Have a Happy – Sober Holiday Season!

There are many reasons that holidays can be a difficult time for someone who is trying to stay sober. It might not even be th

Dec 3

There are many reasons that holidays can be a difficult time for someone who is trying to stay sober. It might not even be that a person has been addicted and is in recovery. It could just be that they realize they are not at their best when they drink or use drugs. Unfortunately, the holidays are a time that many people who might not indulge loosen their own restraints. Just being around people who are indulging can be difficult for a person who is trying to stay sober.

Of course, the major drug used during these times is alcohol. But other people may turn to prescription medications to deal with the stress of long days or problematic relationships with family. If they consume more pills than recommended or use someone else’s prescription, then they are abusing these drugs. Benzodiazepines, painkillers, sleep aids – these are all commonly abused prescription drugs. All of them are addictive and have problematic side effects. Some of them can be deadly, especially in combination.

The following are a few comments on holiday sobriety from people who have been there.

Why is it harder to stay sober over the holidays?

  1. Triggers abound during the holidays.
  2. It has to do with people’s expectations. Some people think it needs to be perfect. But it rarely is.
  3. Added pressures of gifts, decorating, family functions can create anxiety.
  4. Office parties, business gatherings, family parties, gift exchange parties (with alcohol at many).
  5. Family expectations, grudges, resentments sometimes come out of the woodwork when everyone is together. Especially if they have not been together during the prior year.

Surviving Holiday Parties

  1. Plan ahead. Know your strategies. Have a backup plan.
  2. Bring your own beverages.
  3. Go with a sober buddy or people who know you need to stay sober.
  4. If you have a Twelve Step Sponsor or mentor, contact them before the party. If need be, contact them during the party as well. Or set up a texting network with other people who need to stay sober. You can help them, they can help you.
  5. If you are doubtful about your ability to stay away from alcohol or drug use at a party, make other plans. Have your own intimate (and drug and alcohol-free) gathering. It is totally okay to respond, “I appreciate your thinking of me but I will not be able to make it.”

Good stress management is essential during this season.  Fighting off the temptations of the holiday season can be exhausting.  There are many things you can do to help clear your mind, such as deep breathing, taking a walk, and getting plenty of rest.  Our resident holiday planning expert Kevin G. lays out some more tips to help you make this holiday season one of the best and stay sober through it.


  • Send holiday cards early and often.  If you send out your cards early enough, you give people the chance to send one back.  If you have a new address, like I do this year, this will give everyone your new address.  You can even write your return address extra-large on the envelope so the recipients will take notice.
  • Sometimes, sending just a card is enough.  I know that I really appreciate getting Christmas cards from friends and family.  If you are expecting a card from someone, make sure that you check with mom and dad as there may be cards there with your name on it, meant for the whole family.
  • Don’t overspend on holiday gifts.  Remember that it’s the thought that counts.
  • Have fun!  The holidays should be enjoyable.  Indulge in decorations, cookies, presents, and Christmas lights and music!
  • Don’t forget to get religious – if you have faith!  This could mean attending a Christmas candlelight service or a Chanukah chabat.  There is a reason for the holiday season and it’s not just about parties and presents.  Get back to your roots.
  • Practice ingenuity.  Sometimes we can make gifts that will make our recipients realize we really care.  Oftentimes, we can add personal touches to such gifts, like burning a CD or crafting something with our hands, and save money in the process.
  • If you aren’t really close with someone but you want to buy that person a gift, consider giving a family gift.  For example, a DVD or board game that the whole family can enjoy together may be the perfect gift, and no one will be forgotten!
  • Don’t be afraid to ask people what they want.  It can be difficult choosing just the right gift for someone you love.  Sometimes people have Christmas lists and if you can get ahold of them it will be easy to get them something you know they want.
  • Re-gift with caution – it’s a controversial practice.  See: Seinfeld Episode on Re-gifting
  • If at all possible, deliver gifts personally.  I know that family and friends are often spread far and wide, but if you can deliver gifts in person, it may increase the chance that you will receive a gift in return, and it’s always nice to visit right?
  • Finally, see if you can make someone’s Christmas wish come true.  Do some sort of charitable act this Christmas season.  It will probably make you feel better and help someone who really needs help.

The key is to not pressure yourself. Be honest about the influences you can deal with and which ones you perhaps should wait awhile to deal with. Hopefully, those closest to you will support your need to take things at your own pace. If this ruffles some feathers, remind yourself that your sobriety can be a life and death matter. Someone who takes offense because you don’t show up for an event may not understand this but you do.

It might also work better for the first couple of holiday seasons to limit yourself to events where the other attendees will also be sober. This is why some people in recovery tend to socialize with other people in the same situation. With care, you’re going to be sober for a very long time, so missing a few holiday parties may be the best way to preserve your sobriety in the early days.


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