Vacation Mode: Letting Your Guard Down with Drugs and Alcohol

March 9, 2023

Written by

Claudia Black Young Adult Center

Author Headshot



By Wesley Gallagher

Whether it’s spring break, a summer vacation, or a holiday getaway, it’s good to plan time away. Vacation is a time to let loose, have fun, relax, and maybe even try some things you’ve never done before. For some, it may be deep sea fishing, skydiving, or snowboarding; for others, it may be recreational drugs.

While a getaway may sound like the perfect time to let your guard down and indulge in substances you wouldn’t normally use, there’s nothing about a trip that makes drug and alcohol abuse any less risky than usual.

While a getaway may sound like the perfect time to let your guard down and indulge in substances you wouldn’t normally use, there’s nothing about a trip that makes drug and alcohol abuse any less risky than usual.

What is Recreational Drug Tourism?

Alcohol and drugs often play a role in vacations, as people seek new ways to have fun and enjoy their time off. For some, however, drugs are the main focus of a vacation. There’s even a term for this type of trip: recreational drug tourism.

Recreational drug tourism is exactly what it sounds like: traveling for the purpose of using drugs that are expensive, unavailable, or illegal where you live. While this used to mean a trip to Amsterdam or Mexico for legal or easily obtainable street drugs, the legalization of marijuana has made it a stateside option as well. But just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s safe.

Drug tourism is becoming especially dangerous with the rise of fentanyl-laced drugs. According to the Los Angeles Times, even some drugs found at pharmacies in Mexico have been laced with fentanyl. Reporters purchased drugs from pharmacies in three Mexican cities, and out of the 17 pills they tested, 12 tested positive for fentanyl or methamphetamine. While fentanyl has been found in street drugs for years, the shift to drugs in legitimate pharmacies is new, and alarming.   

Just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s safe.

Even the original recreational drug tourism destination, Amsterdam, is cracking down on its policies. According to Forbes, the city recently banned outdoor cannabis smoking in its famous red-light district, and shops within in the inner city must stop serving alcohol at 4 p.m. from Thursday through Sunday. The new measures are part of an attempt to make high-traffic areas more peaceful for the city’s residents, who have complained for years that the scores of tourists have made certain neighborhoods virtually unlivable.

Still Have Fun Without Letting Your Guard Down

While you might not be tempted by drug tourism, we’re all vulnerable to letting our guard down on vacation and making risky decisions with alcohol and other substances. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to let loose, but stay smart and safe while traveling.

women on vacation relaxing

Sobriety coach Carly Benson shared tips in SELF for traveling while sober that can help anyone prepare for vacation, whether you’re in recovery or just looking to enjoy yourself without overindulging:

  • Set Intentions for Your Trip

Before your vacation, decide what you want it to be like and focus on that, rather than worrying about what you don’t want to happen. If you start feeling tempted to let your guard down or overindulge, revisiting your original intention will help you to remain grounded.

  • Be Prepared for Triggers

If you are in recovery, prepare yourself for triggers, which will begin at the airport. Long lines at security, flight delays, bars lining the terminals, and in-flight cocktails are a bad combo, so plan ahead by bringing snacks and other distractions like music, books, or movies to get you through the flight.

  • Plan Activities

Morning activities can be especially helpful to keep you from having one last drink (or two) before bed the night before. If you’re looking forward to the morning, you’ll be less likely to close down the bar the night before.

  • Stay Connected

Keep your support system with you on vacation by staying in communication with friends or family members who keep you on track. If you’re in recovery, check in with your sponsor or therapist, especially if you start to feel yourself slip.

  • Plan for Spontaneity

Have plans, especially if structure is helpful for your sobriety, but be willing to go with the flow if plans change, or if you need to back out of something to stay on track.

  • Relax, Recharge, Take Care of Yourself

A vacation without drugs and alcohol is the perfect opportunity for relaxation and self-care. Take the money you save on drinks and book yourself a spa day, or buy yourself something nice to commemorate the trip.

  • Enjoy the Local Culture

Research your destination before you arrive so you can enjoy everything it has to offer. By filling your calendar with fun outings, you won’t be tempted to turn to drugs or alcohol for entertainment.

When to Get Help

If you take the aforementioned steps for your vacation and still find yourself struggling with alcohol or drugs, it might be time to seek professional help. Claudia Black Young Adult Center offers innovative treatment for young adults ages 18 to 26 dealing with addiction, mental health issues, and other impacts of emotional trauma. Our treatment is based on the groundbreaking Meadows Model, which addresses the trauma at the core of unwanted behaviors to create lasting healing. Reach out today to learn more and get the help you need.