How To Stay Sober During The Holidays

This post may not resonate with many of you, but I know it applies to at least some.

I haven’t had a drink in 7.5 years. It’s certainly not because I don’t want to, but because I’m someone who doesn’t know when to stop once I start. Holidays were always an excellent time to cover up a serious drinking problem because it was a socially acceptable thing to do. I felt relieved that people may not point out that I had had too much or focus on what I was doing because they would likely be drinking as well.

Alcohol is the great social lubricant of our society. That’s why it can be hard if you decide to stop drinking. I was terrified that no one would understand and there was no way I could go to parties, weddings, or any kind of get-together. Over time, what I discovered was that I was the only one making a big deal out of my decision to take control of my health. Those who pass judgement on your decisions typically have their own issues or insecurities and are often not the type of people you need in your life in the first place.

With two major holidays coming up here in the U.S. in the next two months, it’s important to start thinking about what that entails. Certainly not everyone who comes here has issues with alcohol, but if you’re someone who does, these tips are for you.

Important tips on how you can stay sober during the holidays. You don't have to put your life on hold simply because you no longer drink. See how!

Choose events wisely

Just because you’ve been invited to an event doesn’t mean that you have to go. Some of the most stressful times during the holidays can actually be when surrounded by family, so if you think that those situations can be detrimental to your sobriety, make the decision not to go. Remember that decisions like this are part of self-care and you need to do what will result in the best outcome for YOU.

Identify your triggers

Think about a social setting where there may be alcohol. Now think about situations that could come up that could potentially trigger you to want to drink. This could be being around a certain type of alcohol, interacting with someone you don’t particularly get along with, the anxiety of being in a social situation, or any number of possibilities.

Triggers are different for everyone, so make sure to identify yours in order to avoid them.

Make a plan

Once you’ve told someone and know what could potentially trigger you to drink, figure out a plan for how to avoid those things. Know what you’re going to do if someone offers you a drink. Know what you’re going to do if someone asks you to hold their drink. What if you start to be triggered?

Social settings can be unpredictable, so it’s important to have all your bases covered before going into those situations.

Tell someone

Avoiding alcohol can seem daunting if it’s something you usually drink and especially if others know you do. Letting someone know allows you to have a support system in case you find yourself in a tough situation.

If they’re able to be with you at the gathering, you can either spend time with them or approach them if you start having a tough time. If you’ll be solo at an event, have someone you can call if you start to feel uncomfortable.

Carry your own glass

Having your own glass near you allows you to control what is inside it and also stops many people from trying to give you a drink.

Say “No Thanks”

When I first stopped drinking, I was mortified at the thought of being around alcohol in a social setting. “People won’t understand!” “I can’t say no!” “They’ll shun me!”

My mind went to these thoughts because they were all I knew. I surrounded myself with people who liked to drink and there was never anyone in those scenarios who refused alcohol. What I found as time went on was that no one really cares if you say no. There may be a couple people who ask follow up questions about why, but all you have to do is say “I’m not drinking tonight.” There may be another reason you’re more comfortable with, such as “I’m driving” if you are, and you certainly don’t have to go into details you’re not comfortable digressing.

Over time, I’ve even become comfortable telling people that I’m not drinking because I’m in recovery. If it’s someone you’ve just met, this may not be entirely appropriate, but asses the situation and do what feels right to you.  I built the entire scenario up in my head to be a terrifying, shame-inducing event, but more often than not no one really cares at all.

Excuse yourself if necessary

Sometimes, as hard as you might try, it may become too uncomfortable at some point. Once in recovery, I attended a party where a majority of people were drinking wine. Right before getting sober, I drank predominantly wine and whiskey (not together — yikes), and pretty soon the smell really started to affect me. I left the party early because my sobriety was far more important than being surrounded by so many triggers.

Remember, listen to your body and your mind and don’t force yourself to be a martyr in those types of situations.

Making a dramatic lifestyle change can be scary, but just as with any change, knowing how to handle it is the most important part.

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8 Comments

  1. November 13, 2017 / 5:06 am

    I’m with you on staying sober during the holidays. It’s no problem for me because I never liked the taste of alcohol, so I personally abstain from it, and I don’t care if it looks weird. My friends are used to me ordering hot teas at bars, haha!

    I personally find that I can have fun with a clear head too. Plus, I never get hangovers! 🙂

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  2. Steph
    November 13, 2017 / 6:05 am

    When I was pregnant with my older son, I attended two events that offered beautiful sparkling non-alcoholic beverages. Especially since one party was a “toast” to a retiree, I appreciated not having to do so with a bottle of water. Since then, I’ve made it a point to take a nice bottle of cider or something festive to each party I attend (ikea and Trader Joe’s have good options) and have some on hand for drop in visitors. This also came in handy when I was surprisingly pregnant last Fall and wasn’t telling folks just yet. I posted pics of us toasting our anniversary and nobody was the wiser.

    Hope you have a great holiday season…and that maybe this tip will help those of us who support people with your amazing willpower and grace.

  3. November 13, 2017 / 8:51 am

    This is such a good post Erin. I’m thankful you are willing to share these things. I personally don’t really like alcohol, but there are so many different triggers for others. For me it has to be do with being addicted to restriction or fear over food, and that accountability of telling someone my struggles, assessing the situation, identifying situations that trigger me, and making a plan, a prayer plan has really helped me. I know we all have struggles over the holidays, and I’m glad you addressed these, because it makes me face my own too.
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  4. November 13, 2017 / 10:53 am

    You know I’m not a big drinker, but I do often feel at gatherings that social pressure to partake. Thankfully, I’ve grown comfortable enough with myself to politely decline without feeling the need to justify my decision. It also helps that my boyfriend doesn’t drink. I give him one and the party’s over. LOL
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  5. November 14, 2017 / 2:02 pm

    I feel like saying no to alcohol is that person’s business and the answer shouldn’t have to be justified. It’s similar to saying no to daily desserts at work during the holidays and not having someone comment on it with, “Oh, you’re SO HEALTHY,” or “Just have one! Live a little!” Decisions and choices can go deeper than how others perceive them. Again, thank you for your transparency! As someone who went a little too hard my last year in college, I know my limits now and can have just 1 or 2, but with other things (like desserts) it can be harder for me to abstain!
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  6. November 19, 2017 / 8:13 pm

    I think these tips can be useful even for people who do drink but need to take a break or simply don’t want to overdo it and feel like crap the next day.
    It’s difficult for me to stop when others are drinking heavily, so I respect others who choose not to drink and think it’s none of our business why they abstain (unless they want to share).
    When I was pregnant and attended a college friend’s wedding, I stuck to club soda with a splash of cranberry just to sort of fit in.
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  7. November 22, 2017 / 6:22 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing this, Erin. I know you’re a pretty open book when it comes to your sobriety and your journey to get there, but it amazes me every time how forthcoming you are. You make a great point about people not really caring whether you drink or not… and if they do care THAT much, they very likely don’t have your best interests in mind. Love the idea of carrying your own glass, and also bringing your own non-alcoholic beverage to enjoy.

    Happy Thanksgiving to you! Thanks for these great tips. I’ll definitely be sharing this post. 🙂

  8. December 9, 2017 / 11:34 am

    Another excellent post, Erin. Christmas parties are here… I have one to attend tomorrow.The holidays are arduous for many in recovery, especially in the first few years. One can feel left out; like we’re missing the fun but for me being sober around others who are drinking (especially as the night rolls on and some get plastered) isn’t fun and reminds me that I’m glad I’m not “like that anymore.” Having a plan, an exit strategy, a safe beverage in hand, a sober friend who I can bug out with, Uber or my own vehicle helps keep me sober, one holiday at a time. 💜
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