December 12th, 2014

Remaining sober during the holiday season can be challenging for anyone in recovery and particularly so for those early in the process for whom it is a new experience. Social occasions are unusually numerous during the holidays, and many opportunities, and even pressure, to drink alcohol or use other drugs exist. However, you can combat them with holiday strategies for staying sober.

When this is combined with the gathering of family members who are hearing for the first time about the newly launched effort to abstain from alcohol and drugs, anxiety and tension is intensified. This is particularly the case when some family members are not knowledgeable about addiction or are active addicts themselves. This situation can be made even worse by an expectation that one is to have a “joyous” holiday experience.

Fortunately, because this scenario is so common and predictable, much work has gone into figuring out how to manage it successfully. The key is to become familiar with this work and to take time to prepare for the events. My first suggestion to my patients is to set a first-time goal for themselves that is more realistic – getting through the season without a relapse – rather than one of enjoying themselves. I would not rule out pleasure, but I think that there is a better chance of experiencing more of it the second time around. This is key to holiday strategies for staying sober.

The Kolmac staff in our Baltimore office used several resources to compile 12 suggestions that I hope you and/or your patients will find useful during the holidays. Here are the first six. I will share the holiday strategies for staying sober next week.

  1. Plan ahead. Know each day what events are coming up and what your game plan is. If you know you have an event to attend where drugs and alcohol may be present, think ahead about what might help you to prepare.
  2. Get help from friends. It can be a good idea to bring a sober friend with you to a work or family event. You may also want to tell a friend or sponsor you will call them when the event is over to check in.
  3. Set limits. The holidays can be a stressful time of year: financial troubles, grief over lost loved ones, family conflicts, extra commitments, etc. So don’t feel bad about saying no or limiting the amount of time you stay at an event in order to guard yourself against stressors.
  4. Identify your triggers and avoid them. You know yourself best, so know what types of situations, people, or places may be triggers for you to drink or use drugs. For example, if certain people cause a lot of stress for you, limit your time with them so that you can avoid unnecessary confrontation. Especially pay attention to when you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired (HALT) as these are especially vulnerable times for you in your recovery. This is one of the important holiday strategies for staying sober.
  5. Keep your hands occupied. One strategy that you may find appealing: While at a party or gathering, plan to have a non-alcoholic beverage in your hand. This keeps you occupied and people are less likely to ask you if you need a drink.
  6. Let the host of the event know your situation. That way they won’t take it personally if you need to leave early. Always have an exit strategy. For some, being the designated driver is a helpful way to remain in a social setting. Others don’t want to have to be at the party until its end and be forced to wait around all evening. If you are one of the latter, a good idea is to have your car at the event so you can leave when you want if things get tough.

Contact us for more holiday strategies for staying sober.

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