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5 Ways to Cope with Summer’s Special Challenges

Straw hat, bag and sun glasses on a tropical beach

Updated on

Long after final graduation, most people still find summer the ideal time to slow down and relax. Leisure travel increases, organizations suspend regular meetings, and 9-to-5 businesses slow their production schedules. Families with schoolchildren make major adjustments in daily routines. Weddings and outdoor events surge in frequency.

And—for those who battle alcoholism or other substance abuse—temptations surge as well.

The Challenges of Summer

Straw hat, bag and sun glasses on a tropical beach

More downtime? The siren call of “recreational” substance use increases.

Kids constantly underfoot? Old stress relievers look newly attractive.

Fond of baseball games? Here comes the beer vendor. Been invited to a wedding? Champagne is waiting at the reception. Spending a week at a resort? Someone’s bound to ask if you want wine with your dinner.

And behind it all lurks the “domino effect”; every change in regular routine makes other changes easier and more attractive. Letting healthy habits slide is, for most people, the easiest and most tempting change of all. (It’s hardly a problem unique to substance abuse; ask anyone who’s gone on a two-week vacation and returned five pounds heavier from eating more and exercising less.)

That’s not to say relapses are necessarily more common this time of year, just that your regular coping techniques may need reinforcement. If you want to ensure a sober summer, remember the following:

Keep Routine as Intact as You Can

One way or another, summer will force changes in your routines—if only through other people’s vacations. Picking up extra slack at work or having your regular therapist unavailable can be triggers for turning to chemical stress relief. Having to suspend the weekly camaraderie of your book club equals temptation for turning to artificial boredom remedies. Even the weather’s getting too hot for your regular afternoon run can mean decreased energy, which means lower overall resistance to temptation.

Without getting obsessive about it, the best defense is to keep overall life as “normal” as possible. Invite someone over for coffee during the time your book club normally meets. Move your daily run to an indoor exercise trampoline. Get up, eat, and go to bed at your regular times. The more things that stay the same, the less temptation temporary changes will bring.

Have a List of “Sober” Leisure Activities to Draw on 

“Nothing to do” periods come with strong temptation for relapse, so be prepared to counter boredom in healthier ways. Make a list of 10–20 non-chemical ways to fill your downtime, activities such as:

  • Woodwork
  • A summer reading list
  • Swimming
  • Museum visits
  • Volunteer activities
  • Jigsaw puzzles

Don’t be afraid, either, to let your inner child suggest such ideas as:

  • Flying a kite
  • Roller skating
  • Blowing soap bubbles

Those may be turn out to be your favorite activities of the summer.

Keep the full list handy for whenever you have or expect to have, no other plans.

Find Your Golden Mean of Parental Involvement

Elementary-age children don’t really need you planning their daily-activity schedules in detail. And while daycare, kids’ camp, and other organized programs are part of summer vacation, you shouldn’t sign the kids up for everything in sight either. Provide a yard, playroom, or similar area, well stocked with activity equipment, then give them (and their friends) freedom to decide on their own whether to sculpt freestyle, use the swings, or invent their own games. The summer will be less stressful for everyone.

If your kids are in their teens, you may have different worries when they prove all too eager to choose their own activities—including disappearing for hours to engage in things left to your imagination. You can steer them toward responsible paths without rifling through their drawers or making them wear ankle monitors. Chat them up in the month before vacation, encouraging them to plan for specific organized activities or part-time work they might enjoy. Set an example of thinking long-term and using your time well. And make your house a welcoming place for their friends.

One rule every household should firmly adhere to, no matter how many kids and what ages: everybody cleans up his own messes! Anyone old enough to have a summer vacation is old enough to be responsible for her own room, put her own dishes in the dishwasher, and clear trash and jumble from shared rooms after entertaining friends.

Plan Ahead for Events and Trips 

Whether you’re going to a buffet picnic, to a family wedding, or on a three-week cruise, decide well in advance what you will not touch and what you will reach for instead. The simple act of replying to “Would you like some wine?” with “No, thank you, just water” becomes amazingly easier when you already knew that was what you intended to say.

Occasionally, you may encounter a misguided character—perhaps one who’s had a few too many himself—who keeps urging, “Oh, come on, have just a little.” Make up your mind in advance that if this happens, you will keep saying, firmly, “No, thank you” until he gives up, or will walk away completely if possible. More detailed arguments and explanations are pointless; they may even increase your risk of being talked into a “just this once.”

Know the 90-Day Principle

If you’ve been sober for less than three months, you are in the highest-risk period for relapse. Be ultra-diligent about not compromising, keeping your everyday life as stable as possible, and avoiding potentially tempting situations completely. And keep your support network on alert for emergency calls. (The same principles apply to any “different” or “transition” period encountered within the first ninety days of sobriety.)

The summer season comes with its challenges, but they needn’t prove insurmountable nor spoil your fun. Just be diligent and plan carefully to enjoy a sober summer!

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