How to Stay Sober During the Holidays

For many, the holiday season is a time of joy, celebration, and memory making. Spending time with family and friends is the focal point. 

Family members sometimes expect a perfect holiday. They may want your attendance and help for every dinner, gathering, and event. Time crunches and traveling are a huge drain on both mental health and finances. To add insult to injury, alcohol is the center of many celebrations. 

The holiday season is oftentimes a painful reminder of the damage done in active addiction. There may be a sense of a need to “make up” for previous holidays. As a result, you may find yourself pushed to your limit and unable to say no to helping. 

Everyone is busy, and you’re at capacity for dealing with drunk family members. How does everyone else stay sober during the holidays? How can you ensure your sobriety? Thankfully, there are resources and tactics to employ to help you stay sober no matter what. 

Dark haired woman serving turkey during sober holiday to table of friends

Tips for Staying Sober: Create a Game Plan

The most important part of our lives today is our sobriety. Without it, we wouldn’t have the ability to be present for these important events. So, let’s make sure we focus on recovery as our most important goal.

Avoiding alcohol during celebrations may be impossible. Prepare for the possibility of someone offering you a drink, and their insistence if you say no. If you’re not ready to be open about your sobriety, there is no need to explain yourself.

Ideally, your friends and family will be aware of your decision to get sober. However, for those who don’t know, using excuses to make yourself more comfortable is completely acceptable. Here are some that you can use:

Health Reasons:
  • “I’m currently on medication that doesn’t mix well with alcohol.”
  • “I’m focusing on improving my overall health, and cutting out alcohol is part of that.”
Designated Driver:
  • “I’m the designated driver tonight, so I’m not drinking.”
  • “I want to make sure everyone gets home safely, so I’m staying sober.”
Early Morning Commitments:
  • “I have an early morning commitment, and I don’t want to be hungover.”
  • “I’ve got a busy day ahead tomorrow, so I’m avoiding alcohol tonight.”
Personal Choice:
  • “I’ve decided to cut back on drinking for personal reasons.”
  • “I’m participating in a personal challenge to abstain from alcohol.”
Fitness Goals:
  • “I’m working on my fitness goals, and I have to stop drinking for them.”
  • “I’m trying to stay in shape, and cutting out alcohol is part of my fitness plan.”
Allergies or Sensitivities:
  • “I’ve noticed that alcohol doesn’t agree with me, so I’m taking a break.”
  • “I discovered I have a sensitivity to alcohol, so I’m avoiding it for now.”
Religious or Cultural Reasons:
  • “For religious reasons, I choose not to consume alcohol.”
  • “It’s against my cultural beliefs to drink, so I’ll pass.”
Commitment to Sobriety:
  • “I’m in recovery and maintaining sobriety is a top priority for me.”
  • “I’ve decided to live a sober lifestyle, so I don’t drink anymore.”
Pregnancy or Parenthood:
  • “I’m trying to conceive, so I’ve decided to avoid alcohol.”
  • “As a parent, I like to stay alert and present, so I’m not drinking tonight.”

Remember, you don’t need to justify your choice not to drink. These excuses are just options if someone is pressing you and you don’t feel comfortable saying you’re sober just yet.

Have an Escape Plan

Sometimes the best solution to a triggering environment is to walk away. Your sobriety is the most important thing. If you feel overwhelmed and worried that you’ll drink, it’s okay to leave. Planning for the worst case scenario can keep you from feeling stuck in an uncomfortable situation.

Make a few people in your recovery support system aware of the event you’re attending. See if some of them would be available to take a phone call during the time of your event. This allows you to step out and make a phone call as a getaway. A sponsor is a great resource for this.

If there is no one available to speak with, you could consider hopping on a Zoom meeting or calling a support line. 

Have your own means of transportation. This prevents you from feeling cornered and unable to leave. This could mean driving yourself, getting a ride with a sober friend, or budgeting for an Uber. 

Plan on attending an in person meeting before or after your event. Being part of support groups helps you stick to your decision to stay sober. It can help you feel less alienated from society because you don’t drink.  

Limit the duration of your stay. You can opt to help with set up or clean up, but you don’t have to stay for both if it makes your day 12 hours long. Surrounding yourself with people who drink and use drugs all day can be exhausting. Try to leave before you reach a point of resentment and irritation.

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Bring to the Occasion

Taking your mind off your fears surrounding the holidays is useful to make it through them. Being the sober person in the group gives you many opportunities to be helpful.

You can watch the kids in the family while their parents drink and create special memories for them. Offer to clean up or check up on guests. If there are any elderly people in the family, sit and talk with them to occupy time. 

Ask others how they’re doing instead of staying in your head. You might just find that you can be a critical asset to making the holidays magical. 

Keep Your Hands Busy and Full

“Idle hands are the devil’s playthings”. This especially reigns true when you’re trying to avoid drinking. 

If you know having someone available to call when you’re struggling is a huge relief, offer to be that person for someone else. Lending a listening ear to someone else in recovery can help take your mind off the things in your life. You can use your experience to give back to your community. 

You can use a few tricks to avoid questions when you’re at a party. Sometimes carrying around a red solo cup can dissuade others from asking if you’re drinking. Just make sure you make your drink yourself. The last thing you want is for someone to forget you don’t drink and hand you an alcoholic beverage. 

People always need to do the dishes and serve food at parties. Try to pick something to occupy yourself with so you don’t find yourself moseying around. Bonus points for doing the jobs no one wants to do!

Create New Sober Traditions

You don’t have to attend large gatherings or put yourself in uncomfortable situations to celebrate. Not attending parties with substances is perfectly fine- especially in early sobriety. You don’t have to white-knuckle an event for the sake of showing up. In the long run, it can be more harmful than helpful.

Many Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous groups host sober dinners for the holidays. Reach out to other sober people in the community and see if there are plans you can join.

This time of year is difficult for a lot of recovering people. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for support. You are not alone in the uncomfortability holidays can bring.

Make a plan to celebrate in a way that brings you fulfillment and security. Plan a movie night with your favorite holiday treats, or take a walk to see Christmas lights. Choose activities that are different from what you did when you were dealing with addiction. The aim is to associate new memories with seasonal festivities.

Self care is a vital practice during this time. Take it easy on yourself and honor your feelings. 

Know that you may be extra sensitive, and plan to take a step back if things get overwhelming. Be open and honest with others about how this time of year makes you feel. Isolating and repressing these feelings will only make them worse.

Reach out to Hotel California by the Sea

We specialize in treating addiction and other co-occurring disorders, such as PTSD. Our Admissions specialists are available to walk you through the best options for treating your addiction.

Struggling During the Holidays? Consider Seeking Treatment 

Choosing to go to treatment during the holidays can seem out of the question. Familial and societal obligations make the idea of checking in somewhere impossible. If you’re actively using drugs or alcohol, choosing sobriety is the greatest gift for both yourself and your family. 

Being present is hard when you are in the throes of addiction. Giving up one holiday season for a lifetime of sober and present festivities is an investment in your future. Substance use disorders do not have to define your life.

Hotel California by the Sea offers holistic treatment in comfortable, home-like environments. While being in treatment for the holidays isn’t ideal, it is a safe place to focus on stability. Our team is dedicated to making this time comfortable and supportive as you move towards a life of sobriety.