The Thanksgiving holiday in the United States can be a joyous and delicious occasion for individuals and families who celebrate.
It can also often feature a lot of drinking. For people who are sober, and in recovery from alcohol addiction, this can pose something of a challenge.
If you’re new to sobriety or want to stay sober this Thanksgiving, here you’ll learn:
- relapse prevention tips
- common triggers
- what to do if you relapse
- treatment options for addiction relapse
Tips For Staying Sober On Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving, and related festivities like “Blackout Wednesday” the night before, can be a challenge for people in sobriety. But it’s possible to make it through.
Here are some tips for making it through Thanksgiving sober:
Know Your Limits
Avoid pushing yourself beyond what you can manage this Thanksgiving.
If you know you’re struggling with your sobriety or have been extra stressed lately, avoid gatherings that will have alcohol or other triggers present.
Alternatively, consider the pros and cons of a family gathering. Consider whether staying home or attending a gathering without alcohol is your best option this year.
Ask For Support
Consider reaching out to a trusted friend or family member beforehand to let them know that this may be a difficult time for you. Or, if you are struggling, ask for support.
You might identify someone who will either be at the Thanksgiving gathering with you, or someone you can text or call as needed if things become overwhelming.
Identify Coping Skills
Before the Thanksgiving festivities, consider coming up with a list of coping tools or strategies that you can use if you find yourself experiencing urges to drink or use.
- talking to a friend
- distraction techniques
- relaxation techniques
- breathing exercises
- going for a walk
Planning this ahead, before you’re in a difficult situation, is key.
When you’re in a triggering situation, your mind may not be as clear, nor your motivation as strong, as when you’re not in a distressing situation.
Bring A Sober Friend
Getting through Thanksgiving sober can be easier with another sober person by your side.
You can lean on each other for support, and feel more confident turning down a drink when you know someone else is there doing the same.
Make An Escape Plan
Consider making a plan for an early escape. That is, how to politely leave a Thanksgiving gathering early if you find yourself feeling too overwhelmed.
Plan For Questions
Try to come up with a list of responses beforehand to answer questions people might ask about your drinking, sobriety, or more generally about life.
This can help you avoid the stress of thinking up responses to difficult questions on the fly.
What Makes Thanksgiving Hard For People In Recovery?
Thanksgiving is a time when many families get together for the first time in months, or perhaps years, to celebrate. Often, this celebration includes alcohol.
Unfortunately, drinking is not a safe or enjoyable activity for everyone. For people in sobriety, drinking on Thanksgiving, or “Drinksgiving” the night before, is not an option.
Like with other major holidays, there are several personal and environmental factors that can make maintaining sobriety on Thanksgiving more difficult.
Factors that can challenge your sobriety on Thanksgiving might include:
Alcohol is commonly featured at family gatherings for Thanksgiving. If you’re sober, you’re likely not around alcohol on a normal basis if you can help it.
Having access to alcohol during Thanksgiving, or other substances of abuse, can by itself be a trigger for people in recovery. Without access, there’s no way to drink or use.
Holiday parties will sometimes involve being around lots of people, including family members you haven’t seen since becoming sober. This can be tough.
People might ask questions you’re not ready to answer, either about why you’re not drinking or in general about your sobriety journey.
If you have social anxiety, it might also be anxiety-inducing to meet new people or navigate existing relationships with people you don’t see very often.
Stress, in any of its forms, is a leading contributor to relapse among people in addiction recovery. During the holidays, it’s very common for this to be heightened.
For instance, common stressors during Thanksgiving include:
- family stress
- financial stress
- emotional stress
- stress around food
- travel-related stress
- party-planning stress
- child/parenting stress
Drugs and alcohol can, for many people with substance use disorder, become an unhealthy way to manage stress, or respond to it.
Part of addiction recovery, therefore, is finding healthier and more supportive strategies for managing stress and shutting down urges to drink or use.
Being New To Sobriety
Major holidays like Thanksgiving can be particularly difficult for people who are newly sober, or are attending Thanksgiving festivities for the first time in sobriety.
All new experiences can be stressful. As the old saying goes, practice makes perfect. Each new holiday, or experience in sobriety, is a chance to face challenges and learn from them.
With each new experience, you’ll learn more about what worked, what didn’t work, and what you can do moving forward to advance your progress in sobriety.
Memories Of Past Holidays
For some, Thanksgiving can be triggering at least in part because it may remind you of past holidays when you weren’t sober.
This might bring with it unpleasant memories. For instance, a memory of getting drunk, blacking out, or mistreating someone because of your substance use.
Struggling with this is normal. With time, and greater confidence in your recovery, managing the mix of emotions that can come from this will become easier.
Change Of Schedule
Thanksgiving can be jarring in part because of its disruption to one’s normal schedule or routine. For instance, if you’re traveling or off from work.
Even small things like this can become a source of stress for people who are in recovery, especially if you rely on your normal routine or structure.
Reduced Access To Support
Major holidays can sometimes limit access to a person’s treatment team and professional support system.
Rehab centers might be closed for outpatient clients. Support groups may be rescheduled, or cancelled. Counselors may not be answering calls from clients.
If you’re in the midst of a personal crisis, or having strong urges to drink or use, this can be understandably upsetting, and may be a challenge to manage without an action plan for how to manage triggers.
What Types Of Addictions Are Difficult During Thanksgiving?
Thanksgiving can be both a joyous and stressful time that might be triggering for people with a history of addiction to certain drugs or behaviors.
Common types of addiction include:
- alcohol addiction
- opioid addiction
- illicit drug addiction
- prescription drug addiction
- behavioral addictions
People who are in recovery from a gambling problem, or shopping addiction, for instance, may find themselves encountering stronger urges to act on certain behaviors.
People with additional mental health struggles may also be more likely to feel the effects of stress imposed by Thanksgiving holiday festivities.
Addiction And Co-Occurring Disorders During Thanksgiving
A large percentage of people with substance use disorder also have a mental health disorder.
Co-occurring disorders, also known as a dual diagnosis, can compound the stress of getting through the holidays while in recovery from addiction.
Common co-occurring disorders that can be difficult to manage during Thanksgiving:
Anxiety And Addiction Recovery
Anxiety disorders, such as social anxiety disorder and general anxiety disorder, can understandably make large social gatherings like Thanksgiving a challenge.
Each person can differ when it comes to their specific triggers.
But it can be helpful for those with an anxiety disorder, and their loved ones, to understand that Thanksgiving may be more stressful for someone who struggles with anxiety than someone without.
Eating Disorders And Addiction Recovery
Thanksgiving can be a very stressful time for people with eating disorders (EDs) such as anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder.
Common stressors for people with EDs on Thanksgiving:
- large amounts of food
- irregular eating schedules
- family pressures
- comments about body size/shape
- focus on food and drinking
- comments about “earning” or “working off” calories
- types of food offered
According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), about 50 percent of people with eating disorders develop substance use issues at some point in their lifetime.
If you or a loved one in sobriety has an eating disorder, keep in mind that Thanksgiving may be particularly challenging, both in regards to their eating disorder and substance use history.
Depression And Addiction Recovery
It’s common for people to experience more severe episodes of depression, or mania for people with bipolar disorder, during the holidays due to stress.
Symptoms of depression, such as irritability and a tendency to isolate, can be a trigger for people who are in sobriety and working to avoid drugs or alcohol.
Resources For Addiction Recovery During Thanksgiving
Millions of people in the United States live with a drug or alcohol use disorder. If you’re looking for resources for navigating Thanksgiving in recovery, we’ve got you covered.
Support groups and online communities:
- Alcoholics Anonymous (AA): Find an AA meeting
- Narcotics Anonymous (NA): Find an NA meeting
- Women for Sobriety: Find a Women for Sobriety meeting
- Reddit: Check out the r/stopdrinking and r/redditorsinrecovery communities
- Recovery Dharma: Connect with the Recovery Dharma community
- Sober Black Girls Club: Attend a virtual SBBC support group
Self-help resources and guides:
- Ark Behavioral Health: 10 Ways to Enjoy a Sober Thanksgiving
- SMART Recovery: Check out this SMART Recovery Toolbox
Crisis helplines for mental health or substance use:
- Crisis Text Line: text HOME to 741741
- National Alliance on Mental Illness Helpline: call 1-800-950-6264
- National Suicide Prevention: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for English, 1-888-628-9454 for Spanish
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): Call 1-800-662-HELP (4357) to reach their National Helpline
- Teen Line: call 1-800-852-8336 or text “TEEN” to 839863
- Veterans Crisis Line (National): call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text: 8388255
- Warmlines: Find someone to talk to in your state.
- SAMHSA: Find Treatment
- Psychology Today: Find a therapist, treatment center, or support group near you
- Addiction Resource: Call our helpline to learn more about available treatment options at a rehab center near you.
What To Do If You Relapse On Thanksgiving
Relapse is a real and serious concern during the holiday season. If you or a loved one do relapse, here are some suggestions for what to do next:
First of all, don’t panic. Relapse affects an estimated 40 to 60 percent of people who seek help for drug or alcohol abuse. This isn’t inevitable, but it is common. You’re not alone.
- take a minute to breathe
- check in with yourself emotionally
- create physical distance between you and the alcohol/drugs
- get angry
- lash out at others
- isolate yourself completely
- deny or lie about your slip
The next thing to do if you’ve slipped is to tell someone. While this can be hard, this is an important way you can hold yourself accountable for the slip.
Talk to someone you trust, who can offer support as well as help you determine next steps. For example, a close relative, friend, recovery sponsor, peer support specialist, or counselor.
Be Kind To Yourself
If you do slip up, be kind to yourself in the aftermath. Mistakes happen. You can grow from this and learn how to make better decisions the next time.
Attend A Support Group
Once you’re sober, consider looking for a support group either online or in your local community that you can attend. This can help, first of all, for grounding purposes.
It can also be helpful to hear from others with similar struggles, and their own experiences navigating the holidays.
Get Help For Relapse
If you suffer a series of slips during the holidays, it may be time to consider seeking additional support through an addiction treatment provider.
Additional support for a relapse may come in the form of an aftercare program, an intensive outpatient or day treatment program, or extra counseling sessions, as a few examples.
You don’t have to face a relapse alone. Getting help can allow you to explore why it occurred and how to prevent relapse in the future.
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- U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) — Treatment and Recovery