How to Stay Sober During the Holidays

How to Stay Sober During the Holidays

For some people, the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day is the most fun time of the year. The parties, the family dinners, and the festive decor brighten so many spirits.

However, for those recovering from substance use disorder, these weeks often pose unique challenges. For one thing, many gatherings involve alcohol. And it can sometimes be a season of stress, anxiety, financial hardship, and family conflicts, all of which can trigger relapses.

Indeed, emotions can be heightened at this time. If you’ve lost a loved one recently, the grief may be more intense during these months. And, though it’s often joyous being with friends and family members you haven’t seen in a long time, it might also fuel some feelings of jealousy, regret, or loneliness.

Hopefully, the tips below will help you keep moving forward on the path to sobriety when the whole world seems focused on merrymaking.

Take Breaks — Lots of Breaks

As we all know, there can be plenty of occasions when this season is overwhelming.

We might lose a whole day at a crowded mall. Or we could spend hours untangling Christmas lights, hanging them up, and trying to figure out why they keep blinking.

These and other seasonal projects often leave people feeling disoriented, distressed, angry, or just plain drained.

At such moments, it can help to forget our holiday-related activities for an hour or a day. You could lift weights at the gym or practice yoga in your living room. If it’s not too cold, you might be in the mood for a long walk, a hike, or a jog.

If you have a little extra money on hand, a massage, a facial, or a session of acupuncture may be in order.

At times, even the simplest things can be rejuvenating. A kale smoothie, a yogurt parfait, or another healthy treat can make us feel new again. Or you might call someone you haven’t spoken to in a while: a relative, friend, or anyone else with a knack for making you feel good.

These breaks aren’t just refreshing. They can put the holidays into perspective, reminding us of what’s essential in life and why we celebrate holidays, to begin with.

Party With Care

Each year, you might want to limit yourself to a few special holiday parties. You could attend events with the people who are the closest to you. When you turn down a specific invitation, you could ask the host about getting together at another time.

On top of that, if you can, attend parties with someone who doesn’t drink at all. Maybe you could go with a few such people. It’s less tempting to consume alcohol when the people around you avoid it.

Then, once you arrive at a party, grab a glass and fill it with a nonalcoholic beverage. Or you might carry around an empty cup. Either way, most people won’t offer you drinks if they see you already have one in hand.

In addition, when you’re at a party, watch out for certain people. You might have a coworker or a relative who always seems to be a little hostile to you. This person might find ways to criticize you even while smiling or pretending to be friendly. Such people are often dealing with serious issues.

In any event, try to stay away from that person as much as you can. Instead, spend your time conversing with people you know will be supportive. As a result, you won’t feel frustrated or hurt at the party, and you won’t feel like “rewarding yourself” with a drink just for putting up with that individual.

Here’s one more party-related suggestion: It often helps to leave these events early when most guests are still sober.

Seek Connection, Not Perfection

So often, there’s a needless sense of competition during the holidays. We feel our Thanksgiving turkey must be perfectly cooked to match the one we enjoyed last year at someone else’s house. Or, for some reason, our outdoor decorations must equal or exceed our neighbors’ decorations.

Likewise, we often want to give our kids the perfect Christmas morning or throw a flawless New Year’s Eve party.

Attending to — not to mention paying for — all these things can lead to severe stress. These preparations might involve countless details, and they could be tricky and time-consuming in the extreme. Even worse, they can go against the spirit of the season.

Instead of spending so much time buying and preparing material items — decorations, party favors, and so on — it’s great to spend time concentrating on others.

For example, you and your family could sing carols at a nursing home or serve meals at a soup kitchen. You could find a simple recipe, bake cookies with your children, and deliver them to your friends and neighbors. Maybe you know a senior citizen in town who rarely has guests, and you could visit that person.

That’s not to say people shouldn’t decorate or buy gifts. But it can help to limit materialism or infuse it with togetherness. Why not make some Christmas tree ornaments with your family? Instead of an elaborate New Year’s Eve bash, how about having a few friends over to eat sandwiches and tell funny stories about the past year?

When we turn away from consumerism and focus on the company of others, we spark joy and attain personal fulfillment. Our lives feel fuller and more prosperous. And we might prevent a downward emotional spiral and the substance-related temptations that could come with it.

Keep Up With Your 12-Step Program.

The holidays shouldn’t be a holiday from your recovery program. To the contrary, this time of year is ideal for strengthening your bonds with others on journeys of recovery.

Therefore, keep attending your 12-step meetings. When the holidays approach, it might help to go to a few more meetings than you typically would.

If you’re away from home, it’s also an opportunity to meet new people. By attending meetings in a different city, you might make friends and connections. It’s possible that you’d return someday to visit them.

If you haven’t started a 12-step program yet, you could do so as a holiday gift to yourself. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence maintains a list of trustworthy programs. Wherever you live, it’s an excellent resource to locate a program.

Note that if you live in or near Hampton Bays, N.Y., the Long Island Treatment Center is ready to welcome you. We offer personalized care and support to every client.


To sum up, when you’re trying to stay sober during the holidays, you could keep two things in mind above all else. The first is to know your unique triggers, and the second is to begin each day with a plan to steer clear of them.

It might mean staying off your ex’s Instagram page or staying away from your uncle’s beer-saturated parties. Whatever it takes, try to avoid those things that make you reach for an alcoholic drink.

Take special care of yourself this holiday season — and, of course, in every other season. Get plenty of sleep each night. Eat nutritious and tasty meals. Call supportive friends whenever you feel down.

When your needs are as vital to you as everyone else’s needs, you can enjoy everything you love about the holidays. All those lights will seem brighter, and the songs will be even more cheerful.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Long Island Treatment Center

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