How To Stay Sober Through The Holidays

By Patrick O’Neil (RADT, MFA), Group Facilitator, Cast Centers

It’s November and the holidays are right around the corner. For the newly sober (and even the old timers with years of sobriety) the alcohol infused trinity of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s can be challenging. Everywhere you turn there’s another social event where drinking alcohol is involved. Whether it’s a full-blown party with excessive drinking, or a dinner engagement with cocktails and wine—the holiday booze is always flowing and you’re expected to have a good time.

Although a good time for non-alcoholics, most surely differ from those in recovery. Chances are non-alcoholics don’t drink to blackout, or once they have achieved a buzz they don’t head off to score coke to keep the party going for days. They haven’t been arrested for drunk driving and will likely never see the inside of a rehab. If you drink like an alcoholic the party ended a long time ago.  

To the rest of the world the holidays are just another normal get together and for those of us that are sober we can’t expect them all to abstain just because we do. The liquor industry makes 25% of its annual $49 billion sales between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve, and just because we decided to be sober doesn’t mean they’re going to stop selling their wares. But what it does mean is that those of us in alcohol recovery have to learn to navigate the world without alcohol and that includes everything the holidays have to offer. In other words it’s good to be proactive and have a plan on How To Stay Sober Through the Holidays

Timing: Arrive early. Leave early. Parties never get going full blast until everyone is fully inebriated. To avoid dealing with a room full of drunks and getting triggered in the process, plan on getting there early before all of that chaos starts. You can help your host get things together—that will give you something to do rather than awkwardly stand around. Then when everyone else that has been drinking is on the verge of getting hammered you can make your exit. Besides that way you’ll be off the roads early because according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, “more than 1,500 people were killed in the U.S. due to alcohol-related crashes between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.” Which is something else you definitely want to avoid.

Honesty: No one has to know you’re not drinking unless you tell them. You can make excuses, keep a club soda with lime in your hand, or just say “no thank you” and leave it at that. However one of the main spiritual principles of recovery is honesty—being truthful to others, and above all honest with yourself. According to Mosen Haksar, an addiction medical supervisor for Kaiser Permanente, “Depending on your relationship with the family, try to just easily let them know you are in recovery. This will stop people from trying to push you to have a drink. It’s just a good idea to be up front about it.”

Precaution: Don’t go to the party alone. Bring a sober friend for support. In fact bring two sober friends. Make an exit plan in case one of you gets triggered. Call your sponsor to get their take on what you should do. Share your feelings with an alcohol addition therapist or support group. Talk about it. According to Forbes Magazine, “There are other reasons that people drink during the holidays, and not all of them are happy. For many, holidays are a time of loneliness and stress.” We are only as sick as our secrets and people aren’t mind readers. If you’re going through a rough patch and the holidays have got you down. Don’t try to white knuckle it through. Reach out to your support group, sponsor, or therapist and ask for help.

Sober Events: Maybe you just don’t want to be tempted or even deal with your family and friends while they get crazy pounding Jägermeister jello shots. If you are feeling sketchy there is nothing wrong with saying you can’t attend. There’s always next year, or you can celebrate together at a less alcohol-centric gathering. But that doesn’t mean that you have to sit at home alone. In almost every city there are AA marathons with meetings around the clock to get you through the holiday. In Los Angeles and San Francisco there are alcohol-and drug-free New Year’s Events. And if you live by an ocean there’s always a New Year’s Day polar bear plunge to wake up early for.

The main thing to keep in mind is that you can still have fun in recovery from alcohol, and you don’t have to drink or use drugs to do it.  

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