Staying Sober During The Holidays: 12 Tips

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The holiday season is upon us again and it is a joyful time for many of us. We take a break from work, spend quality time with family and friends, and participate in routines and rituals that hold deep meaning for us.

However, there’s a well-known downside to the holidays for people in recovery or anyone who doesn’t want to drink: Alcohol is often everywhere, making sober holidays a real challenge.

Pressure to drink (real or perceived) can make some gatherings feel uncomfortable and downright stressful. moments when friends ask why you’re not indulging in the spiked eggnog, or insist that you participate in a champagne-fueled toast on New Year’s Eve.

Let’s not forget the usual holiday stress from shopping, decorating, baking, expenses, family dynamics, etc. It can be tempting to have “just one drink” to take the edge off.

But, if you’ve decided to stop drinking, that’s probably the last thing you want to do! So, if you’re wondering how to stay sober during the holidays, here are some tips to guide the way. A sober holiday is in reach!

12 Tips for a Sober Holiday

1. Make Self Care a Priority

cookies, staying sober during the holidays
Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

When it comes to tips to stay sober self-care is at the top of the list. The best way to get through a sober holiday season, or any other holiday, is to take time to look after your own needs.

The pressures and high expectations we place on the holiday season sometimes cause us to feel overwhelmed with stress and anxiety rather than merriment.

No matter how hectic things get, be sure to carve out time for self-care between social engagements. Taking time to meditate, get some exercise, practice a favorite hobby, or even just catch your breath can go a long way.

Caring for yourself will give you the reserves to manage both holiday stress and drinking urges and help you to feel your best throughout the season.

Read more: 7 Tips For Managing Holiday Stress 

2. Set Realistic Expectations

Sometimes we get caught up in how we have always celebrated the holidays. Or with what others are expecting. But those expectations can cause a lot of stress. And the truth is they are self-imposed.

There is no rule requiring us to mail out stacks of cards or bake dozens of cookies. Of course, if you find those things relaxing, by all means, do them. Otherwise, take yourself off the hook, and don’t look back!

The bottom line is that a sober holiday is much more achievable when the added stress is brought down to a minimum.

3. Bring a Nonalcoholic Beverage to Share

Pressure to drink can drain the joy out of holiday festivities. Wandering around with an empty cup at a party can lead to uncomfortable conversations about your drinking habits—sometimes with people unsympathetic to your choices. And who needs that?

While you don’t owe anyone an explanation for your healthy choices, filling your glass with a nonalcoholic beverage is one way to avoid drink offers. It also gives you a way to occupy your hands, helping you side-step your alcohol cravings.

From pre-made mocktails to an expanding range of alcohol-free beer, wine, and spirits, there are more tasty booze-free options than ever before! Odds are, the host and other guests will appreciate the extra refreshments. In fact, there may be others in your shoes who will feel a sense of gratitude!

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4. Rehearse Your Responses

If you are committed to sober holidays one of the best ways to minimize stress in the moment is to practice your response ahead of time.

If you’ve been sober a long time, you may already have a go-to answer when confronted about why you don’t drink alcohol. Still, it never hurts to jot down a few more polite responses in your playbook.

Some standard excuses are that you have to get up early the next day, you can’t mix alcohol with your medication, or you have to pick your child up on the way home.

8 Easy & Delicious Nonalcoholic Drink Recipes

Trying to avoid alcohol? Looking for new things to serve or drink over the holidays? Download these 8 easy-to-make nonalcoholic drink recipes.

Mocktail Download

5. Diffuse Tension With Humor

family decorating tree, staying sober during the holidays
Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

Let’s face it, sometimes it is easier to crack a joke when we are feeling pressured or intimidated. Why not turn these uncomfortable interactions into an opportunity for humor?

For inspiration, check out some of Claudia Christian’s most interesting excuses not to drink. You may as well have some fun with it!

6. Stick to Your Routine

This goes hand in hand with self-care. It is easy to let the holiday demands and activities disrupt our daily patterns and routines.  This can take a toll on our physical and emotional well-being.

As we know all too well ’tis the season to overindulge with heavy meals and lots of sweets.  Of course, it’s okay to partake a bit (we are only human), but try to set a limit and make every effort to eat nutritious meals and snacks each day.  Strive for a full night’s sleep most nights of the week. And keep up with your exercise routine whether that means taking a daily walk or going to the gym.

7. Avoid Triggering Situations

Drinking triggers are unique to each individual and it can be hard to resist the urge to partake when they crop up. One thing that helps is thinking about the challenges of past holiday events so you can avoid the same pitfalls.

For example, do you find the holiday gala that your company hosts each year too overwhelming? Or are there certain relatives that you find difficult to be around, or say no to?

Remember, you have every right to decline these invitations or just stay for a short while. People may feel a bit disappointed but your true friends will respect and even applaud your sobriety efforts.

8. Find Ways to Reduce Stress

Mindfulness is one particularly helpful strategy to combat stress. This technique involves staying in the moment and quieting your mind. It’s about tuning into the sights and sounds around you allowing anxious thoughts to drift away.

Mindfulness has become a widely used coping mechanism and is a great recovery skill in general.

Try downloading one of these five mindfulness apps, or simply try meditating for at least five minutes per day. When stress comes knocking you may find it much easier to separate yourself from your thoughts, and not react.

Other tried and true stress busters are taking a walk in nature, journaling, or sharing your feelings with a loved one.

9. Plan Some Sober Holiday Activities

If you want to make sure you see loved ones this holiday season, but don’t want to deal with drinking pressure, why not create an alcohol-free event?

Whether it’s frying up latkes for Hanukkah, or crafting Christmas ornaments around the fireplace, there are many holiday traditions that don’t require a buzz. Consider playing board games, watching holiday movies, or taking a stroll to gaze at the beautiful lights.

And when you take initiative over the planning, it’s easier to ensure the evening is both fun and alcohol-free. If you know other people in recovery, they may be particularly grateful that you organized something.

Looking for some more fun things to do sober? Try some of these festive holiday activities that don’t involve alcohol.

10. Find Ways to Help Others

Few things bring us more joy than helping others who may be less fortunate. The added bonus is that it keeps us busy and takes our minds off our own problems and stressors.

Consider volunteering at a homeless shelter or participating in a toy or clothing drive. You might also want to bring some goodies to an elderly neighbor and visit for a while. Helping is beneficial to both parties!

11. Manage Finances

The demands of the season can put a strain on your wallet. From groceries for entertaining to gifts for family and friends. It’s just not in the budget for many of us.

With a few creative strategies, we can still participate in holiday fun without going broke. For example, if you want to entertain, consider a potluck meal. You can ask others to bring everything from appetizers to non-alcoholic drinks to paper goods.

For a gift exchange, it can be fun to have a white elephant grab bag where everyone brings a gift for under ten dollars.

12. Stay Connected To Your Recovery Community

While some people experience an uptick in social engagements around the holidays, others may feel especially isolated. You may find yourself missing loved ones you have lost or who live far away. 

Keeping in touch with your support system throughout the holidays doesn’t just make for a merrier season. It can also reduce stress, depression, or loneliness. We all need human connection, support, and validation. And it’s important to have someone to text or call if you find yourself struggling with alcohol cravings at a holiday event or in general.

Support For Staying Sober During The Holidays

The holidays can be a stressful time for anyone. Whatever your relationship with alcohol, or your goals, if you feel you’d like some support to drink less this holiday season Ria Health can help. Our telehealth program gives you access to expert medical support, online coaching meetings, anti-craving medications, virtual support groups, and more—all from an app on your smartphone.

Get in touch with our team today, or learn more about how it works.

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Written By:
Ria Health Team
Ria Health’s editorial team is a group of experienced copywriters, researchers, and healthcare professionals dedicated to removing stigma and improving public knowledge around alcohol use disorder. Articles written by the “Ria Team” are collaborative works completed by several members of our writing team, fact-checked and edited to a high standard of empathy and accuracy.
Reviewed By:
Evan O'Donnell
Evan O’Donnell is an NYC-based content strategist with four years’ experience writing and editing in the recovery space. He has conducted research in sound, cognition, and community building, has a background in independent music marketing, and continues to work as a composer. Evan is a deep believer in fact-based, empathic communication—within business, arts, academia, or any space where words drive action or change lives.

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