How to Stay Sober for the Holidays

December 22, 2021

4 mins

Dane O'Leary


When it comes to the holidays, everyone wants to eat, drink, and be merry. But what about when you're in recovery? Here's how to navigate the holidays when alcohol is off the table.

Updated: December 5, 2022

Staying sober throughout the holidays can be a challenge. In a season where it’s common to eat, drink, and be merry, the holidays in recovery can be lonely and hard to navigate. 

It’s common for this time of year to bring up past memories of substance abuse and other difficult memories. For many, the holidays are stressful, and it can be very tempting to turn to your substance of choice as a way of coping with those triggers.

Is Relapse More Likely During the Holidays?

The holiday season can be a hectic or even chaotic time of year for many people. Because of the stress, the holidays can bring certain feelings to the surface, including temptation, anxiety, and grief. Unfortunately, each of these emotions is associated with an increased risk of relapse for individuals who are in recovery.

But the holidays needn't be something you dread year after year. In fact, we've put together several tips and strategies to avoid relapse while still enjoying the holiday season.

Take Your Own Vehicle

Planning ahead is key. You always want to be in control of your own transportation and not have to rely on others to bring you to and from the holiday get-togethers. Plus, if you feel uncomfortable in any situation, you can always leave on your own terms.

Remember to H.A.L.T

You’ll want to make sure your basic needs are met so you don’t feel tempted or triggered. Remember to H.A.L.T and check-in to see if you’re feeling:

  • Hungry. Make sure to eat regularly as skipping meals can lower your blood pressure and impact your mood.
  • Angry. If you’re not feeling yourself, try meditation and exercise. These activities increase your endorphins while reducing stress and mental agitation.
  • Lonely. Write a list of the people who love and support you, and refer back to this list during the holiday seasons when you’re feeling down.
  • Tired. Don’t fall into the trap of long nights and early mornings. Strive for 8 hours of sleep a night.

Enlist a Sober Buddy

You don’t have to go at it alone. Having a sober buddy ( either a family member or a close friend) at a party with you will give you strength in situations where drugs and alcohol are present. You can always rely on your sober buddy to keep you on track if you are feeling tense, triggered, and/or tempted.

Evaluate Each Situation

No single holiday get-together is the same. You’ll need to evaluate each situation as it comes up for its risk level and then make your decision to go accordingly. For example, if you are in recovery from alcohol addiction, a small family potluck without alcohol may be a low-risk situation for you, whereas a large holiday party at a bar may be too high a risk for your comfort level. Staying sober during the holidays will take a constant evaluation of every social interaction, so don’t feel like you are questioning too much. If there is a situation where you are hesitant and questioning your health and safety, just choose not to go.

Rehearse Your Responses

If this is your first sober holiday and you don’t feel totally comfortable explaining your recovery to extended family members and friends, don’t fret. Prepare a discreet response when someone hands you a drink or another substance and you don’t want to partake. It can be pretty nerve-wracking to deny something when in the moment, so here are some easy phrases to memorize to be as prepared as possible.

No, thanks. I'm not drinking tonight.

I'm driving tonight so I'll have to pass. But thank you for the offering.

I've already got a drink that I'm really enjoying, but I appreciate the offer.

Pro tip: Having a nonalcoholic beverage in hand will decrease the likelihood that others will offer you drinks.

Thanks, but I've reached my limit for the night.

No, thank you!

Sometimes the simplest and most obvious response is actually the most effective.

Recognize That the Timeline of a Craving is Short

Most cravings last no longer than 20 minutes, and oftentimes just a fraction of that time. When you know this ahead of time, you can be proactive about your cravings and have strategies on hand to distract yourself. The minute you feel a craving come on, set a timer and go strike up a conversation with a friend or start a game with a group of family members. Try your hardest to distract yourself for those 20 minutes, and soon you’ll notice the temptation subsiding.

Create Your Own Sober Traditions with Never Alone Recovery

When you celebrate the holidays in recovery, don’t forget that you are celebrating a healthier, better, and sober version of yourself. This deserves to be celebrated! Don’t forget how far you’ve come, and use this time to create new holiday traditions to celebrate yourself. Remember, the holidays are what you make of it, and your new traditions will give you something to look forward to all year long.

Having a completely sober holiday can be exceptionally challenging. If you are in need of some extra help and support during the holiday season, the Never Alone Recovery team is here for you. We provide free placements in recovery programs nationwide, so if you are looking for drug and/or alcohol rehabs near me, our team will help find you the best option to meet your needs.

Both the holiday season and your personal recovery are meant to be celebrated during this time. If you are feeling down and struggling about what to do, we encourage you to reach out to Never Alone Recovery for a support system to help you overcome addiction.

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