s too stressful or tempting.[2]

Holidays and Recovering Alcoholics

I don’t really have experience with this either, as I have fortunately never been an alcoholic, but I do know what it’s like trying to stay sober and being near alcohol. I remember a couple years ago, during a period where I wasn’t drinking, I went to a new years party. It was rough and triggering. I was pretty much on edge all night. The worst part was when people kept offering drinks.

I wasn’t drinking only because I couldn’t handle my emotions under the influence of alcohol. So, I’m not saying I know how recovering alcoholics feel, but it can’t be easy. If what I went through was hard, I can’t imagine how hard it is for people recovering from an alcohol addiction.

Here are some things you can do if you are struggling to stay sober during the holidays:

  • Self care is important. “No matter how busy you are, fit relaxation and meditation into your day, even for a few minutes.”
  • Reach out to your therapist, sponsor, spiritual advisor or support group.
  • Find new ways to celebrate, without alcohol. “Avoid isolation and spend time with people you like who are not substance users. Don’t expose yourself to unnecessary temptations such as gatherings where alcohol is the center of entertainment.”
  • Focus on your recovery program and talk regularly with your sponsor.
  • Let go of your resentments.
  • Bring a friend. “If you are going to a party where alcohol will be present, bring someone with you who is in recovery or who is ‘safe’ and will support you.”
  • Have a way out in case you have to leave immediately and go someplace safe. It’s okay to leave if you start to feel uncomfortable.
  • “Talk with your support system before you go to a holiday party and then have a plan to reconnect with them after the event.”[3]
  • Be aware of H.A.L.T (Hungry. Angry. Lonely. Tired.). “Being too hungry, angry, lonely, or tired, are conditions that leave us more vulnerable to the temptations [of relapsing].”[4]
  • “Keep your expectations realistic. Just because you are clean and sober and feeling comfortable with your disease does not mean that everyone else has the same comfort level. It may take years to earn back the trust that your addiction destroyed.”[5]
  • Have a friend or your sponsor check up on you via text or calling (if they are unable to be with you) or let them know you will contact them if you need to.
  • Always have a non-alcoholic drink in hand so that people are less likely to offer you a drink.

Holidays and Family Conflict

When I was a teenager, I dealt with some family conflict. My dad had a girlfriend no one liked and of course, that caused a strain. I was the only one who spoke up because everyone else wanted to “keep the peace”, so that made me feel like everyone betrayed me. I was so blunt and outspoken, it made me seem like a troublemaker. Because no one understood me, I felt like an outsider. I was also dealing with other issues with my dad. Anyways, to the point… family gatherings weren’t so great for me. I rarely went to them, except for a few major holidays. I would kind of keep to myself and just wait until it was appropriate enough to go home.

In case you’re wondering or someone I know is reading this, things are must better now and I actually enjoy these gatherings now.

Here are some tips on how to deal with family conflict over the holidays:

  • Plan ahead. Using past experiences as a guide, make a list events that are likely to occur and plan what you’ll do/say if it happens.
  • Make a list of coping strategies for dealing with anger.
  • Notice what’s different about this year this year than previous years.
  • Celebrate and relax if you can. Try not to think about the past. It’s only for a few hours.[6]
  • Spend most of your time with those you like.
  • Don’t expect anything in others.
  • Don’t get involved in arguments.
  • Keep busy.
  • Don’t try to please everyone.
  • If you’re upset, take walk away or leave.[7]
  • Don’t blame yourself for other people’s actions.
  • Ignore negativity.
  • Bring a friend.

Stay tuned for a Part Two where I discuss struggling with mental illnesses over holidays. It will be posted Monday or Tuesday!


[1] Berrett, M. (n.d.). Twelve Ideas to Help People with Eating Disorders Negotiate the Holidays. National Eating Disorders Association. Retrieved from

[2] Desmond, M. (n.d.). “Best Practices” for Eating Disorder Recovery During the Holidays. River Centre Clinic. Retrieved from

[3] Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. (2015).Sober Holiday Tips. Hazelden Betty Ford. Retrieved from

[4] World Network Central Office. (n.d.). H.A.L.T. Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. Dual Recovery Anonymous. Retrieved from

[5] Cheney, T & Watson, R. (2011). A 10 Point Holiday Strategy To Keep Those in Recovery. Recovery Today Online. Retrieved from

[6] Esposito, L. (2014). Holiday Stress: Dealing with Family Drama and Dysfunction. Psychology Today. Retrieved from

[7] Glazser, B. (n.d.). Survival Tips for Holidays with Dysfunctional Family Members. Retrieved from

Jessica Victoria
<p>Jessica Victoria, 24, is a writer and advocate for mental health, disability and LGBTQ+. She uses her personal experiences and knowledge to help and educate others.</p>

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