The holidays can be a difficult time to get sober. Alcohol frequently accompanies — and even fuels — the merriment at family gatherings, work parties, and get-togethers with friends. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s all line up within a month and a half of each other, making for a party-heavy time of year.
For those who struggle with a substance or alcohol use disorder, the holidays tend to be an especially difficult season each year. It’s estimated that:
- The average American will attend three times more social functions and double the amount of alcohol they drink during the period between Thanksgiving and New Years.
- 69% report being more social during this time of year.
- 36% say that drinking actually interferes with their holiday spirit through hangovers and lost productivity.
Those who are either in recovery or who are trying to get sober can feel like they are up against the odds during the holiday season. It can seem like it’s nearly impossible to avoid alcohol with the number of parties and the social pressure to drink.
Does that mean the holiday season is the most challenging time to get sober? Is it even possible to get sober during this time of year? Yes! If you’re trying to abstain from alcohol this holiday season, it is possible to get and stay sober during the holidays — but it takes planning and staying committed to your goals.
Make Sure You Are Ready
If you want to get sober during the holiday season, it’s important to make sure that you are ready. Getting sober is not easy and doing so during such an alcohol-heavy time of year can be challenging. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, especially if you know you’re ready.
When you make the decision to cut alcohol out of your life, you should not take it lightly. You’ve likely experienced some negative consequences that have led to your decision to get sober. Try to keep these in mind when the thought of having a drink comes up.
Develop a Plan to Stay Sober
Coming up with a plan to stay sober can help you to avoid picking up a drink during this challenging month. There are a few resources and strategies you can incorporate into your plan for staying sober:
- Avoid Risky Situations.
If there are places or events where you know there will be alcohol or people who you used to drink with, make the decision to avoid these circumstances altogether. This might mean scheduling alternative plans to give yourself something else to do.
- Get Involved in Meaningful Activities.
For so many people who struggle with addiction, they make alcohol or drugs the focus of their lives. When they get sober, they might be at a loss as to what to do with all of their time. One of the most liberating things about getting sober can be finding activities that are meaningful and taking the time to do them. It could be something creative that allows you to express yourself or a craft that keeps your hands and mind busy.
- Find a Healthy Way to Suppress Urges.
Cravings are a normal part of addiction. They might only last 15–30 minutes, but that short window can be a time when a life-altering relapse occurs. Finding something to distract yourself with when a craving emerges can make a huge impact. Common activities that people who struggle with addiction use include chewing gum, going for a walk, calling a supportive friend or taking part in an activity that you enjoy.
- Practice Self-care
It’s common for people who struggle with addiction to use substances to cope with stress and self-medicate emotional and physical pain. When you remove these substances, it’s essential to find healthy ways to replace them. If you have physical pain, seek medical treatment and ask about non-addictive pain management techniques. Taking a bath, going for a walk, reading, meditation, practicing breathing exercises, listening to calming music or practicing yoga are great ways to manage stress without substances.
- Exercise and Eat Well.
When you are treating your body with respect and care, it may make you less likely to practice destructive behaviors. Additionally, eating well and exercise are extremely effective in reducing stress, promoting healthy sleep patterns and making you feel good.
- Lean on Family and Friends for Support.
It’s almost impossible to get sober on your own. Let someone you trust know that you plan to get sober. Whether they are a spouse or friend, pick someone who will hold you to your decision. Accountability partners can be especially helpful if they are present with you at events and get-togethers that you attend. And when temptations arise, your accountability partner can help support you to stay true to your desire to stay sober.
- Tap into a Peer Support Network.
Even the most supportive family and friends may not completely understand the struggle of addiction if they haven’t been there. Attending 12-Step meetings can help you form connections and enter into a peer support group. There are different programs for specific drugs, many stemming from Alcoholics Anonymous — the original 12-step program. Having a consistent meeting schedule, a list of others to call and a sponsor can provide a dependable support network that can help you stay sober during challenging times.
- Seek treatment at an intensive outpatient program or residential program.
Intensive outpatient programs (IOP) are a type of treatment option that provide care on an outpatient basis. This means there is often no requirement to stay overnight once the day’s programming is over. The support of your group in IOP can help you stay accountable during recovery. Residential programs are another type of treatment option that provides care to people who need intensive support and a daily structure without distraction. Patients live on-site for the duration of treatment and have a chance to focus exclusively on recovery.
Don’t Give Up on Yourself If You Slip
It’s important to remind yourself as you go through the process of getting sober and staying sober: it is never an easy thing to do. If you slip up, your journey isn’t over. Re-apply yourself to your original dedication, plug yourself back into your sober network and start again.
Getting sober is a challenging process, regardless of the time of year. Once you are addicted or dependent upon drugs or alcohol, especially for a long period of time, learning to live without them takes time and commitment. Some people who are not familiar with addiction insisting that long-term recovery is simply a matter of willpower — but that’s simply not true.
Anyone who has been or is actively addicted to drugs or alcohol knows that addiction and dependence are powerful mental and physical challenges that usually require outside assistance. This is why seeking out professional treatment and finding a sober network is essential.
Staying sober during the holiday season is challenging, but it’s not impossible. A good place to start if you are committed is to ask for the support you need during this time of year. Reach out to The Recovery Village to find out which center is nearest you and if an outpatient program could suit your needs. Don’t struggle alone — help is closer than you think. Call today to get started.
Schmall, Tyler. “People drink twice as much alcohol over the holidays.” New York Post, December 4, 2018. Accessed October 29, 2019.