Staying Sober During the Holiday Season

“I don’t know if there’ll be snow, but have a cup of cheer.”

~Holly Jolly Christmas, one of the Top-25 most-performed Christmas songs

Recovery can be a lot harder during the holiday season.

During the rest of the year, people in recovery for alcoholism or drug addiction can set personal boundaries by paying attention to where they go and who they are with. And, when they find themselves in a situation where substance use might occur, they leave as quickly as they can.

It all changes during the last few weeks of the year – from Thanksgiving Day to New Year’s Eve.

There are family functions and office parties where attendance is mandatory. Once they are there, they will encounter family members and coworkers who are in a “festive mood”. And THAT means drinking, and sometimes even recreational drug use.

Because these parties can last hours, a hasty exit may not always be possible.

Holiday Sobriety Means Planning

The best way to safeguard your sobriety during the holidays is to plan your actions.

Think of this plan as a kind of roadmap that will help you safely – and soberly – find your way around the hazards found in risky social situations that include drinking and/or drug use.

Holiday Tip #1 –Staying Sober at Parties

  • Arrive in your own vehicle – If you feel uncomfortable, anxious, or tempted to drink/use, you can just leave.
  • Use the buddy system – Whenever possible, DON’T GO ALONE. Bring along a sober friend, family member, or coworker who support your recovery. Alternately, partner up with someone at the party who knows your situation and can keep you away from bad decisions.
  • Have a sober friend on “STANDBY” – If the buddy system is not possible, have someone you trust make themselves available if you need help. If you need a ride, an excuse to leave, or simply need to talk, pick up the phone and call the sober friend.
  • Practice your response – It’s your own personal business why you don’t drink or use, but if you feel socially self-conscious, have a standard response ready:
  • Be selective – Don’t feel pressured to say “yes” to every invitation you get. Sometimes, you’re better off NOT attending.

Holiday Tip #2 –Watch What and How You Eat and Drink

  • Eat before you go – Hydrate and eat a healthy snack before you go. Thirst, hunger pangs, and low blood sugar can easily be mistaken for drug and alcohol cravings.
  • Stay away from dishes containing alcohol – Even tiny amounts of alcohol in a recipe could potentially trigger cravings. Be careful around punch, eggnog, wine-flavored cheeses, and certain desserts.
  • Fill your own cup – If you get – or better yet, BRING – your own drink, you don’t have to worry about accidentally accepting an alcoholic beverage that someone innocently served to you.
  • Keep up with your cup –Fill up your cup with your favorite non-alcoholic beverage, and then carry it around with you. Because people are not very likely to ask you what you have in your own cup, you won’t have to explain why you’re not drinking.

Holiday Tip #3 –Filling up Your Time

  • There are other ways to show your holiday spirit– You can celebrate soberly in your own way with many different happy holiday activities:
  • Ice skating
  • Public Christmas tree lighting
  • Holiday concerts and choral performances
  • Decorating your home
  • Mailing Christmas cards
  • Hanging out with sober friends
  • Movies
  • Volunteering – Toys for Tots, food drives, homeless shelters, serving at 12-Step meetings, help out at church, etc.

Holiday Tip #4 –Rely on the Fellowship of the 12-Steps

  • Attend extra 12-Step meetings –The mutually-supportive fellowship found among other substance abusers in recovery can be of real comfort during the holiday season. It is the perfect cure for the holiday blues and loneliness.
  • AA-sponsored celebrations – During the holidays, AA groups everywhere often schedule extra meetings. There are even alcathons – 24 hours of AA/NA meetings, food, and positive, supportive social interaction:
  • Thanksgiving Eve
  • Thanksgiving
  • Christmas Eve
  • Christmas Day
  • New Year’s Eve
  • New Year’s Day.

Prioritize Your Sobriety during the Holidays

ALWAYS put your sobriety and your recovery FIRST. If you are in a situation that jeopardizes everything you have been working for, then LEAVE, and live to party another day. Remember, the best you. You can ever give yourself and the people who love you is your successful recovery.

If you live in Southern California and need extra support to stay sober this holiday season, contact Chapman House. Since 1978, Chapman House has been Orange County’s most-trusted addiction recovery resource.

by Albert Fontenot