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7 Tips for a Sober Holiday Party Season

The holidays are here, with all their fun, festivity, family time… and stress.

During this season cues are everywhere, reminding us that this is a time to be jolly; it’s a time to celebrate. Holiday parties at home, work, and with friends are common. While these events can certainly be fun, they can also be difficult and stressful. Expectations about having a “perfect” holiday experience, or unrealistic expectations about getting “good” behavior from a family member who has not had a history of such behavior, can easily burst the bubble of holiday cheer. Not only that, for those in recovery, holiday festivities can increase the risk for relapse.

Why the Holidays are Risky for Relapse

The holidays are traditionally associated with over-indulgence. The season officially opens with a big turkey dinner on Thanksgiving. Then, the frenzy of “Black Friday” gears us up for a month-long shopping spree. Traditions and nostalgia fan the flames of our expectations. It is easy to get caught up in the excitement and throw caution to the wind as we make our way from one celebration to another. Friends and co-workers may not be aware that you are in recovery, or they may think that it is okay for you to indulge “just a bit” in honor of the season. This is what happened to Katrina. Her family knew she was in recovery. But she had been doing so well that her sister said, “Come on, have a toast with us. One little sip won’t hurt.”

I was extremely tempted. It’s not fun to be seen as the ‘stick in the mud’ while everyone else is celebrating. And my family is big on celebrating…-Katrina

“I was extremely tempted,” said Katrina. “It’s not fun to be seen as the ‘stick in the mud’ while everyone else is celebrating. And my family is big on celebrating… possibly part of the reason I am in recovery right now. It was disappointing that my family was not supportive of my recovery efforts, but I guess they really just don’t understand how risky it is for people like me to indulge even ‘just a bit.’ Fortunately I had a moment of clarity. I made some lame excuse, rushed to the bathroom and called my sponsor, praying that he would answer. He did, and was able to calm me down and help me re-focus on what’s really important–my recovery. From now on, I am going to be prepared. Before I attend any celebration where alcohol may be served, I will make sure my sponsor’s number is set on speed-dial, and I’ll check to be sure he can take my call if needed.”

Katrina learned a valuable lesson. To make it through the holidays as a recovering person and stay true to your recovery goals, you need to have a plan. Spontaneity is fun, but it is too often associated with overindulgence and bad decisions. A big part of success in recovery comes from following a predetermined plan that includes accommodations to help you avoid relapse.

Start now to create your own holiday celebration strategies:

    • Consider what kinds of celebrations you may be attending where you’ll need to practice abstinence while others may be imbibing – a big family dinner, an office party, a New Year’s Eve celebration. Decide ahead of time how important it is for you to attend each of these celebrations. If you are early into your recovery, you may want to avoid the New Year’s celebration altogether; it is too closely associated with drinking and partying. You can attend the office party, but set guidelines for yourself. Bring your own non-alcoholic drink if needed, and steer clear of the rowdy crowd. You need only make an appearance. You can leave early before the party reaches its height of celebration and indulgence. Your common-sense approach may be noticed and may even enhance your status with your boss.


    • Enlist the support of others. If you think friends or family members may not be fully understanding of your need to be totally abstinent, enlighten them. Have a frank discussion ahead of time and make it known that you cannot stray from your plan “just this once” or “just a bit.” Have support readily available by bringing along a sober friend, or having an agreement with your sponsor to be available for a call.


    • Make and take your own “specialty beverage.” Create a tasty non-alcoholic punch or cocktail. Incorporate something fun, like holiday-themed ice cubes or sprigs of holly or mistletoe as garnish. Others will likely want to share your drink, so you won’t feel “different” or left out.


    • Be cautious with your drinks. Hold onto your own drink glass, and be careful that you don’t accidentally pick up another person’s drink, that may contain alcohol.


    • Be mindful of H.A.L.T. Don’t attend a celebration while hungry, angry, lonely or tired. Attend only if you are physically and emotionally strong.


    • Have an “escape” plan in mind and use it if needed. The holidays are filled with triggers–memories, expectations and opportunities to be disappointed. Always have your own transportation, so you won’t have to wait for a buddy to take you home if you decide it is better that you leave.


  • Put your sobriety first. No matter what others may think or believe, it is you who is affected by your decisions and actions. Don’t allow others to cajole you or embarrass you into doing anything that is against your better judgment or that may undermine your sobriety goals. Celebrants often like to have everyone celebrating with them. But your sobriety is more important than accommodating the requests of an inebriated friend.

Maintain Your Perspective

The holidays are around for a season. Your sobriety goals are forever… don’t forget to work your program…-Rita Milios

The holidays are around for a season. Your sobriety goals are forever. No matter how busy you get, don’t forget to work your program, whether that be a formal program such as AA or NA, or your own individualized sobriety plan. It is often a good idea to attend more, rather than fewer, meetings during this busy and hectic season. There is no better place to be when you need to re-group and realign your priorities than within a group of individuals who truly do understand and support your unique needs as a person in recovery.

With planning, common sense and a commitment to your long-term goals, you can have a happy, healthy and sober holiday season.

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