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The holidays are a time for getting together with friends and family, enjoying good food and drinks, and sharing love with those you care about. But, for many people in recovery from substance abuse, the holidays can be filled with temptations, triggers, and mental health challenges. So, how can you enjoy the holidays without having a relapse into addiction? Sober holidays don’t have to be a constant struggle, but you need to make sure that you approach them with firm plans in place that recognize some of the challenges they pose to those of us in recovery.

Plan “A Way Out” Beforehand

When attending any holiday event it is critical to formulate an “escape plan” prior to arriving at the event. You never want to find yourself at a holiday party without having a way to leave if you begin to feel the urge to drink or do drugs. This means following some simple rules beforehand. Having “a way out” of the event is the first of these rules. Some of the tricks to ensuring that you can leave a party when you feel the need to are:

  • driving separately from others
  • knowing the local transit schedules (including holiday hours)
  • using rideshare apps when necessary
  • bringing a sober friend with you

By being in control of when you arrive and when you leave a holiday event, you can ensure that you don’t get trapped in a situation that could trigger your addiction.

Know Your Allies

Unfortunately, family members and friends are not always your allies in recovery. Many times, these are the very same people with whom you may have once abused alcohol or drugs. And, holiday parties place you together with them again when you may have even been intentionally avoiding them for the rest of the year. Although statements like “C’mon just have a sip (or one drink)” may not be meant to sabotage your recovery, they certainly aren’t helpful and supportive. Some friends or family members may even take offense, no matter how politely you decline these suggestions. That’s why it is critical to have supportive allies in your corner during the holidays. If you are attending an event, make a mental note of who your allies will be in the situation – or who you can reach out to if you start to feel pressured or stressed by those who may or may not know about your recovery status. These allies can help you to keep to your commitment of sober holidays this year.

Pay Attention To Your Stress Levels…

The holidays can also lead to increased stress for many of us due to a variety of factors. Perhaps you have been estranged from your family or friends because of your previous behavior while drinking or using drugs or for other reasons entirely. Since the holidays place such an emphasis on getting together with friends and family, this time of year may cause you increased stress if you find yourself alone or with a diminished group of loved ones around you. Sometimes financial pressures can also be exacerbated by the desire to purchase presents, travel, or attend expensive events. All of these things can increase your levels of stress, impacting your mental health and potentially leading to relapse.

infographic showing different types of non-alcoholic drinks for sober holidays

…And Respond Appropriately

You need to remain “tuned-in” to your stress levels to make your sober holidays a happy and healthy time for you and your loved ones. If you feel yourself getting overwhelmed by any stresses, you need to pull back from the situation, take a breath, relax, and perhaps talk to a sponsor, counselor, or another one of your “allies” in recovery. No gift, event, or trip is worth putting your recovery in danger. Don’t risk a relapse into addiction that will cast a shadow over every holiday in the future – or even cut short the number of holidays you can enjoy by placing your life and your health at risk.

Get the Help You Need

If you are in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction and are looking for some more inspiration on how to enjoy sober holidays this year, you may also want to listen to BWR’s podcast “Staying Sober Through The Holidays.” The holidays can be a particularly difficult time for many people in recovery, and we can all use all the support we can get to navigate the temptations and stresses of the holiday season. [2]