Halloween can be a spooky night of frights, a celebration of family bonding (with costumes), or an excuse to buy sweet treats. It can also be uncomfortable as we face unexpected triggers. If this is one of your first years experiencing Halloween in recovery, it’s important to recognize the triggers you might encounter, so you can plan ways to navigate them.
Here are a few common addiction triggers on Halloween, and some suggestions for ways to handle them.
Romanticizing your past (intoxicated) Halloweens
It’s always important to avoid romanticizing our past substance use, but sometimes it can be tempting to slip down memory lane. If Halloween used to be an occasion to drink or use drugs, just spotting the Spirit Halloween signs can trigger nostalgic memories of that past use. Here are a few strategies to change tracks if you find yourself cherishing wistful thoughts of intoxicated Halloween fun:
- Remind yourself of what really happened. One of the best ways to stop romanticizing the past is to face the messy reality of it. While our past substance use may have started out well, for most of us it progressed to embarrassing, painful, and full of consequences. When you catch yourself pondering the fun you once had drinking or using on Halloween, play the tape through beyond the temporary euphoria to the final outcome that led you to enter recovery.
- Plan sober Halloween fun. You’re far less likely to spend time daydreaming about Halloween Past if you’re having a good time in Halloween Present. Plan something to do on Halloween that you enjoy. This could be anything from passing out candy to trick-or-treaters to rating your local haunted houses on a scale of spookiness—as long as it keeps you occupied and entertained without sabotaging your recovery. Read suggestions in our post, “Spooky Sober Halloween Fun.”
- Have reasonable expectations. Don’t put pressure on this Halloween to be the most perfect one ever. Be realistic about what you would like to happen and what is likely to happen. This realistic outlook will make it easier to appreciate what comes without judging it by impossible standards.
Feeling alone in a crowd of people drinking and using
If you go out to a hard-partying Halloween celebration, you’re likely to feel left out when the other attendees start drinking or using. It can be a very lonely experience (and, for me, a loud, annoying, smelly one) to be the rare sober person in an intoxicated crowd. But that’s not your only option! Instead, try one of these options:
- Hang out with a sober buddy or friends who support your recovery. If you’re going to a party where people will be drinking or using, go with a friend who is also abstaining. The two of you can support one another and provide accountability. If you don’t know anyone in recovery, talk to your friends to see which of them will have your back and help you stick to your recovery goals.
- Have an exit plan. Even with clear goals and the support of a friend, sometimes the Halloween revelry can be uncomfortable and triggering. Think through how you can leave early if you need to. This might mean driving yourself, making sure you have a rideshare app installed and ready, or setting up an SOS signal for someone you trust to pick you up.
- Go to a sober gathering or alcathon. In many cities, there are parties and events that are specifically substance-free. Some of these are family-friendly, some are recovery-focused, and some are in locations that don’t allow drinking or drug use. Try searching for “sober Halloween” and your city, or check the websites for your local recovery communities.
- Host a smaller gathering or a solo celebration. When the larger Halloween parties seem fraught, host your own. You can limit the guestlist to people you trust to be supportive, and plan activities that you’ll enjoy. For example, my family is all about board games and watching Halloween episodes of old favorite TV shows. Or go solo, and spend a chill Halloween with your own company, maybe with scary movies or Halloween crafts.
Specific Halloween sights, sounds, or interactions can be triggering
Triggers develop when our brains build connections between something—a person, location, emotion, situation, etc.—and our substance use, the lead-up to it, or the aftermath of it. You might associate even seemingly benign Halloween events (putting on a costume, the sound of your bestie’s “spookiest playlist,” the familiar argument your family has over whether Hocus Pocus is better than Halloweentown) with the anticipation of picking up. Here are some ways to navigate those triggers:
- Avoid foreseeable triggers. When you know that something is likely to be triggering to you, you can plan ahead to avoid it. Skip that party, leave before the drinking game starts, watch a different movie. This process requires that you spend some time thinking through your triggers ahead of time, and strategize how to avoid them.
- Set boundaries. Maybe you’re not okay with being in the car with folks who are under the influence. Maybe you need to be able to leave without being questioned if things get uncomfortable. Whatever boundaries will make you feel more secure this Halloween, be sure you communicate them to those you’re spending time with.
- Have support at hand. Despite all of our planning, we sometimes end up caught in a craving or feeling uncomfortable. Make sure you have help. This could be a person with you who has agreed to be supportive (like the sober buddy mentioned above), but it could also mean a friend who is willing to text or chat with you so you feel safer. If neither of those is feasible, your help could even be a podcast or video that you pop onto your phone to keep you distracted until the moment passes.
Halloween in recovery doesn’t have to be a bummer. When you take a few precautions in navigating your triggers, you can have a ghoulish good time!