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How To Celebrate Thanksgiving Sober: Ten Helpful Tips

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Thanksgiving is a wonderful day to celebrate what you’re grateful for, have some laughs, and reconnect with family over a delicious dinner. But whether you’re newly sober, years into recovery, or simply don’t want to drink anymore, this holiday can be challenging.

After all, how can you say “no” to loved ones offering you alcohol during Thanksgiving? What are the best ways to stay occupied throughout the evening, and how can you keep your stress levels in check?

If you could use some extra help staying sober this holiday season, we’ve got you covered. Below are ten tips for a successful sober Thanksgiving. And remember, there’s never any shame in reaching out for support if you’re struggling with drinking during the holidays.

1. Find Support in Loved Ones Who Don’t Drink

full thanksgiving dinner table
Photo by Jed Owen on Unsplash

Before Thanksgiving dinner, consider confiding in a relative who isn’t a big drinker themselves, and let them know that you might need a sober ally. Chances are, they’d be more than happy to offer you some sober company throughout the evening.

2. Keep a Non-Alcoholic Drink in Your Hand

This tip applies to nearly any situation where you might need some extra alcohol defense: Simply hold on to a nonalcoholic drink (such as fruit punch or soda in a cup) all night. This tip is handy because people will be less inclined to offer you booze when they see you already have something in your hand.

3. Give Your Family a Heads-Up

If you feel comfortable doing so, give your family a heads-up that you’re planning on celebrating Thanksgiving sober. If nothing else, informing everyone ahead of time should discourage them from offering you alcohol when the holiday rolls around.

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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.

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4. Have a Supportive Friend on Call

Find someone you can call or text if things get stressful—whether they’re a close friend, sponsor, or peer in recovery.

This person can provide much-needed support if, at any point, you feel overwhelmed. They can help you ground yourself in reality and stay focused on not drinking. And, if it comes to it, they can also help you decide when it’s time to head home.

5. Plan How You’ll Say No to Drinking

If you’re like most people, you have at least one family member who gets out of hand when they drink during the holidays. That’s why planning how to say no is essential.

When someone offers you alcohol, you can make an excuse about being a designated driver, be direct about your sobriety, or change the subject altogether. In any case, strategies for saying “no” can be lifesaving when it comes to staying sober on Thanksgiving.

6. Remind Yourself Why You’re Sticking to Sobriety

There are countless reasons a person would quit drinking—whether for their health, family, or overall quality of life. But festive, high-energy environments like Thanksgiving dinner can make it easy to forget about your reasons and consider having “just one.”

So, before you head out, remind yourself of your motivations for not drinking. Remembering your “why” can make it easier to stay on track, even when stressful situations bring on the urge to drink.

7. Make Sure You Can Leave at Any Time

On the off-chance that something at Thanksgiving dinner goes wrong, it’s best to have a quick way to head home. Ideally, you’d bring your own car so you can leave if you feel overwhelmed. But if taking your own vehicle isn’t possible, you could ride with a friend or family member who can take you home if necessary.

8. Spend Some Time Helping Out

cutting pie and sharing mocktails on thanksgiving
Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Helping out at Thanksgiving is one of the best ways to stay occupied and avoid the urge to drink. Before the meal, you can ask the host if they need any help with food prep or setting the table. And, after dinner, you can offer to help with cleaning up the dishes, sweeping the floor, or taking out the trash.

These kind gestures are perfect for keeping your hands and mind busy (and the host will greatly appreciate you for them, too).

9. Invite Your Loved Ones to Play a Board Game

A family-friendly board game is an excellent way to have some fun if you’re celebrating Thanksgiving sober. Of course, some of your loved ones might still drink while they play. But the healthy dose of competition means people will be chattering about winning and joking about losing, instead of thinking and talking about alcohol.

10. Stay Positive

The holiday season can be tough, especially if you’re in recovery from alcohol use disorder. It’s natural to feel a little worried about getting through it. 

However, staying positive is key. Not only will optimism lift your spirits, but research has linked it with resilience to stress and better mental health overall.1 So, take a minute to visualize a happy sober Thanksgiving.

While a few instances of stress or anxiety are to be expected, you might have a lot of joyful moments to look back on, too. And after it’s all said and done, you get to leave knowing you’ve just hit another milestone without the booze!

The Bottom Line on Having a Successful Sober Thanksgiving

A sober Thanksgiving can be intimidating, especially if this is your first holiday season since quitting drinking. The good news is that certain tips—including finding support in others, staying occupied, and remaining optimistic—can make a world of difference during your next family gathering.

For more support in recovery, Ria Health is here to help all year round. We offer an online alcohol treatment program that provides access to support groups, recovery coaches, anti-craving prescriptions, and more—all from an app on your smartphone.

Schedule a call to learn how Ria Health can support you in changing your relationship with alcohol this holiday season.

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Written By:
Alicia Schultz
Alicia is a Minnesota-based freelancer who writes for Ria Health and various other brands in the health and wellness space. Beyond addiction and recovery, she also covers topics relating to general well-being, mindfulness, fitness, mental health, and more. When she’s not writing, you can find her relaxing with her three-legged cat, trying new workout routines, and spending time with her loved ones.
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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