Staying Sober over the Holidays | Catholic Charities Diocese of Madison

Staying Sober over the Holidays

5 Door Recovery

For people in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction, the holidays can be an especially trying time to stay healthy and sober. Unrealistic expectations, over-commitment, unhealthy eating, financial strain, and fatigue can fray emotions. Travel complications and busy schedules can add to the stress, as well. You might be spending your holidays away from your addiction recovery support system and sober routines, which can make you more vulnerable to relapse. Holiday customs, childhood memories and annual gatherings that are closely associated with drug or alcohol use can also tug at your emotions and put your recovery at risk.

But there are ways you can prepare for this challenging season and safeguard the greatest gift you’ve ever given yourself and those you love: Your sobriety. Here are some practical tips to help you avoid relapse and stay sober during the holidays and beyond.

  1. Have Recovery Strategies in Place

The saying goes, “Fail to plan, plan to fail.” Before attending any holiday event, know what you will do if you start to feel triggered. No matter how long you’ve been clean and sober, you don’t want to be caught off guard. Having a plan includes:

  • Know what you will do if you feel uncomfortable
  • Always have a ride or a way out of a party or event
  • Have a list of non-alcoholic holiday drinks you can order
  • Know how to turn down a drink
  • Know what to say when someone won’t let no be no
  • Limit your time in stressful situations or around difficult people

The most important of these is an escape plan. Always have a way to leave, and don’t be afraid to use it. If you feel triggered by the thought of being around alcohol or drugs during a holiday event, you have every right to leave.


  1. Adjust Your Attitude

The holidays come and go every year. In other words, “this too shall pass.” There’s no reason to stress over one holiday season in your lifetime — it’s just another 24 hours of working on your recovery. If you’re in the early stages of recovery and feel overwhelmed by the thought of a party with people who drink and/or use, it’s okay to stay at home. Remember that you have committed yourself to recovery. You aren’t ruining the holidays by focusing on your health and those who care about you will understand why you’re unable to attend. Talk with your sponsor, a friend who understands addiction recovery, or a professional counselor about the emotions and expectations you have wrapped up in the holidays—especially if you find yourself replaying childhood experiences or memories during this time of year. It can also help to write down a daily gratitude list to remind you why you are grateful for your sobriety and why recovery is worth it to you.

  1. Be of Service

The holidays offer powerful opportunities for spiritual growth by sharing your gratitude and joy with others. Connecting with others in this way can be a new experience that takes courage. You’ve already demonstrated the capacity for tremendous courage and change by committing to recovery.

An important component of recovery in both AA and NA is service. Look for ways to be of service to others:  reach out with hospitality to a newcomer at a meeting, answer phones at a clubhouse or central office, host recovery friends or take someone out for coffee. There are a million different ways to give back, pay it forward and be of service. Getting out of your own thoughts and focusing on others is a great way to keep you sober and help spread positive energy.

  1. Be Mindful of What You’re Drinking—and Thinking

At social gatherings, it’s helpful to always have a beverage in hand so people aren’t constantly offering you a drink. When you order a beverage, pay attention to how it is being made. If you ask someone to get a beverage for you, he or she may not know your situation or might forget your request and bring you an alcoholic drink. If you accidentally pick up the wrong drink and swallow some alcohol, this doesn’t mean you will automatically relapse. But watch for any rationalizations that could creep in: “Hmm, I guess I can handle alcohol in social situations after all. Perhaps my period of abstinence taught me how to control my drinking.” Do not go down that road. Instead, tell someone who understands recovery from drug or alcohol addiction about your experience as soon as possible. A mistake is not a relapse—but it can lead to one if kept a secret.

If offered a drink or drug, there are a few simple ways to handle them depending on how comfortable you are talking about your sobriety. It’s perfectly fine to come up with an excuse, such as “I’m the designated driver,” or “I have to be up early.” Or you can use humor. As one recovery friend said, “I’m allergic to alcohol; every time I drink, I break out in handcuffs.”

  1. Avoid Known Risks

If you know Aunt Lucy is going to grill you about rehab, avoid her. If Uncle Bob will try to mix you a stiff drink, stay away from him. If the office New Year’s party is really all about drinking or other drug use, make a brief appearance or don’t attend. Step one teaches us that we are powerless over alcohol and drugs. So, why put yourself in the position of having to “power through” an obstacle course of relapse triggers? Staying sober and safeguarding your recovery must always come first.

It’s not selfish to put your recovery first. It’s necessary because if you’re not in recovery, you can’t be the best version of yourself. By having a plan and sticking to it, you’ll be putting your recovery first. This is important at all times of the year, but it’s especially true during the holidays. You need recovery to remain successful in your everyday life, so you must treat it that way.

  1. Practice Self-care

Celebrate the holiday season and the fullness of your sober life by taking time for yourself. Proper nutrition, gentle exercise and restorative sleep can do wonders for your well-being. The better you feel physically, the stronger you will be emotionally. Nourish your spirit, too, through personal reflection and connection with those you love. Find some quiet time each day for relaxation and meditation—if only for a few minutes, no matter how busy you are. Let your spirit be your guide.

  1. Remember the reason for the season.

There are 14 religious holidays in December representing all the world’s major religions. None of them are a good excuse to drink or drug— they’re an excuse to spend quality time with loved ones and spread holiday cheer to others. Keep your sobriety a priority and protect it. Take time for prayer and meditation. Attend a religious service—any religious service, even if you don’t usually attend. Or spend some time in nature and reconnect with your spirit.

  1. Get help if you need it

Some families might consider the holidays an inappropriate time to help a loved one get into addiction treatment when, in fact, it could be an ideal opportunity. For many of the reasons mentioned above, substance abuse tends to ramp up over the holidays. Addiction treatment initiated during the holidays could be the best gift you give to your family, your friends and yourself. Don’t be afraid to call 5 Door Recovery if you need help.

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