Ideally, the holidays should be a time to rest and reflect, to catch up with family, and eat homemade pie while watching football. However, for many people, the holidays are a time of financial stress and family arguments. This kind of stress and emotional turmoil can trigger cravings and be a generally challenging time for anyone recovering from addiction. Making matters worse, alcohol is a common feature of holiday parties, office parties, and family gatherings, presenting temptation and opportunity for relapse. 

And if the holidays are generally a happy time for you, that can be dangerous too. While most people are aware that stress and conflict can trigger cravings, fewer people realize that positive emotions are also a risk. At least one study has found that men are more likely to relapse following positive emotions. They may feel like being in a positive mood will enable them to use in moderation or that the special occasion means having a drink or using drugs is okay, “just this once.” If you’re new to recovery, here are some tips for staying sober during the holiday season.


Manage expectations

One reason many people find the holiday season so stressful is that they put too much pressure on themselves and take on too many commitments. It’s great to want to give people gifts, show up at their parties, or even host friends and family but trying to make everyone happy during the holidays can easily lead to feeling overwhelmed. Try to keep your holiday commitments modest. Spend time with people close to you and don’t worry about expensive gifts. If you typically host a holiday party, consider scaling it back or skipping it altogether. If it’s your first holiday sober, the important thing is taking care of your recovery.


Have a strategy for parties

You don’t have to attend every party you’re invited to. Pick one or two that are the most important. Try to pick ones where alcohol won’t be too prominent. If you feel like the temptation might be too great or that you might have to spend time with triggering people, consider skipping it. It might also be a good idea to set a limit on how long you spend at parties. Be consciously engaged and leave while you’re still having fun. 


Pay attention to self-care

While the holidays are technically confined to a few days at the end of December, the holiday season sprawls all the way across the month and into November. That’s more than a month of cookies and other holiday treats going around the office and being passed among friends and family. If you’re not careful, holiday indulgences can leave you feeling tired and gross. What’s more, the days are getting shorter, which can have a serious effect on anyone with a history of mood disorders. All this is in addition to the stress mentioned above. It’s especially important during this time to make sure you’re taking care of yourself. Try to limit holiday sweets and stick to healthy eating the best you can. Get a bit of exercise and try to spend some time outside, even if it’s chilly. Set aside time to relax and spend time with supportive people. The holiday season is far too long to neglect self-care and not expect consequences. 


Bring a friend to holiday celebrations

When you go to holiday celebrations, bring backup. This way you don’t end up at a party wondering what to do with your hands while you look around for someone you know. A friend can also provide moral support if you are feeling anxious about interacting with your family. Perhaps most importantly, a friend can hold you accountable if you do feel tempted to have a drink. If you can’t find someone to bring with you, at least have someone–a friend or a sponsor–that you can call if things get tough. Another idea is to get a personal recovery assistant. These are people who can go with you to parties posing as friends or colleagues and help keep you focused on sobriety. 


Have an excuse for why you’re not drinking

If you go to any holiday parties, someone is likely to offer you a drink. Have an excuse ready in advance. You might say, “No thank you, I’m driving,” or “I have an early day tomorrow.” However, you don’t owe anyone an explanation for why you’re not drinking. Remember that “no” is a complete sentence. 


Bring your own drinks

One good way to preempt a drink offer is to have a non-alcoholic drink in your hand already. It may also be a good idea to bring your own non-alcoholic drinks just to be sure there’s something for you. Spiced cider is always welcome, as is non-alcoholic eggnog. 


Have an escape plan

You don’t want to be stuck at a party where you’re feeling cravings or anxiety. If you can’t regulate your emotions in a particular situation, the best thing to do is usually to leave the situation. If you didn’t drive yourself, make sure you have a way to leave when you want to. At the very least, have a plan for getting a few minutes alone to compose yourself. 


Talk to someone

It’s often a good idea to prepare for holiday parties and family gatherings by talking to your therapist or sponsor about your anxieties. Family tensions have a way of getting to us. We often revert to our childhood coping mechanisms when facing family conflict. Talking to your therapist or sponsor can reduce some of your trepidation before a family gathering and help you decide on some more productive coping strategies for the situations you might face. Debriefing after the fact may also help keep you from ruminating on your family’s holiday dinner all the way through January.

If you have a loved one who is struggling with addiction, Hired Power and our team of dynamic, experienced recovery professionals are here to guide you every step of the way. We offer many services, including helping you choose the best treatment program and transitional services, including interventions, sober monitoring, and personal recovery assistants. Call us today for information on our recovery services: 800.910.9299.