How To Stay Sober During The Holidays

Getting through the holidays sober can be a challenge, particularly for those in early addiction recovery. Here are some tips and resources for preventing or responding to addiction relapse during the holiday season.

How To Stay Sober Over The Holidays

The holiday season can be a joyous time. But it can also be a very stressful time, particularly for people in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction.

Some of those around you during the holidays may celebrate with alcohol. If you’re sober, this can feel isolating and may bring up feelings of stress, frustration, and sadness.

Millions of Americans live with some form of drug or alcohol use disorder, including those who are in or working on their recovery. You’re not alone.

Maintaining sobriety during the holidays, and sticking to your treatment plan, is possible.

Here you’ll find information on:

  • common triggers and causes of relapse during the holidays
  • list of holidays that tend to be tough for those in recovery
  • tips for preventing relapse
  • what to do if you’ve relapsed
  • support and treatment resources

What Are Common Triggers During The Holidays?

It’s common for people who are sober to feel anxiety around the holidays.

The holiday season can bring with it emotional triggers, anxiety around socializing, and other seasonal stressors that can present a challenge when it comes to staying on track in your recovery.

Common triggers or contributors to relapse during the holidays include:

Big Gatherings

Many of the biggest holidays—Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Halloween—bring people together to celebrate. You may host your own party, or attend those organized by others.

Large gatherings, especially when alcohol is involved, can be tricky for people who are in early sobriety, as well as those who are under a lot of stress.

Drinking, or partaking in other drugs, can be a pastime that’s taken for granted among friends and family—but this isn’t as simple for someone who’s sober.

Financial Strain

Holidays aren’t just about gathering—they’re also frequently about giving as well.

Unfortunately, financial strain is a common stressor during the holidays. The stress of finding the perfect gift, or budgeting for gifts, can be a trigger for people in early sobriety who want to be there for their loved ones and show their love in material ways.

Depression

Dealing with the “holiday blues” or sadness in sobriety can be challenging. Holiday blues can be brought on by changes in the weather, changes in your social calendar, stress, or loneliness.

For those with substance use disorder, drinking or drug use can become a way to self-medicate depression and loneliness.

In sobriety, you have to learn how to manage this without the use of addictive substances. While certainly possible, this can take some adjustment that’s worth keeping in mind and preparing for.

Anxiety

Anxiety during the holidays is common. Like with depression, anxiety is also a struggle that can be unhealthily medicated with depressants like alcohol.

If you’re in sobriety, or have a drug or alcohol abuse problem, however, this is not an option. You don’t want to rely on former drugs of abuse to relax, or manage difficult emotions.

Common sources of anxiety during the holidays include:

  • being around family
  • buying gifts
  • changes in diet or exercise
  • body image
  • party planning
  • working more or less
  • taking care of children
  • navigating sobriety
  • being around alcohol
  • meeting new people
  • changes in counseling/treatment availability

Stress

Stress, like anxiety, is a common trigger for relapse not just during the holidays, but for anyone who is in recovery from an alcohol or drug addiction.

Common forms of stress during the holidays include:

  • financial stress
  • emotional stress
  • pressure to be joyful
  • arranging travel
  • interpersonal conflicts
  • work-related stress

Loneliness

Not everyone has a family or friends to be around during the holidays. Unfortunately, for some, drugs or alcohol can become a way to fill in the gap, so to speak—or to replace that social interaction.

Some people drink when they’re lonely or sad. But the truth is, that alcohol is not your friend, and it’s no replacement for a person or a meaningful relationship.

Addiction is a lonely and isolating disease. Recovery is a journey that can be aided by seeking out that external support and learning how to be comfortable on your own—without drugs.

Difficult Memories

For some, holidays can be a trigger because of the memories they might stir up.

For instance:

  • the loss of a loved one
  • times you were intoxicated during the holidays
  • break-ups

Whether you are a survivor of trauma, or are struggling with coming to terms with a bad past experience, it is not uncommon to feel urges to drink or use drugs in order to quell the emotions bad memories can stir up.

Which Holidays Are Tough For People In Recovery?

Holidays can be a trigger for people with past alcohol or drug use issues, for a number of reasons, including the social and emotional aspects of holidays.

Recovery is a full-time, lifelong commitment. For some, the bigger holidays—where you are seeing family, or lamenting a lack of social connection—can be a trickier time to navigate while sober.

Here are some of the biggest holidays that can be tough for those in drug or alcohol addiction recovery:

Fourth Of July

In the United States, the Fourth of July (or Independence Day) is often a day of celebration. Fireworks. Barbeques. Getting together with friends or family.

For someone who is sober, it can also be stressful. If you’re new to sobriety, read more about how to stay sober for the Fourth of July.

Halloween

Halloween isn’t just for the kids. It is also a night that, for many, can feature drug use or drinking. But this isn’t the only way to party, or have a good, spooky time.

Learn more about how to stay sober during Halloween.

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is known for being a holiday that features a lot of food, as well as drinking for those who don’t abstain.

If you are sober, this might be difficult to be around, if seeing alcohol or being around others who are drinking is a trigger.

Read more about how to stay sober during Thanksgiving.

Winter Holidays

The winter holidays can be difficult to weather if you are new to sobriety, or tend to have a more difficult time with mental health during the winter months.

This includes:

Depending on where you live, it may be colder. Your work and social calendar may be different. You may be traveling.

Big changes, small changes—all of it can best be met with an arsenal of coping skills, strategies, and a plan for staying sober during the holidays.

Behavioral Addictions And The Holidays

Staying sober from drugs and alcohol during the holidays, for some, is only half the battle for staying grounded and secure in recovery.

Behavioral addictions, such as gambling addiction and shopping addiction, can also flare up during the holiday season and frequently co-occur with drug and alcohol use issues.

Similar to drug addiction, stress can be an important factor. Being aware of your triggers, and making a plan to combat or respond to urges in the moment, can help you or a loved one prepare to face these challenges head-on.

Addiction Relapse Prevention Tips For The Holidays

Making it through the holiday season without slipping back into destructive drug or drinking habits is possible.

Here are some relapse prevention tips for the holidays:

Make Plans

Preparation is a key strategy for relapse prevention. During the holidays, this planning process might include making plans for:

  • attending parties
  • traveling
  • conversations with family
  • avoiding certain triggers
  • facing potential triggers
  • if you’re struggling with urges to use/drink
  • continuing treatment
  • what to do if you do slip

Making plans ahead of time can give you a roadmap for what to do when and if you encounter general or specific situations.

This can be helpful in times of stress, where you may find yourself struggling to think clearly or rationally about how to cope with urges to drink or use.

Find Sober Activities

There are many activities to enjoy during the holidays that do not have to involve drugs or alcohol.

Some examples include:

  • ice skating
  • going on walks
  • hay rides
  • going to the movies
  • going to a concert
  • painting or other crafts
  • reading a book
  • volunteering
  • trying a dance class
  • visiting a museum
  • visiting a tree farm (e.g. for a Christmas tree)
  • hosting a game night
  • baking/cooking for the holidays
  • going on a holiday light tour

There are plenty of sober holiday traditions you, and your loved ones, can create together, without risking your progress in your recovery.

Connect With Others

Isolation and loneliness can be major triggers for relapse, especially during the holidays.

One of the ways you can keep yourself on the right track is by forging or leaning on meaningful connections you have with loved ones in your life.

Spend time with people who you feel comfortable around, people who lift you up instead of bring you down. Remind yourself that you are deserving of this connection—deserving of kindness, love, and happiness.

Identify And Avoid Personal Triggers

One of the best strategies for preventing relapse is to identify your triggers, and come up with strategies for either managing or avoiding those personal triggers when possible.

This might include:

  • certain places
  • certain people
  • certain foods/drinks
  • certain smells/sights
  • certain days/months
  • certain topics of discussion
  • certain activities

Some triggers can be more general, like being at a bar, while others can be very personal to your own experience—i.e. someone you used to get drunk with.

Hiding, avoiding, or lying to yourself about triggers leaves you more susceptible to its influence in recovery—and allows them to maintain power over you.

On the other hand, identifying your triggers and strategies to manage them puts that power back in your hands. This gives you the opportunity to say: “You do not have power over me. I can do this.”

Take Care Of Yourself

Self-care is a simple, yet essential strategy for helping to prevent relapse in addiction recovery, especially during a busy or stressful holiday season.

This can include:

  • eating well and often (i.e. a balanced diet)
  • drinking plenty of water
  • getting enough sleep
  • engaging in activities you enjoy
  • knowing and sticking to your limits
  • being okay with saying ‘No’
  • attending recovery support groups
  • taking time to relax and decompress

Everyone has their own activities or interests that help keep them balanced.

During times of stress, it can be helpful to embrace these things. Ensure you are taking care of yourself in the most basic of ways, to the best of your ability.

What Are Signs Of Addiction Relapse?

Addiction relapse may be identifiable by physical signs of substance use, changes in behavior, or other cognitive or emotional symptoms of intoxication.

Early signs of a relapse or slip may be identified by family members, friends, or other loved ones, such as a spouse.

Learn more about signs and symptoms for:

What Happens If You Relapse During The Holidays?

Relapse among people with substance use disorder is not uncommon.

An estimated 40 to 60 percent of people who receive treatment for substance abuse experience relapse at some point. What’s most important in the event of a relapse is how you respond to it.

So you, a friend, or a family member has relapsed. What’s next?

Talk To Someone

If you have had a slip, or a series of slips, over the holidays, the most important thing you can do is talk to someone about it.

Don’t keep it inside. Secrecy is how addiction thrives. Telling someone is a useful way that you can hold yourself accountable for acknowledging your slip and getting back on track.

Tips for how to go about doing this:

  • find someone you can trust to open up to (e.g. a family member, trusted friend, recovery mentor)
  • be clear and honest
  • reach out as soon as possible
  • find a private, quiet place to speak
  • be honest about how you’re feeling afterward

Get Help Sooner Rather Than Later

Don’t put off seeking help for a relapse.

If you have had one slip, or especially if you’ve had multiple slips, it’s important to recognize not only that this happened, but that you don’t have to face it alone.

If you’ve slipped more than once, this might be a sign you need additional support, such as more frequent counseling sessions or an intensive outpatient program.

You might consider:

  • looking into an aftercare program
  • revising your outpatient treatment plan
  • consulting your doctor for treatment recommendations

Find A Support Group

Consider looking for additional support during the holidays through a recovery support group, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA).

The communal aspect of addiction support groups can offer comfort during the holidays, especially after a relapse, where you may not be feeling your best.

Just being around people who have gone through similar experiences, and finding a distraction away from drugs or alcohol, can offer the opportunity to ground you and your commitment to recovery.

Forgive Yourself

Relapse is not uncommon. It’s also not something to be ashamed of. If you’ve had a slip, or have relapsed over the holidays, be kind to yourself.

Acknowledge that it happened. And forgive yourself. Recovery is a process of progress, not perfection. Let this be an opportunity to grow and make better choices next time.

This is a moment to build yourself up, not tear yourself down.

Resources For Staying Sober During The Holidays

Don’t worry about facing this holiday season in recovery alone.

If you’re looking for self-help resources and tools to help you stay on track in your recovery during the holidays, AddictionResource.net has got you covered.

Tips And Self-Help Guides

Here are some articles and self-help guides for navigating addiction recovery:

Having A Fun Sober Holiday

Here are some guides and resources for hosting a fun, sober get-together with friends or family for the holidays:

Support Helplines And Chats For Addiction Recovery

Local and state resources for substance abuse and addiction can vary according to where you live.

Here are some drug and alcohol abuse hotlines and other national resources for people who are experiencing a mental health crisis or other emergency:

  • 911: If you’re experiencing a medical or mental health emergency, call 911 for immediate assistance in your local area.
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call 1-800-273-8255 (toll-free)
  • Crisis Text Line: Text “MHA” to 741-741
  • SAMHSA National Helpline: Call 1-800-662-HELP (4357) and TTY 1-800-487-4889
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline: Call 1-800-799-7233 or text LOVEIS to 22522
  • Veterans Crisis Line (National): 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text: 8388255
  • Teen Line: 1-800-852-8336 or text “TEEN” to 839863

Finding Support Groups And Online Forums

Finding support after a relapse, or during times of struggle during the holidays, can be crucial. Support groups may be offered virtually or in-person.

Some peer support options include:

Finding Addiction Treatment During The Holidays

Getting help during the holidays, or setting up plans for treatment after the holidays, can be accomplished through several means.

Options for finding addiction treatment include:

  • SAMHSA: Find Treatment Locator for substance abuse treatment options
  • Psychology Today: Find a treatment center for substance abuse
  • Psychology Today: Find a therapist for substance abuse and mental health

You’re not alone. One day, one minute, at a time.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.

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