A Guide To Staying Sober During The Holidays
Holidays are meant to be ‘the most wonderful time of the year.’ But for individuals trying to maintain their sobriety, the holidays can be a minefield of triggers from songs and scents, to old traditions.
Most holiday celebrations also include increased exposure to alcohol and more interactions with friends and family, making staying sober more challenging.
Individuals recovering from addiction may experience difficult emotions and memories of substance abuse more frequently around the holidays because of the added stress.
Why People In Active Addiction and Early Recovery May Struggle During The Holidays
Between gift-giving, financial stress, reignited family disputes, and traveling, the holidays can be a stressful time for everyone.
However, people in active addiction and early recovery may consider the above stresses the root of their substance abuse issues.
When someone keeps their substance abuse from their families and friends, it can increase the stress felt during the holidays and cause old issues to resurface.
On the flip side, individuals without close relationships may feel more isolated and lonely than ever. This can fuel negative feelings towards themselves, such as shame and guilt.
Whatever the situation may be, know that you are not alone.
Here are some ways to help protect your sobriety and stay on track this holiday season.
Create New Traditions
If the holiday season consists of going home and visiting old haunts and friends, make sure to avoid those you used to drink or take drugs with.
Make a detailed schedule, so you know where you will be spending most of your time. Here are some ideas for possible new traditions:
- Host your own party/dinner/get together
- Have a cookie decorating party
- Go outside. Consider sledding or ice skating.
- Drive around town and look at the holiday light displays
- Volunteer your time to help others
6 Tips For Hosting Your Own Sober Holiday Get Together
Attending someone else’s holiday event can be problematic for individuals in recovery, as they cannot control the menu or the guest list, which can lead to exposure to substances and people who trigger them to want to use again.
Hosting your own holiday gathering can help combat these issues, and the following tips can help you plan a pleasant experience for you and your guests.
Decide How You Want To Handle Alcohol
It can be tempting to want to serve alcohol, especially to your non-sober guests. However, the best way to ensure your sobriety is to make the best decision for you.
If you know whole-heartedly that you can resist the temptation of having drinks in your home, then, by all means, do so.
Just know that if you are still in the early stages of recovery, and even in the later stages, it may be too much to handle.
Choose Your Guests Carefully
One of the perks of choosing to host your own get together is you are 100 percent in charge of who is invited. Make sure to avoid asking people who are not supportive of your new sober lifestyle.
Old friends who are still actively using may try to negatively influence you, which is the opposite of what needs to happen to protect your sobriety.
Any friend worth having will understand why these individuals were not invited and will agree that your sobriety is the priority.
Make Sure To Invite Some Sober Buddies
You’ve likely met some great people through your recovery, whether it be people you attend meetings with, your sponsor or even old friends who are now living sober lives.
Remember to consider the needs of those who are also still in the recovery process.
For example, if you plan to serve alcohol, let them know and make sure they are entirely comfortable with it going into the party.
Focus On The Food
Instead of focusing on the drinks, focus on serving tasty foods. Whether it’s a complete meal or an adequate supply of snacks, it is easy to get creative with the foods you plan to serve.
In the instance that you get too overwhelmed with planning the party to worry about preparing food, you could ask your guests to bring a dish to pass.
Here are some resources to help you in planning your menu:
Don’t Try to Mimic Alcoholic Drinks
If you decide to go alcohol-free at your party, avoid trying to make drinks that mimic the real thing, such as non-alcoholic beer.
These drinks may be triggers for you or your recently sober guests. Instead, focus on seasonal drinks that help reflect the theme of your get together.
Here are some alcohol-free drink recipes:
- 10 Non-Alcoholic Drinks to Sip All Fall
- 22 Christmas Punch Recipes (Without Alcohol!) That’ll Make Holiday Hosting Easy and Oh-So-Festive
Select a Theme or Activity
If you are concerned that you will run out of things to talk about during your party, try to center it around a theme. You could try asking guests to dress-up for the occasion or have specific party activities planned.
It is easy to have fun without substances. Here are some ideas to try:
- Party games—team up and play Twister, Pictionary, Outburst, dominos, etc.
- Outdoor games—horseshoes, volleyball, flashlight tag
- Dancing—create your own upbeat playlist or go “old-school” and put on some vinyl records
- Involve the kids—if children are at your party, include activities for them.
Set Realistic Expectations
Set realistic expectations for yourself. If you don’t think you can keep a check on your sobriety when surrounded by friends and family who may be under the influence, then don’t go. Be honest with yourself.
Keep personal needs at the top of your priority list. Don’t let other people’s conflicts shift your focus. Sober life isn’t always perfect, but by focusing on your priorities, it can be pretty great!
Carefully consider who you will spend time with, what you will do together, and how those things may affect your sobriety plan.
Have A Plan B
If you are at a party or a family reunion, and start to feel uncomfortable, set up a plan B to get out of that situation. Sometimes we don’t know our limits until we test them.
Hit the brakes before you forgo your sobriety and leave the situation that is making you uncomfortable.
Be Prepared To Say ‘No’
If someone offers you something you know you shouldn’t have, like a drink, be prepared to say ’no.’ If they try to force the issue, remember that your sobriety is more important than pleasing a family member or friend, politely refuse and walk away.
If someone questions this, and you are not comfortable sharing you’re in recovery, simply say, “I’m driving tonight,” or “I have to be up early tomorrow.” These explanations will likely suffice.
Carry A Sobriety Reminder
People traveling may want to bring some sobriety materials with them as a reminder of where they are and the work they’ve put in to get there.
You can bring recovery materials like a favorite book, CD, or movie. This media can provide support and encouragement.
Other tokens like a sobriety chip or anything small remind you about the recovery process and what it means to you.
Another thing to try is to write your own “Guide To Staying Sober” and keep it with you. This could be as simple as a piece of paper with a single word on it or a full essay about how you plan to stay sober.
If you’re comfortable with it, share it with family and friends, so they will know how much your sobriety means to you, and they can help support you if you begin to struggle.
Enlisting help is particularly crucial if you plan on attending parties where temptations will be present.
You don’t need to tell everyone about your sobriety, but it is a great idea to let a friend or family member know so that they can be your accountability partner during these times of temptation.
Mobile apps also make it easy to find local meetings if needed. You can also contact your sponsor or your previous rehab center for additional help.
If you believe you may be at risk of using drugs or alcohol due to the holiday stress, it is best to limit the stressors you encounter.
Limiting stressors may look different from one person to the next. To you, this may mean limiting the time that you spend around family and friends. Depending on the environment, this can lead to unhealthy amounts of stress.
For others, it may mean avoiding traditional holiday parties altogether in favor of new, more relaxed traditions.
Wherever you stand on stressors, the most important thing is, to be honest with yourself. If you attempt to do something you are not wholly comfortable with, it could jeopardize your sobriety.
Be Kind (To Yourself and Others)
It can be easy to romance the “good old days.” Don’t fall for this trap. If someone starts to reminisce, leave the room.
You don’t need to start thinking about the times you used to spend abusing drugs or alcohol. This can lead to preoccupation and obsession, which can quickly escalate into cravings.
Being kind to yourself and others can help avoid these mishaps and keep you on track with your sobriety.
Remain Conscious of Basic Needs (HALT)
A large part of staying sober is making sure to care for yourself and ensuring that your basic needs are met. Here are some of the essentials you should ensure are taken care of, no matter how busy you become during the holidays.
Make sure that you are regularly eating. When you skip a meal, it can affect your blood sugar levels and result in mood changes that can make you feel inclined to reach for substances once more.
Remember to keep up with any personal self-care routine while traveling or visiting a different place during the holiday season.
Keeping stress levels low will ensure that you don’t experience excessive emotions like anger, irritability, and restlessness.
Making a point to exercise, meditate, and get outside can help keep these emotions in check and prevent slipping back into old coping mechanisms like drug and alcohol use.
If you are feeling down and lonely, make yourself a list of people who love you and will support you during this holiday season.
With COVID-19, it can be challenging to get together with family and friends.
If you cannot interact with them in person, a virtual get-together could be a good solution. It also has the added benefit of controlling what you serve yourself as far as food and drink go.
It is not uncommon for people to experience staying up later during the holidays. When you don’t have to work the next day, and you are enjoying time with loved ones, it is easier to lose track of time.
Make an effort to keep a consistent sleeping schedule during the holiday break. When you are rested and ready to go, it can be much easier to stay conscious of protecting your sobriety compared to when you are tired and grumpy.
Practice TAMERS Every Day
In short, these are the main things you will want to practice daily to protect yourself from falling off track with your recovery.
- Think/Talk About Recovery
- Act on Recovery, Connect With Other Sober People
- Meditate and Minimize Stress
No One Is Perfect: Relapse Is A Part Of Recovery
Despite best efforts, some people may still struggle with staying sober over the holidays. In many ways, relapse is a part of recovery.
There is no shame in it, and it is not a personal failing. It simply means further addiction treatment is required.
If you find yourself struggling to stay away from drugs and alcohol despite following the above tips, then you may want to consider checking into a rehab facility.
Seeking addiction treatment could be the best gift you can give yourself and your loved ones this holiday season.
Addiction Treatment And Aftercare At Elevate Addiction Services
For people in Northern California and beyond, Elevate Addiction Services offers evidence-based, holistic addiction treatment.
At Elevate, we have several treatment options, including:
- Intensive inpatient treatment (60 or 90 days)
- Intensive outpatient treatment
- Virtual outpatient (Telehealth)
Anyone needing help with substance abuse can find a program that will best suit their needs.
We treat aftercare differently than most other rehab programs. At Elevate, we will begin preparing clients for what comes after their treatment program from day one.
With the goal of improving the overall quality of life and not merely curing someone of their symptoms, Elevate focuses on providing individuals with the tools they need to stay sober.
If you or a loved one are looking for addiction treatment that works this holiday season, contact us today.
Tim Sinnott, LMFT LAADC
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This page does not provide medical advice
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