Staying Sober during the Holidays: Tips for Those Who Drink Too Much

Earlier this week I asked a panel of experts a simple question: “What advice would you give someone who is trying to stay sober throughout the holidays?” These individuals were themselves in recovery from alcohol and drug addiction, and part of a Holiday Relapse Prevention program that I help teach each year.

I was amazed at the speed and clarity of their responses. Nobody needed time to ponder. They had thought this through many times.

I also noticed that much of their wisdom applied not only to those with a serious addiction who need to maintain total abstinence, but also to those who would like to drink in moderation rather than excess.

I’ll take you around the circle and share with you what they shared with me:

1. Limit your access.

“The best way for me to stay sober is to limit my access. So I have to avoid parties, family, and friends where alcohol is present. I have to plan in advance every place I’ll go to be sure I don’t get too close to alcohol.”

2. Rewind the tape.

“Each year I rewind the tape and remember what it was like to be high over the holidays. I think about all the time with (sober) family and friends that I lost because I was out getting high with other friends who weren’t actually very good friends. I remember the loneliness and longing I felt for family, friends, and home. This gives me motivation to be careful and stay sober.”

3. Get the support you need.

“I need extra support during the holidays because I tend to get lonely and depressed. So I spend extra time at AA meetings and support groups.”

4. Stay busy.

“You know that saying, ‘Idle hands are the devil’s workshop?’ A big part of my problem is boredom. That’s a real trigger for me. So, I plan carefully during the holidays and the time leading up to the holidays. I fill my day with activities and plan to be around other people. This helps keep me out of trouble.”

5. Steer your ship to safe harbor.

“I’ve identified some places where I am safe from the temptation to use alcohol and drugs: AA meetings, churches, libraries, certain friends. When I sense trouble on the horizon, I drop everything and go to one of these safe havens.”

6. Alert your loved ones.

“I tell my family and friends my triggers and warning signs. Triggers are those things that tempt me to drink. Warning signs are indications that I’m in danger of relapsing. I ask them to be aware and give them permission to call me out if they think they see me slipping.”

7. Hang out with your chosen family.

“The way I see it, I have my biological family and my chosen family. My biological family? They are a bunch of drunks, so I stay away from them over the holidays. My chosen family? They are my true family. We love and support each other in maintaining our health and happiness. So they are the ones I hang out with, especially over the holidays.”

8. Attend sober holiday parties.

“If I go to a regular party, I will either relapse or spend all my energy just trying not to relapse. Either way, I won’t have fun. So instead I go to sober holiday parties hosted by AA. There I have lots of fun with my friends and don’t have to worry about being tempted to drink. This is so important to me because otherwise I get very lonely over the holidays, and that in itself is a trigger to relapse.”

9. Find an accountability partner.

“I figured out a long time ago that I couldn’t do this alone. So I now have an accountability partner who has permission to call me on my BS. She also lets me vent when I need to and provides a good shoulder to cry on. In return I serve as her accountability partner.”

10. Volunteer

“During the holidays I tend to get very wrapped up in myself: my memories, my feelings, my longings, etc. I go back through Facebook and all the emotions come pouring in. That’s not good for me when I’m trying to stay sober. I’ve found that the best thing for me is to lose myself by immersing myself in the service of others. So I spend a lot of time volunteering during the holidays. I try to help those less fortunate than me. Seeing them feeling happy and feeling loved takes me away from my problems and puts it all in perspective.”

If you enjoyed this post, please share. You might help make someone’s holiday safer, healthier, happier. And check out my “holiday stress” series. Let me know what topics you’d like me to address, or send me your own stories and tips, and I’ll post them.
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