The 4th of July is a fun-filled holiday spent with family and friends while enjoying amazing food and activities. If the weather holds, many parties head to the beach, lake, or swimming pool for a reprieve from the scorching heat.
Not everyone holds the same sentiments for July 4th, and active or retired military recovering from substance use disorders may find the holiday more triggering than anything. Fireworks and an increase in drinking can affect those dealing with PTSD symptoms or struggling with sobriety.
Here are four tips to help you or a loved one stay sober during the holidays.
- Surround Yourself with a Support System
Supportive family and friends are crucial to staying sober and aiding in the addiction recovery journey. When you solidify plans for the 4th of July, ensure you are surrounded by a strong support system that can help you with physical or emotional triggers.
If your loved one is going through the sobriety journey, take note of your mental health. Assisting a loved one through the recovery process can tax your mental and emotional health, so consider attending a family therapy session beforehand.
Ask a professional about healthy activities you can implement as a family and spend time learning more about the addiction process and how triggers affect substance use and relapse.
- Engage in Physical Activity
Physical activity and movement help improve overall health and wellness while calming your fight or flight reflexes. Sobriety journeys are not linear paths, and it is expected that anxiety and other feelings of self-doubt will arise.
Exercise regulates your heart rate, improves self-confidence, and boosts cognitive functioning. Fun physical activities with support from family and friends during the 4th of July could be swimming, golfing, pickleball, or simple backyard games. It also adds distractions and avoids dwelling on triggers such as other people drinking or PTSD symptoms.
- Attend a Meeting Before
Attending a support meeting the morning of or day before the 4th of July can ease your anxiety and stress. Experts found that stress is the leading cause of cravings, resulting in relapse. Tackling a difficult holiday alone is challenging, and sometimes the support of family and friends is not enough.
If you are still struggling with cravings, relapse, or PTSD after a meeting, consider talking to a therapist or clinic about medication-assisted treatment or attending rehab.
- Host the Party
Holiday triggers can make it feel like you aren’t in control. Carefully practicing coping strategies in meetings and rehab may seem too far-fetched when you attend a party that has drugs or alcohol. Combined with PTSD triggers like large crowds or fireworks, it can set your nerves on edge.
Instead, try hosting the party yourself, eliminating the stress of the unknown and giving you ultimate control over who attends. It also allows you an opportunity to ask people not to bring alcohol and be open about your military service and possible PTSD triggers surrounding the holiday.
PTSD Symptoms in Military Veterans
Did you know that half of all veterans with PTSD or depression that served in Iraq or Afghanistan have a substance use disorder? Experts place PTSD rates between 10% to 30% of military members who served overseas following 9/11.
Veterans are at increased risk during the 4th of July for triggers that can exacerbate PTSD symptoms and substance use, and can have specific PTSD triggers, such as:
- Large crowds
- Tight spaces
- Talking about or viewing war coverage
These triggers can lead to several PTSD symptoms like increased reactivity, irritability, anxiety, or extreme worry. For some, PTSD and addiction are closely intertwined. This is otherwise known as a co-occurring disorder, where a person has mental health disorder diagnosis and substance use disorder.
Experts found that approximately 50% of patients with a substance use disorder also have a mental health illness. Some of the most prevalent mental health disorders with addiction are:
- Personality disorder
The link between the two is a bit convoluted. Some speculate that mental health illness leads to self-medicating behaviors and addiction. Others speculate that changes in brain structure from substances could result in a mental health illness.
How To Manage PTSD Triggers
PTSD triggers are sometimes unavoidable, such as the July 4th holiday when fireworks seem to be coming from every direction. To avoid falling back on alcohol or drugs to manage triggers, here are some ways to safely manage PTSD triggers for military service members:
- Identify what your triggers are
- Practice healthy coping strategies (e.g., mindfulness, deep breathing, social support)
- Validate your triggers
- Incorporate a safety plan (e.g., medication-assisted treatment, family/friends)
Identification and validation are two key points. Recognize that some triggers are unavoidable and have multiple coping and safety plans in place. Don’t shy away from talking to trusted support groups, family members, or friends for help during the 4th of July.
Finding Freedom from Addiction
Freedom from addiction starts with recognizing and acknowledging triggers. For military service members, July 4th can exacerbate PTSD symptoms and reliance on substances, leading to relapse. Instead, use the four tips listed above and consider talking to a substance use disorder clinic about therapy.
The sobriety journey can take months to years for some individuals, and Cenikor is here to help. We have customized veteran programs to help you or a loved one find support through this journey. Check out our website to learn more about how to get started!