How to Stay Sober During the Holidays

Published August 11, 2022
friends celebrating holidays with no alcohol

Have you set a goal to stay sober this holiday season? Celebrations throughout November, December, and even into January offer a myriad of opportunities to be around alcohol. The holidays are also a time when emotions often kick into high gear. Some people experience sadness or frustration. Others might feel joy and gratitude. Many people experience both positive and negative emotions.

If your go-to method of managing emotions is alcohol, then staying sober can be a significant challenge. Whether you're staying sober because you've developed an alcohol dependency, or whether you're simply re-evaluating your relationship with alcohol, there are some tips and tools you can use to stay sober. Use these tools to help your holidays stay merry, bright, and alcohol-free.

10 Ways to Stay Sober During the Holidays

While many people delight in holiday cheer, many also struggle with the unique challenges that the season brings. For example, you may feel isolated if your social calendar isn't full or if friends and family members are far away. You might also experience increased stress due to work or social obligations.

For these reasons, maintaining your sobriety can seem exceptionally difficult during the holiday season. However, there are some things you can do to prepare yourself to face these challenges and cope with the struggles that arise.

Skip Stressful Events

friends hugging during holidays

The holiday season is often full of gatherings with loved ones, neighbors, or coworkers. While the events are designed to be joyful, they may also induce stress. It is also likely that alcohol will be served at many of these parties. Whether you've chosen temporary or permanent sobriety, you may get unwanted questions about your choice to give up alcohol. This can leave you feeling uncomfortable, stressed, or even frustrated.

Know that it's okay to skip these events. Put yourself first. You don't have to be present for every dinner or gathering, especially if they might be damaging to your mental health or sobriety. The family members that know you and love you will understand.

Practice Saying "No"

At the events that you do choose to attend, it is possible (perhaps even likely) that someone will offer you a drink. Some hosts might even insist. When you're surrounded by people who are drinking and having a good time, it can be particularly tempting to take a sip.

One way to prepare yourself for these situations is to practice ways of saying "no." Think about ways that you would refuse offers for drinks or other substances. You can even do this out loud at home by yourself or with a loved one.

There are many ways to refuse an offer. You don't even have to share with others that you're sober if you don't want to. Some phrases you might find helpful are:

  • Alcohol gives me really bad hangovers and we have plans tomorrow morning that I want to be able to enjoy.
  • I don't get to see my family very often so I don't want to forget anything.
  • I really want to remember this night.
  • I'm the sober driver for the evening.
  • I'm working on being more present.

Bring Your Own Beverages

If you want to be sure that you have an alcohol-free alternative, plan to bring your own drinks with you. This can ensure that you have something that you enjoy so you don't feel left out. For instance, bring your favorite sparking cider, juice, or soda.

You might also consider making a batch of holiday mocktails. For example, a delicious cranberry mocktail mule is not only delicious, but looks festive and fun. Bring the ingredients to the party and whip up a batch for yourself and anyone else who wants to try it. You might even be able to get others to go alcohol-free for the night.

Head Home Early

You don't have to stay late for every holiday party or gathering. If you notice yourself becoming frustrated with others or the environment, it's perfectly okay to head home. Also, if you notice that your willpower for maintaining sobriety is waning, leaving may be a smart choice. Leave whenever you need to.

In that case, it can be a good idea to have an exit plan in your back pocket.

  • Ask a friend or family member to call you an hour or so into an event as an excuse to leave.
  • Create a codeword when you go to an event with friends so that they know when you are ready to head home.
  • Find a friend or family member that you can call or text whenever you're struggling with your sobriety during the holidays.
  • Make a plan with loved ones beforehand to only stay at the event for an agreed-upon amount of time.
  • Suggest taking different cars so that you can leave when you're ready and others can stay if they choose.
  • Talked to loved ones after holiday festivities to decompress and check in with yourself.

Also, if you know that a certain event may be more difficult for you to get through, tell your loved ones beforehand. That way they know in advance your reasons for leaving early and you won't have to worry about explaining anything in front of others. Don't force yourself to stay at an event to please others. You and your sobriety matter most. When you use your exit plan, you can head home to relax and unwind and know that you still put your best foot forward to show up.

Check-in With Yourself

After you attend a party or family dinner, take some time afterward to see how you feel. Did you run into any challenges at the event? Were there certain people or environments that had an effect on you? Did you enjoy your time?

Ask yourself questions and explore how certain events make you feel. You might be able to notice a pattern that can help you plan for a similar event in the future. For example, if you notice that family gatherings make you more stressed than dinner with friends, you can make plans to leave family events earlier.

When you check in with yourself, you can also discover what you need to recharge. Maybe you need to have fewer social events on your schedule or just more time for yourself to relax in between. Pay attention to your needs and see how you can support your mental health.

Attend Support Groups

Staying sober during the holidays is no easy task, especially since this time of year can be stressful. The good thing is that you don't have to experience these struggles alone and can lean on others for support.

Research shows that peer support groups can be beneficial for those experiencing addiction. It can remind you that you are not the only one experiencing struggles during the holidays, and can even give you a space to vent and find validation. You can find virtual and in-person support groups through:

Lean on Family and Friends

Loved ones can create a safe and comforting environment to talk about your struggles. In fact, they may be easier to talk to because they already know you and care about you.

It might feel good just to talk to someone and get whatever you are feeling off of your chest. You can also ask loved ones to attend support groups with you. Or, ask them to be your sober buddy at family gatherings and events.

Having someone by your side that supports you can help keep you accountable this holiday season. And, it can reinforce the idea that you're not in this alone.

Prioritize Your Mental Health

person writing in journal for stress relief during holidays

The range of emotions that you experience during the holidays can feel overwhelming. For example, you might feel stressed due to the financial burdens of the season. Or, feel depressed if you are experiencing the winter blues due to the cold season.

Taking care of your mental health can look different for everyone. Find what feels good for you and really explore what you need during the holidays. Some ways to prioritize your mental health this holiday season are:

Reach Out to a Helpline

Whenever you feel like you could use more support this holiday season, you can reach out to a helpline. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has a hotline that is available 24/7 every day of the year which is free for anyone to use. They offer treatment referral and information services for those facing substance use disorders and their family members.

The helpline can also connect you to support groups and community-support organizations in your area. To access the hotline, call 1-800-662-4357. Or, you can use your zip code to access their online treatment locator to find support in your area.

Post Sober Holiday Quotes

During these difficult times, you might find that you could use a source of inspiration to turn to. You can use the quotes below to help strengthen your resolve this holiday season and encourage you to stay sober. You may even want to post them around your work or living space as a reminder of your commitment.

  • Being sober delivered almost everything drinking promised.

  • If one is never enough, have none.
  • No sober day is wasted.
  • Recovery is an ongoing process. In recovery there is hope. And hope is a wonderful thing.
  • Showing up as my best self is worth more to my family than any gift I could ever buy.
  • Sobriety is the best present you can give yourself and your family.
  • The best present is your presence.
  • The real magic is in the moments. Be present.

Resources for Staying Sober During the Holidays

Are you looking for more information about how you can stay sober this holiday season, or how you can help someone else stay sober? There are numerous online resources with information surrounding treatment programs, support groups, and additional tips on staying sober throughout the holidays.

Staying sober for the holidays isn't always easy, but it is worth it if your health and sobriety is important to you. You may run into several challenges along the way that can test you. However, you can turn to the support of others to help get you through.

Be gentle with yourself. Odds are that you are experiencing a lot of emotions this time of year, which can add even more to your plate. It's okay to say no whenever you need to and put yourself first this holiday season. Self-compassion might be one of the best gifts you can ever give yourself.

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How to Stay Sober During the Holidays