Millions of adults in the United States choose not to drink during the holidays, due to personal preference or because they’re in recovery from alcohol addiction.
If you’re newly sober, be it from alcohol or another drug of abuse, it may be difficult to navigate your first Christmas without drinking. Don’t worry, you’re not alone.
Here’s information on:
- tips for maintaining recovery over the holidays
- common challenges and triggers during Christmas
- what to do if you relapse during Christmas
- resources for staying sober on Christmas
Tips For Maintaining Addiction Recovery On Christmas
Staying on track in your recovery can be a challenge during the winter holiday season, especially if this is your first year sober from drugs or alcohol.
Here are some guidance tips on how to stay dry on Christmas:
- Make a plan: If you know what your holiday schedule is going to look like, plan ahead for how you’ll handle specific scenarios or foreseeable challenges.
- Bring a sober friend: Ask a sober friend if they’d be willing to attend a holiday party or gathering with you. This can help you both feel less alone and help hold you accountable.
- Prepare responses: Come up with some prepared responses ahead of time to questions partygoers might ask about why you’re not drinking or your sobriety.
- Create a toolbox: Come up with some activities, or coping skills, that you can use during tricky situations—make your own recovery/relapse prevention toolbox.
- Ask for support: Let a friend, family member, or sponsor know that you may need additional support on Christmas. Asking for help is a strength, not a weakness.
- Avoid triggers: Don’t make things hard for yourself. If there are triggers you can avoid (e.g. a party with alcohol), do it.
- Practice self-care: Make sure you’re taking time to take care of your needs. Get in all of your food groups, drink plenty of water, and get in a full eight hours of sleep each night.
- Know your limits: If you’re at a holiday party and find yourself overwhelmed, it’s okay to leave or retire early. It’s also okay to stay home!
- Enjoy: Participate in activities you enjoy. Having fun while sober is 100% possible. If you’re able, take time to enjoy the little things, like Christmas lights or caroling.
- Prioritize recovery: Your recovery is your priority. Check in with yourself often. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, do what you need to to stay on track with your recovery goals.
What Are Common Challenges For People In Recovery During Christmas?
Many major holidays, particularly winter holidays like Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, can be tricky for people in addiction recovery, for several reasons.
Some common challenges include:
Change In Routine
Many people take time off work, are spending more time around the kids, or have other changes to their normal routine during the holiday season.
You might also be:
- working overtime
- staying home more
- being busier than usual
- arranging childcare
- preparing for guests
This can be stressful for people in recovery. When you’re recovering from an addiction, finding a balanced routine can become a bedrock. A disruption to this can be jarring.
It’s common for your first sober Christmas to feel a bit intimidating or overwhelming, especially when it comes to family.
Even when they mean well, it can be stressful to see or be around people who may not be used to the new, sober you. They may ask questions about your sobriety, or make other observations that might be triggering.
For instance, comments about your physical appearance, jokes about previous holidays when you were intoxicated, or disparaging your decision to be sober.
Large Social Gatherings
Holiday parties can be stressful in part because of the social aspect. You may be seeing people you haven’t seen in a while, or see new faces that expect an introduction or conversation.
But also, there’s the alcohol. Many adults in the US celebrate the winter holidays by drinking.
If you’re newly sober, this can make you uncomfortable, especially if you’re one of the only ones cradling a non-alcoholic drink.
Not all people have somewhere to go during the holidays. It can be a lonely feeling to watch others go home to their families or friends while you’re home alone.
Loneliness during the holidays can stir up negative emotions as well as stronger urges to return to drugs or alcohol to cope, bide the time, or fill in gaps from the lack of social interaction.
Seasonal affective disorder, a clinical diagnosis for what some might call the “holiday blues,” is a condition that can worsen a person’s depression during certain times of the year.
Even for people without SAD, it’s not uncommon for holidays to trigger depressive episodes that are more severe or difficult to manage.
Signs and symptoms of this might include:
- changes in sleep (e.g. insomnia)
- lack of interest
- spending more time alone
- feeling of hopelessness
- eating more or less than usual
Access To Alcohol
While this isn’t true for everyone, many people in early to mid sobriety tend to avoid alcohol and other addictive substances as much as possible.
During the holidays, this may not be possible if you’re attending a party or family gathering. If being around alcohol is a trigger for you, this may pose a challenge.
A large percentage of people with a substance use disorder have some sort of co-occurring disorder, be it a mental health disorder or behavioral addiction.
Common co-occurring disorders include:
- eating disorders
- bipolar disorder
- posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- gambling disorder
Holiday stress can exacerbate symptoms of co-occurring disorders. This can make urges to drink or use stronger, which is why making a relapse prevention plan for Christmas can be helpful.
What To Do If You Relapse During Christmas
Holidays are a stressful time. Although relapse isn’t inevitable, it’s not uncommon. What’s more important is how you respond to a slip.
Here’s what to do if you, a friend, or family member has relapsed this Christmas:
First and foremost, remain calm. If you’ve had a slip, don’t panic. Remove yourself physically from the situation and find a quiet spot to process through what happened.
If a loved one has told you they’ve relapsed, be supportive. Try not to cast judgment. Don’t get angry. Try to offer reassurance. Slips happen, but they don’t have to be repeated.
Talk To Someone
If you’ve had a drink or used drugs, the best thing you can do for yourself and your recovery is tell someone, be it a friend, relative, counselor, or sponsor.
Keeping it inside, or trying to pretend it didn’t happen, could leave you vulnerable to more slips. Telling someone about the slip can help you remain accountable.
Tips for talking to someone about your relapse on Christmas:
- find a quiet, private place to talk
- choose someone you trust
- be honest about the slip
- be honest about how you’re feeling after
Things you should avoid doing:
- minimizing the situation
- lying about the details
- being dishonest about how you’re feeling
- expecting someone to “save” or “fix” you
Recovery is about progress, not perfection. If you do slip, or have a full-blown relapse, it’s important to show yourself forgiveness.
Acknowledge that it happened. And be kind to yourself. Get yourself to a safe place if you haven’t already, and get some rest. You’ll need it for what comes next.
Make A Plan
If you have slipped, or suffered a relapse, your next step will likely involve making a plan with a loved one, doctor, or treatment team for how to get back on track in your recovery.
What this looks like will depend on the nature of the slip and the severity. For instance, you may seek outpatient treatment, or reach out to a past treatment provider to inquire after an aftercare program or sober living.
What’s most important is taking time in the days or weeks after to identify what you and your support system can do better to manage challenges in the future.
This is an opportunity to learn, and to grow — one day, one holiday at a time.
Resources For Addiction Recovery During Christmas
Getting through the winter holidays in addiction recovery is completely possible. If you’re new to sobriety, it will get easier with time and practice.
Here are some resources to help you or a sober loved one out this Christmas.
Support groups for people in addiction recovery:
- Alcoholics Anonymous: Find an AA meeting.
- Al-Anonymous (for family): Find an Al-Anon meeting for family members.
- Women for Sobriety: Find a virtual or in-person Women for Sobriety support group near you.
- Sober Black Girls Club: Join a Sober Black Girls Club Support Meeting.
- SMART Recovery: Find a SMART Recovery support group.
Self-help tips and guides:
- The Temper: 7 People on How They Handled Their First Sober Holiday.
- The Temper: How to Handle Your Family During The Holidays.
- SMART Recovery: The ABCs of Coping with Urges (YouTube Video).
- The Temper: How to Cope If You Are Spending This Holiday Season Alone.
Addiction crisis hotlines:
- For emergencies: Call 911 or 211 to find emergency assistance in your local area for a crisis situation.
- Crisis Text Line: Text “Home” to 741741
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call 1 (800) 273-TALK (8255)
- National Alliance on Mental Illness: Call -800-950-NAMI (6264) or firstname.lastname@example.org Monday to Friday, 10 AM to 10 PM (EST)
- Veterans Crisis Line: Call 1-800-273-8255 or text 838255
- Partnership to End Addiction: Text the Parent Helpline at CONNECT to 55753 or schedule a call.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): Call 1-800-662-HELP (4357) for SAMHSA’s National Helpline
- Psychology Today: Find a therapist or treatment center
- Addiction Resource: Call our free and confidential helpline to find the best treatment options for drug or alcohol abuse near you.
Addiction Resource aims to provide only the most current, accurate information in regards to addiction and addiction treatment, which means we only reference the most credible sources available.
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.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) — Co-Occurring Disorders and Other Health Conditions
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) — Recognizing Holiday Triggers of Trauma
- U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) — Treatment and Recovery