10 Ways to Get Through the Holidays Sober

By Peg Rosen

The holidays can challenge your decision not to drink. You’re off your usual schedule, there’s potentially triggering family stuff, and you may be going to lots of alcohol-centered celebrations.

The first helpful thing you can do is remind yourself that there are so many people who have been where you are, and they’ve made it through this time of year without losing their commitment to sobriety. It may not be easy, but it’s doable. The key is planning ahead and figuring out how you’re going to deal with challenging situations.

Here are some concrete strategies that have helped others.

Go Into Gatherings Committed to Not Drinking

You’ve already chosen sobriety, but it can be easy to get caught up in a moment and lose touch with why. Think about why you made the decision to be sober—writing it down is also useful—to help you through moments of doubt or temptation.

Visualize the Benefits of Not Drinking

Imagine feeling clear and composed while others get progressively drunker and potentially out of control. Think about the family fights you may be able to avoid when alcohol isn’t hyping up your interactions. Picture waking up without a hangover, not having to wonder what you said or did the night before. See yourself feeling proud that you made it through an extremely tough time with your sobriety intact.

Say Both Yes and No to Celebrations

Certain holiday events may be so closely linked to drinking or so emotionally dicey you may want to skip them. At the same time, boredom and loneliness can be their own triggers. If they are for you, aim for balance. Choose only gatherings that interest you and where you’ll feel supported so your days and nights have structure and you’ll feel like you’re part of things. Give yourself a breather between commitments, since navigating parties can be exhausting when you’re newly sober. And keep in mind that no one can guilt you into going anywhere or doing anything. You come first right now, and you’re in control.

Set Up Your Support Network

Many sobriety support programs schedule more frequent meetings during the holiday season. Attending a group before or after particularly difficult gatherings can be really helpful. Some groups even put together a holiday phone list so members can reach out to each other for immediate support. You can also talk to close friends or family members and ask if they can be part of your “crisis” support list. Another option: Join the Stop Drinking Subreddit. Members are super engaged and will often respond within minutes if you reach out for some reinforcement.

Strategize for Specific Gatherings

Family holiday traditions are pretty predictable. Think ahead about how to limit your exposure to challenging relatives or events. Plan an early exit if you think you’ll need one. Play defense. For instance, get two allies to flank you at dinner, or ask them to rescue you if you get cornered by that one relative who always pushes your buttons. Helping out—whether washing dishes or watching younger cousins—is a fantastic way to be part of the celebration but also stay busy and avoid the temptation to drink.

Ask Holiday Hosts to Support Your Sobriety

Part of recovery is learning to ask for what you need. If it feels right, you might ask your parents or relatives if an event could be alcohol-free. If that feels like a stretch, ask them to work with you so you can feel comfortable. For instance, it’s easy enough for them to keep nonalcoholic options on hand.

Decide How You’ll Answer Awkward Questions

You don’t owe anyone a detailed explanation for not drinking—especially in the middle of a holiday gathering. “No, I’m OK.” Or, “I’m drinking this,” (as you hold up a Solo cup filled with whatever) works fine if someone offers you a drink. If they ask why you’re not partying? “I’m not drinking anymore; I’m happier without it,” should do the trick. If you really don’t want to get into things, it’s also fine to bluff: “I need a night off,” “I’m on meds that don’t mix with alcohol,” or, “I have to get up early tomorrow for [fill in the blank.]”  

Keep Your Glass and Hands Full

Part of the weirdness of not drinking in social settings is that you have nothing to do with your hands. Solve that problem by holding a full glass of something nonalcoholic, such as seltzer with lime in a Solo cup. There are also lots of mocktails these days that look and taste pretty good. Lastly: Unless you’ve asked the host beforehand, make sure you BYO since you can never assume there will be nonalcoholic options where you’re going.

Do Other Things to Celebrate

New Year’s, especially, can feel like an ode to alcohol. Once you leave the alcohol bubble, though, you’ll find people celebrating in a zillion other ways. Connect with a nondrinking friend if you can. Sign up for a New Year’s 5K, try roller skating, hit an escape room, or go to a concert. Your local sobriety Meetup or Facebook group may list what’s going on in your area. Another option: Volunteer at local charitable events or at a shelter. Or earn extra cash. This time of year commands top dollar for babysitting and event help. If you have a regular job, it’s also a great time to earn overtime.

Practice Self-Care

It’s much harder to make the choices you want to make when you’re tired or emotionally drained, so make time for the things that help you stay centered. Get enough sleep, build in downtime, and do activities you enjoy that help you feel grounded. Find ways to treat yourself: Do an online yoga or meditation class or ask someone to gift you a massage or meal at your favorite restaurant. Pick out or buy an outfit you feel good in for celebrating your awesome sober self—either on the town or on your couch. You deserve it!

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If you or someone you know needs to talk to someone right now, text, call, or chat 988 for a free confidential conversation with a trained counselor 24/7. 

You can also contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.

If this is a medical emergency or if there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.