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The Celebration Effect

We typically think of negative events as the biggest threat to recovery. Losing a job, getting divorced, losing a loved one all make you want to forget your problems, even temporarily. Even seemingly minor challenges can pile up and feel like too much to bear. We less often think of good events as a threat to sobriety, but they are sometimes just as dangerous.

If you have a little time in recovery, a few months maybe, you learn to brace yourself against the bad things. You have a plan. When you feel overwhelmed, maybe you take some deep breaths, call your sponsor, go to a meeting, or use some specific method to relieve stress. You may be less prepared for cravings brought on by happy events. Often, when something good happens after months of struggle, a voice in your head says, ‘This would be even better with a drink’. You’re very happy, but something is missing.

Another problem is that stress and celebrations often go together. You may feel validated by a promotion and happy for the extra money, but feel a little afraid of the new responsibility. Maybe you or a close friend is getting married. It’s a happy occasion, but it’s also a stressful event. There is a lot of planning to do and you have to keep everyone happy and getting along. Then, of course, the real challenges begin after the wedding. The stress of a major life change, even a positive one, is why many people recommend staying sober for at least a year before starting a new romantic relationship.

Perhaps the most obvious challenge of a celebration is that in Western cultures, celebrations usually involve alcohol. It’s hard not to feel tempted when everyone around you raises a glass. There’s a general expectation that you’ll have a drink and you might feel conspicuous for abstaining. You might even start telling yourself that you can make an exception for a special occasion. You can’t, of course. If you could, you wouldn’t have needed to quit drinking.

These factors can add up to a lot of pressure and what should be a good time suddenly becomes a challenge. It’s good to be aware of the danger and have a plan. Have a substitute drink ready as well as an excuse if someone should offer you a drink. Bring backup, if necessary, someone who will support you. And of course, you can always call your sponsor or go to a meeting if it gets too hard.

Castle Craig is one of the most established and respected addiction rehab centers in the UK. Castle Craig provides consulting psychiatrists who diagnose associated mental illnesses like anxiety states, depression, ADD, PTSD, eating disorders, compulsive gambling, and compulsive relationships. For information, call our 24 hour free confidential phone-line: 0808 256 3732. From outside the UK please call: +44 1721 788 006 (normal charges apply).

Page last reviewed and clinically fact-checked | January 29, 2020