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Staying Sober During the Holidays

In this article, we explore some strategies for staying sober and accountable during the holiday season. But first, let’s take look at what makes this time of year challenging for people in recovery.

Why Is Sobriety A Challenge During The Holidays?

The holiday season can be a challenging time for people in recovery for a variety of reasons. Christmas and other cultural holidays around this time of year can evoke big emotions, ranging from joy to discomfort, to unhappiness. The reasons people drink or use substances during this time are varied. We may drink to celebrate our joy, push down emotions, or cope with loneliness and challenging family dynamics, to name a few.

The holidays are also a very social time, and even though there are endless ways to enjoy time together without drugs or alcohol, socializing often goes hand-in-hand with drinking or other substance use.

family having sober dinner

What’s more, the holidays tend to put us back in touch with people from our past, or with family, we only see once or twice a year. And although we may have changed tremendously through our work in recovery, the people in our lives may pressure us to drink or use substances with them. 

Indeed, people in our lives may find it challenging to understand, believe or respect our choices when it comes to drinking and substance use. They may pressure us to behave in the ways that they are familiar with or make them more comfortable, rather than the way we intentionally choose. They may even be counting on our drinking/substance use to help legitimize their own choices.

Strategies For Staying Sober During The Holidays

With all of this in mind, sobriety during the holidays can be challenging. Let’s look at some strategies you can use to enjoy a sober holiday season.

1. Plan Ahead

Planning ahead can be a key way to stay sober for the holidays. Before you set out to a holiday gathering, make a plan on how you’re going to handle situations where alcohol is present, like a holiday work party. While some social settings will have a variety of non-alcoholic options, you may choose to bring your preferred non-alcoholic drinks with you just in case. Some options include sparkling water, juice, dealcoholized beer, kombucha, or pop.

2. Be Picky About Events

When it comes to staying sober, it’s important to think about whether a given setting is likely to support your goals. Some questions you can ask yourself when deciding whether to go to a social event include: Will there be alcohol? Will I be around people who support me? Is this a setting where my choice to stay sober is likely to be respected?

Whenever possible, opt for events and activities that are focused on hobbies, games, arts and crafts, or pretty much anything that brings people together but doesn’t involve drinking.

3. Choose Your Crowd

Another important way to stay sober during the holidays is to surround yourself with supportive people. We’ve written about the importance of strong relationships in addiction recovery, but this is something we simply can’t stress enough. Supportive friends and family can be a source of encouragement and help you resist the urge to drink or use substances.

couple by fireplace sharing a sober drink

If you do choose to go to an event, think about who will be there that can support your decision to stay sober and talk to them about your concerns. If you are feeling especially vulnerable, you can even ask a trusted friend or family member to be your designated sober buddy, who can help you stay on track.

4. Have A Few Tricks Up Your Sleeve

If you do find yourself in a situation where you are tempted to drink or use substances, it can be helpful to have some go-to actions you can use to resist the urge. One strategy is to distract yourself by engaging in a different activity. This can be something as simple as talking to someone else at the gathering, stepping outside for some fresh air, or washing your face in the bathroom. Another strategy is to remind yourself of your reasons for staying sober. This can include thinking about the benefits of sobriety, such as improved health, better relationships, or financial savings.

5. Think About Your Timing

A good general rule for going to a social event where there’s alcohol and staying sober is: Arrive Late, Leave Early. The beginning of a party can be kind of awkward, and people tend to drink to get over that awkwardness in order to feel more comfortable connecting with others. Why not skip that awkwardness and pressure to drink, and show up once the event has had a chance to get going?

Similarly, think about what time you want to leave. Do you really need to stay until 2 am? Sticking around at a party as it gets late may not be a good fit for supporting sobriety.

6. Stress Management

The holidays can be a wonderful time, but they can also be a really stressful time. From botched cookie recipes to challenging relationships, stress during the holidays is rarely in short supply.

As such, it can be helpful to prepare for that and find healthy ways to cope with stress and other difficult emotions during the holidays. For many people, the way to deal with that stress is by turning to alcohol or substance use. But stress management is an important skill, and—beyond that—an important responsibility. 

Finding healthy ways to manage your stress and emotions is crucial to working towards your recovery. Some common ways people manage stress include exercise, meditation, journaling, or talking to a therapist or counsellor.

Conclusion

In short, if you are trying to stay sober or limit your alcohol intake during the holidays, you’ll need to be proactive in making that happen. However, with some planning and support, staying sober during the holidays is possible. By bringing non-alcoholic drinks, surrounding yourself with supportive people, finding healthy ways to cope with stress, and having a few go-to strategies for when the urge strikes, you too can enjoy the holiday season without alcohol or substance use.

Sunshine Coast Health Centre and Georgia Strait Women’s Clinic are world-class centers for addiction treatment and mental health. We take an approach that recognizes the importance of the physical, psychological, social and spiritual aspects of individuals in treatment and recovery. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use and mental health, give us a call today.

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