Though it can seem difficult to avoid alcohol and other substances during the holidays, there are many ways you can ensure your celebrations stay sober.

Alcohol often flows freely during the holiday season. Work parties, family events, dinners with friends and other seasonal celebrations offer alcohol, while people share or consume gifts of wine, spiked eggnog, festive cocktails and seasonal beer. After a month of alcohol-fueled merrymaking, it’s all capped off by New Year’s Eve — arguably one of the drunkest holidays of the year.

Unfortunately, people tend to drink more during the holidays than they would ordinarily. Simply attending a couple of holiday parties can add up to serious binge drinking. The reality is that binge drinking occurs with four drinks in one sitting for women and five drinks in one sitting for men.

For people in recovery, the holidays can be a risky time. Alcohol can sometimes feel like it’s waiting around every turn, making it difficult to remain relapse-free throughout the holidays. Getting through all the holiday celebrations and entering the new year without drinking or using drugs can seem daunting. Fortunately, there are a few ways you can make the next few weeks easier on yourself and keep your sobriety from turning into a relapse.

Coping With Family Triggers

Family dynamics can be difficult at any time of the year. During the holidays, however, the guilt and blame may flow a bit more freely than usual. Fueled by alcohol and tension, many families find themselves in bitter arguments during this time of year. A simple family meal can quickly turn into an explosive event that triggers you to drink.

In the past, you may have escaped or avoided situations or negative feelings by drinking or using drugs, but this is no longer possible while you’re in recovery. You can cope with these impulses by recognizing potential triggers for relapse and taking precautions to help yourself stay sober. Here are a few strategies that can help:

  • Just say no. Do you have to attend every child’s concert, family dinner or gift-opening event that your family holds? Keep your stress levels lower by giving yourself permission to gracefully bow out of one (or five) of these family holiday events.
  • Avoid arguments. If argumentative relatives try to pull you into a fight, you can always keep your responses neutral. Using phrases such as “That must be hard for you,” or “I’m sorry to hear that,” can convey that you heard the person without amplifying the conversation.
  • Bring backup. Do you have a cousin, sibling or favorite relative who is a positive person in your life? Make sure they’re in attendance so that you have someone safe to hang out with.

Office parties, coworker gatherings and company events may seem safe, but they can be stressful if you don’t want to be there. Like family events, you can choose to bow out gracefully or bring backup to help you get through the event. You can also:

  • Bring your own beverage. Make sure that you have something in your hand by bringing your favorite non-alcoholic beverage. Staying for a short time? A cup of coffee will do it. Expecting a longer stay? Bring a six-pack of soda or some sparkling water to sip throughout the event.
  • Have an after-party plan. If attendance is mandatory, you may not be able to avoid the event entirely. However, it’s perfectly acceptable to have another obligation that forces you to cut the evening short. Whether it’s a 12-step meeting, another social event or something else entirely, knowing that you have somewhere to go afterward can help you get through the event without drinking.
  • Have your story in place. You will likely be offered alcohol (or other substances) throughout the night, and you may or may not wish to talk about your sobriety or why you no longer drink. Rehearse a response to keep it light and avoid ending up with a drink in your hand. For example, you could say you are a designated driver or that you have to wake up early the next day.

Tips for Managing Your Stress Levels

Though you may not be able to avoid every uncomfortable holiday gathering or well-intentioned offers to drink, you can improve your ability to manage stress and stay sober. Some steps you can take include:

  • Maintain healthy habits. Going to bed and getting up at the same time, eating healthy and keeping up with your exercise routine will help you maintain your energy and overall wellness.
  • Prioritize your recovery. No matter how many holiday events you are invited to, don’t sacrifice your therapy sessions, drug treatments or 12-step meetings. If they are canceled due to the holidays, look for alternative ways to actively keep up with your recovery.
  • Rededicate yourself to recovery. The new year is an excellent time to create a new resolution in your recovery. Incorporate a new therapy into your weekly schedule, increase the number of meetings you go to each month, sponsor someone or amp up your volunteer efforts in the community.

No matter what the holidays throw in your direction, the best way to avoid relapse is to focus on the possibilities for the future and stay actively engaged in your recovery today.

If you or someone you love is struggling with an addiction, The Recovery Village can help. We offer full-spectrum addiction recovery services that include detox programs, behavioral therapy and aftercare to help you maintain lifelong sobrietyContact us today to learn more about options that can work well for you.

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Editor – Jonathan Strum
Jonathan Strum graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha with a Bachelor's in Communication in 2017 and has been writing professionally ever since. Read more

Taite, Richard. “Alcohol Abuse during the Holidays.” PsychCentral, December 3, 2014. Accessed November 25, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.