The holidays are right around the corner. To this, many will shout, “Cheers! It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” Others will, say, “Bah Humbug!” It really doesn’t matter which category you fall into. The reality is, the months of November and December can be a challenging time for people in recovery from a drug or alcohol addiction.
To help you along your recovery journey, we have put together a list of 25 tips to help you stay sober for the holidays. Here goes:
#1 Make The Commitment to Stay Sober During the Holidays – No Matter What
It’s totally understandable if you feel anxious about the holidays and have some jitters about your ability to stay sober in the weeks to come. However; if you will make the decision NOW – that come hell or high water – you are going to stay sober NO MATTER WHAT….. it will make all the difference.
There is a peace that comes with this kind of commitment. Once we get into recovery, we have the power of choice. During our addiction, we were robbed of this power. In fact, we were downright powerless to make any positive choices for ourselves. Addiction was running the show and it dictated every decision we made. This is no longer the case.
Today, you can make a decision of your own free will. You have a choice. You can make a pledge to yourself and actually keep it. The days of being consumed with the obsession and compulsion that drive addiction are over for you.
Thus far, you have stayed sober one day at a time. That is how recovery works! We do this deal one day at a time – sometimes one hour or one minute at a time. The holidays are no different. Sure, there are more parties and events to attend, but so what? Nothing has changed. You continue to work your recovery program one day at a time. Just for today, you don’t drink or use drugs.
Make a decision right now. When you ring in the new year, you will do it with your sobriety date intact. You will greet the upcoming year with clear eyes, a sober mind, and a body that is free from intoxicants. Simple, right?
#2 Make Recovery Your Top Priority
Your recovery should always be your top priority. If you don’t stay clean from drugs or alcohol, you know what will happen. Your life will completely fall apart again and things will quickly go downhill. You don’t want this to happen! In order to stay clean over the holidays, you have to keep sobriety as your top priority just like you always do.
Making recovery your priority means that you engage in activities the promote ongoing sobriety. This includes going to 12-Step meetings regularly, staying in touch with your sponsor, fellowshipping with other people who are working a program, and doing stepwork. This doesn’t change just because Santa shows up or there is a turkey on the Thanksgiving Day table!
Putting your recovery first during the holidays means that you have the RIGHT to make decisions that are healthy for you – no matter what others may think. You have to take care of you first. You gotta do what you gotta do to stay sober.
#3 Know Your Triggers to Prevent a Relapse
When you put it in simple terms, the only way to stay sober is to avoid a relapse. If you make the commitment to stay sober no matter what (#1) and always make recovery your top priority (#2), you should have no problem staying sober during the holidays. However; it is important to remember that a trigger can become a powerful motivator that will quickly change your mind.
It only takes one impulsive and completely spontaneous decision triggered by a memory, person, place, or emotional reaction to break your sobriety and throw everything out the window. If you’re not careful, you could end up jonesing for a drink, a pill, a shot of heroin, or a big fat joint. Then, you will have to fight the urge to give into the temptation. We all know this is a battle that is best won by avoiding it altogether.
To keep your sobriety in check during the holidays, KNOW YOUR TRIGGERS and do your very best to avoid them – lest you lose your clean date and have to start all over again.
#4 Just Because You Are Invited Doesn’t Mean You Have To Go
One of the best ways to stay sober during the holidays is to just say no to party invites that could put your sobriety in jeopardy. If you still talk to friends you used to get drunk or high with and they invite to a holiday gathering – just politely say no.
The truth is, you have no business keeping company with people who get loaded. You know this! Just because you hear sleigh bells ring doesn’t change the fact that you need to stay away from people who think it’s fun to get smashed.
Also, it is perfectly okay to say no to family gatherings that have the potential to trigger your desire to drink alcohol or get high on your drug of choice. (Even if your drug of choice is marijuana and you think it’s “no big deal.”)
Let’s keep it real – we love our families. But sometimes they can drive us absolutely bonkers! (And for some of us, addiction runs in the family). Dysfunctional family dynamics led many of us to become addicted in the first place. There is no reason to subject yourself to an unhealthy environment just because you were invited to your third cousin’s annual Christmas feast. It is perfectly okay to pass.
If you feel a sense of guilt or obligation to attend a holiday event even though you know it’s not a great idea, see # 2.
#5 Keep Calm and Carry On
There is no doubt the holidays are a stressful time for everyone – except kids, of course! They get to enjoy awesome food prepared by grown-ups and open beautifully wrapped presents that Santa brings. (And, oh, the toys!) But, mom and dad know all too well all the effort, energy, and expense that goes into creating a magical holiday for the kiddos.
Even if you don’t have kids, there are plenty of obligations that can weigh you down during the holidays – buying gifts for loved ones, bringing casseroles to parties, organizing the annual gathering at work – to name a few. Unless you refuse to participate in the holiday madness (and it is perfectly okay if you decide to opt out!), there is going to be some stress involved in pulling off a memorable holiday season.
When we are stressed, the brain releases the cortisol hormone. Research has shown that the release of this chemical can trigger people in recovery to want to drink or use their drug of choice. For many years, we sought chemicals as a way to relieve stress. The holidays can kick cortisol production into overdrive, which can cause cravings for drugs or alcohol.
Keeping your stress levels to an absolute minimum is critical to staying sober over the holidays. This is easier said than done, of course!
#6 Buy Online to Avoid Stressful Shopping Environments
One of the best ways to reduce stress during the holidays is to buy online. We all know that shopping malls and department stores can become a madhouse during the months of November and December. If you want to keep your cortisol in check, stay far, far away!
You can do ALL of your holiday shopping online. In fact, you might be interested to learn that Cyber Monday (as opposed to Black Friday) now drives more sales than any other day of the year. It’s safe to say this means that most people have gotten wise!
There is no need to fight the crowds when you can buy gifts online from the comfort of your own home. (Amazon is your friend!) You can even have groceries delivered to your house in the modern world. You might have to pay a few extra dollars in shipping or delivery costs, but this is a small price to pay when it comes to your sanity.
#7 Stay Home This Year And Nix The Travel Plans
Another way to avoid stress so that you can stay sober during the holidays is to celebrate at home. Sure, you may have friends or family that you want to visit for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year’s. But, maybe you should pass this year – especially if you are new to recovery.
Traveling during the holidays is extremely stressful. Whether you are traveling by car, train, bus, or plane – you are setting yourself up to be annoyed by strangers, frustrated by delays, and packed in like sardines into overcrowded spaces. Do you really want to subject yourself to these kinds of headaches when you don’t have to?
#8 Send Out-of-Town Guests Elsewhere
So, your Auntie Fran, Uncle Bob and their three little ones are coming to visit for the holidays and your mom (God bless her!) has offered your place up as a crash pad. Nope! Tell your loved ones (whoever they may be) that your house is not available for guests during the holidays.
Your home is your sacred space. It is a sanctuary that shelters you from the big, bad world and all the scary people in it (who show up in your life as well-disguised triggers). You need to designate your living space as a stress-free zone. As much as you may love your relatives, piling them in for the holidays is sure to bring upset to your humble abode – which can jeopardize your sobriety.
If you can’t make arrangements for your out-of-town guests to stay at another family member’s house, they can always opt for a hotel stay. You can find amazing deals at Priceline or other discount sites so lodging doesn’t have to break the bank.
#9 Keep in Close Contact With Your Sponsor
You are in recovery. This means you should have a sponsor who you talk to on a regular basis. If you don’t already have one, get a good sponsor as soon as you can. Call your sponsor as often as you need to keep your stress to a minimum.
#10 Do Some Stepwork To Keep Your Focus on Recovery
The 12 Steps represent an ongoing spiritual process. This doesn’t stop because Santa Claus is comin’ to town! Take just 15 minutes of your day to read recovery literature (like the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous or the Basic Text of Narcotics Anonymous). Read a morning meditation out of your favorite daily meditation book. Answer a few questions on whatever step you happen to be on. Do something that enhances your sobriety every day during the holiday season!.
Of course, this should be a regular practice for you. As someone who has struggled with a drug or alcohol addiction, you should do something every day that keeps recovery in the forefront of your mind. However, this is especially true during the holiday season when you are being pulled in every direction. Doing stepwork will help keep you grounded.
If you just flat out can’t muster the mental strength required to do stepwork in the weeks to come, you can always do some leisure reading on recovery topics. Russell Brand’s latest book, Recovery, Freedom from Our Addictions is an excellent choice.
#11 Assign Yourself as the Designated Driver
If you have a spouse or other family members who like to drink during the holidays, be sure to be their designated driver. This not only makes the roads safer, it keeps you and your family safer as well.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, approximately 300 people lose their lives every year during the week between Christmas and New Year’s due to drunk driving. If you are going to be the only sober person in your crowd, be sure to be the one to drive the fam home once the festivities are over.
Also, being a designated driver will help keep you sober during the holidays. This makes you accountable and responsible, which will make it much easier for you to stay committed to your recovery. If you know you are responsible for getting everyone home safe, it will be easier to stay in a sober mindset.
#12 Beware of The Holiday Booze Ads
During the months of November and December, “normal” people do a lot of celebrating with alcohol. And, it not uncommon for people to give a nice bottle of wine or whiskey to a friend, family member, or business associate as a holiday gift. The beer and liquor companies take full advantage of the “festivities” and shove their advertisements down our throats.
Statistics indicate that in 2016 alone, approximately $1.59 billion advertising dollars were spent on alcohol ads. A large chunk of these were targeted to consumers during the holiday season. Beware that many commercials and advertisements are going to try to sell you on the idea that getting loaded is a great idea. Don’t buy into this B.S.
#13 If You Don’t Know What it Is, Don’t Drink It!
This might seem obvious or overly simplistic, but you have to pay close attention to your surroundings at all times if you want to stay sober for the holidays. It is not uncommon for people to unintentionally drink alcohol at this time of year. Why? Simply because they didn’t know their punch was spiked or that the eggnog had brandy in it. It may seem extreme, but one taste of alcohol can set off the phenomenon of craving, which can lead to a full-blown relapse.
Before you partake of any beverage, be sure you know with certainty that it is non-alcoholic. If you aren’t sure, take a pass. (When in doubt, don’t!)
#14 Make Your Own Non-Alcoholic Signature Drink
Speaking of drinks, one way to make sure you stay sober during the holidays is to bring your own beverage when you go to gatherings. This way, you can be sure you know what you are drinking to avoid any potential mishaps.
Also, if you make your own signature drink and carry it around with you, people are less likely to ask you if “need a drink.” Well-meaning hosts may not know you are in recovery or they may forget. They want you to eat, drink, and be merry – so if they don’t see you with a drink in hand, they will be inclined to offer you one. This puts you in a situation to be tempted.
Having a delicious beverage at the ready will ward off perceived opportunities for others to encourage you to have alcohol.
Here is a list of 10 non-alcoholic holiday beverages for you to enjoy.
You can always find more on Pinterest.
#15 Get Some Exercise And Get Your Heart Pumping
Baby, it’s cold outside! Who wants to exercise? Okay, maybe you are one of the blessed few who is hardcore about your workout regime. You get out there and walk or run come rain, sleet, or shine. But, most of us prefer to stay indoors during the winter months.
Going for a jog or brisk walk may not sound idea. But, getting some exercise will help you stay sober during the holidays. Exercise gets those endorphins pumping, which reduces stress and causes a sense of total body relaxation. This can help you maintain your sanity during the insanity of the holiday season (and help you stay clean).
If you don’t want to brave the weather to get your exercise in, you have several different options. First, you can get a temporary membership at a gym (which could lead to a lasting lifestyle change!) and go a couple of days a week. OR, you can go to the mall and walk or jog laps early in the morning. Most people don’t know it, but most malls actually open their doors around 6 a.m. even though the stores don’t open until 9 or 10 a.m. OR, you could do one of the many free workouts available on YouTube in the comfort of your own home.
Whatever you choose to do, get your body moving!
#16 Attend a 12-Step Meeting
You might like to know that many area Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous fellowships around the country offer round-the-clock meetings on major holidays including Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve. This is to provide a safe space for those who feel lonely, get triggered to drink or get high, or have nowhere else to go during the holiday season.
Meetings can also be a great escape from stressful family environments.
Be sure and find out the holiday meeting schedule for your favorite 12-Step group before the holidays are upon you. That way, you know where to go if you get in trouble. If you feel the urge to get high or drunk, you can get to a meeting instead.
You may also want to consider volunteering to chair a meeting during these 24-hour time blocks. There is almost always a shortage of people who are available to chair meetings during the holidays. This is a great way to give back. And, you never know – your presence at a meeting could mean life or death for someone needs support to stay sober.
#17 Pray and Meditate
Maybe you haven’t gotten to the Eleventh Step yet, which says “We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, praying only for knowledge of His Will for us and the power to carry that out.”
If you haven’t, that’s okay! You don’t have to have experience with this step to begin the practice of prayer and meditation. But, if you have worked the Eleventh Step, it should be all that much easier to engage in this practice to stay sober during the holidays.
Prayer and meditation can be a saving grace during in difficult times. (Remember, prayer is you talking to the God of your understanding. Meditation is God talking to you!) These two simple spiritual practices can bring you a sense of calm and serenity during the hectic pace that comes with the months of November and December.
Not sure how to meditate? It’s simple really! But, rather than take the time to invest in learning the art of meditation, you may benefit from one of the many free guided meditations available on YouTube.
#18 Donate Your Time to a Worthy Cause
The holiday season is a time of giving. What better way to show gratitude for your recovery than by donating your time to a notable cause that helps those in need?
It’s one thing to make a financial donation to the Salvation Army or some other charitable organization. But, you will have an entirely different experience if you roll up your sleeves and get personally involved. Not only will this give your spirit a boost, it is a great way to spend your time and stay productive.
When you are committed to the betterment of others, you have less time to think about yourself. This frees you from the Triangle of Self-Obsession and gets you out of your own head. When you are in service to others, you are much more likely to stay committed to your recovery program.
#19 Skip That Holiday Work Party
Holiday work parties are notorious for debauchery and drunken shenanigans. There is a wild spirit that seems to take over at the end of the year when productivity slows down and people have their minds on family plans. It’s not uncommon for even the most straight-laced professional to let their proverbial hair down and get crazy stupid drunk at the annual Christmas shindig.
If you know that alcohol is going to be served at the holiday work bash, you can always choose not to go. If your boss insists that it is mandatory, you have the option of telling him or her that you are in recovery (if you feel comfortable with this) and that you have to make your sobriety a priority. OR, if you feel absolutely obligated to go, you can always make a quick appearance to be cordial and bring a sober buddy with you (see #20). Then, when the coast is clear, beeline for the door and slip out before anyone is the wiser.
#20 Ask Someone to Be Your Sober Holiday Buddy
Ask a friend in recovery to be your sober buddy for the holidays. Ask him or her to attend events with you where you fear you might be triggered to drink alcohol or take drugs (like that holiday work party that you would rather avoid….uugghh!!) Having a friend with you helps affirm your commitment to stay clean no matter what. You can lean on them for strength and support.
The great thing about staying sober for the holidays is that you don’t have to do it alone. You can ask your sponsor and other recovery friends to keep your accountable. You can tell them that you have identified your triggers and asked them to stay on standby until the holidays are over. Tell them you might need to reach out to them by phone (maybe multiple times in a day!) to help you navigate challenging situations that put your recovery at risk.
#21 Keep Candy on You at All Times
This is a simple trick that can help you stay sober for the holidays. Research has shown that sugar can help reduce or eliminate cravings for alcohol and other drugs. Studies also suggest that a drop in blood sugar can actually cause cravings.
Since there is no short supply of candy during the holiday season; keeping a candy cane, mint, or piece of chocolate in your pocket shouldn’t be a problem. If you feel a craving come on, just pop that sugary treat in your mouth. Within ten to fifteen minutes, the sugar should give you relief from the craving.
#22 Remember, Cravings Pass!
Speaking of cravings, it is definitely worth mentioning that alcohol and drug cravings pass – and they actually pass rather quickly (usually in about 30 minutes). Of course, when you are smack dab in the middle of the queen mother of all cravings, it can feel like a lifetime! But, you must remember that even the most intense desire to get high or drunk WILL PASS!
Also, remember this: you WILL regret it if you relapse. Getting high or drunk might seem like a super awesome idea in the moment, but that is just the disease of addiction trying to hijack your brain. It will fill your head with all kinds of ridiculous nonsense in its relentless pursuit to get what it wants – instant gratification.
Nothing good ever comes from a relapse. But you know what is GUARANTEED? If you break your sobriety, you will be filled with shame, remorse, and a boatload of regret.
The moment you feel a craving coming on, send up a prayer, call your sponsor or sober buddy, and stay connected until the craving passes (and IT WILL!) You will be so proud of yourself that you stayed committed to your sobriety and that you didn’t give into temptation.
#23 Indulge in Some Yum-Yums
There is plenty of delicious food available during the holiday season. Enjoy! Drink hot cocoa with marshmallows! Eat homemade Christmas cookies! Have chips and yummy dips! Give yourself permission to gorge yourself to your heart’s delight.
The number one thing you need to focus on right now is staying sober for the holidays. If this means you need to indulge yourself with food and non-alcoholic beverages, that is okay! You may put on a couple of pounds, but you can always take those off after the holiday season has passed.
Here are some fun holiday recipes that can keep you busy in the kitchen to help you stay sober.
#24 Make Some Fun Homemade Crafts
Another way to stay sober during the holidays is to engage your inner child and make some fun crafts to give as gifts or use for decoration. Find some activities to do with your family or friends in recovery. This kind of good old-fashioned clean fun will keep you entertained and keep your mind occupied. This will help keep cravings to a minimum.
Need some cool ideas? Check out these holiday craft projects on Pinterest.
#25 Ring in the New Year With Friends in Recovery
New Year’s Eve is probably THE most dangerous holiday for those of us who are in recovery. You might get past Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, or Kwanza with no problem. But, when New Year’s Eve rolls around – watch out!
In the past, you probably spent New Year’s Eve completely smashed. The holiday was a great excuse to indulge in drugs or alcohol to the absolute extreme. If this is your first time to ring in the new year sober, you might be wondering what in the world people in recovery do for fun.
Many times, AA or NA will have a party on New Year’s Eve. It might be a dance with a balloon drop and DJ where food is served. Or, maybe your sponsor or one of your recovery friends will have a bunch of people over and pop fireworks. Ask around at your favorite meeting and find out what’s happening so you can be a part of the festivities.
You CAN Stay Sober for the Holidays AND Enjoy Yourself
Remember, recovery happens one day at a time. You CAN get through the holidays without a relapse. More than that, you CAN have a great time without drugs or alcohol!
Just remember to make the decision that you are going to stay clean NO MATTER WHAT. Make recovery your top priority. Know your triggers. Approach the holiday season with caution and vigilance. Beware of any traps on the road ahead. Lean on your recovery support circle. Engage in fun activities that will help you get in the spirit of the season. You got this!
Need more tips to staying sober for the holidays? Check out our survival guide for handling recovery during the most wonderful time of the year. (Or, Bah Humbug, if that’s your thing! Whatever…. Just stay sober!)