7 Tips & Strategies for Staying Sober During the Holiday Season

October 16, 2020

4 min read

What’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year is often the most stressful time of year, which can be magnified for people who are in recovery from addiction.

From conflict at family gatherings to the financial strain of gift-giving, there are triggers around nearly every garland-strung corner. Conversely, the holidays can be lonely and depressing (even for those who aren’t in recovery). This can lead to lots of time spent reliving unpleasant memories and reflecting on what substance use has taken from them.

It’s also worth noting how holiday gatherings, by nature, remove people from their recovery routines and support systems. As a result, people in recovery can be more vulnerable to relapse during the holidays when party environments and the temptation to use are always high.

With all that in mind, here are a few ideas for relapse prevention that can help you enjoy a sober holiday.

1) Focus on Your Own Well-Being

You’re not being selfish by taking extra precautions to stay sober during the holidays. Everyone will benefit from your sobriety, not just you. So make sure your basic needs are met.

In recovery circles, you may hear the acronym HALT, which stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. The purpose of HALT is to provide a blueprint or roadmap for ensuring that your most basic, essential needs are met; if you’re not addressing these things, then you’re definitely starting off the holiday season on the wrong foot. 

As we approach and progress through the holiday season, take the time to give yourself extra attention and commit to good health, good nutrition, and getting plenty of rest. Likewise, it’s important to maintain your mental and emotional balance, whether this includes meditating, taking a yoga class, or getting a massage. You’ll certainly be grateful once you’re through the hustle and bustle of the holidays.

2) Bring a Sober Buddy

A sober buddy can make a massive difference during the holiday season. But what is a sober buddy?

In short, a sober buddy is a companion who accompanies you, particularly into situations in which you could be tempted to relapse. This person can be anyone: a family member, a friend, or even someone you met during addiction treatment. Once you’ve selected your sober buddy, that person will be essentially a “wingman,” someone who can provide support and recognize potentially risky situations.

3) Make a Plan to Avoid Triggers

Knowing the people, places, and situations to avoid is critical to relapse prevention. It’s a critical part of your long-term recovery plan. A short-term plan for staying sober during the holidays is helpful, too.

Know your limits. Always have an escape plan for stressful situations and people. Bring something to hold in your hand so your hands don’t feel unoccupied or jittery. Schedule a meeting with your sponsor or support group before or after a holiday event to reinforce positive behaviors. Make sure someone is available to talk in case you need help working through a problem.

Finally, have a backup plan, whether it involves another gathering, a new tradition, an activity you enjoy, or simply having a person to call, so you don’t feel lonely or depressed if you decide to leave a holiday party.

4) BYOC (Bring Your Own Car)

This can be an important part of having a plan to avoid triggers. When you drive yourself, you have the freedom and flexibility to leave a party if urges become strong and concerning. If others want to continue the festivities in a risky environment, you can just hop in your car and head home. 

You can also drive alone instead of being jammed in a car with sounds and aromas that could potentially trigger a relapse.

Woman gives a gift to another woman

5) Go Easy on the Gifting

You don’t have to be in recovery to feel pressured by holiday gifting. Perhaps it’s the stress of matching the quality of others’ gifts, or maybe it’s the difficulty of deciding what gifts to get. But more often than not, it’s the financial strain that comes with holiday gifting. Because buying individual gifts for all your family members and close friends is expensive, obviously.

As it happens, there’s a solution to this problem and a way to mitigate much of the stress of holiday gifting: gift cards. Although it may not feel like the most exciting gift, you’ll be able to set and stick to a concrete budget. This is also a great way to avoid the stress of finding the perfect gift.

And who doesn’t love gift cards?

6) Help Others

If you have any experience with twelve-step programs or support groups, then you may be aware of the idea that helping others can be a great source of self-worth. Twelve-step programs, in particular, encourage late-stage members to take newer members under their wings; by helping the newcomers, these mentors also solidify their own recoveries.

Additionally, you can find great joy and gratitude in helping others. Even something as simple as volunteering at a homeless shelter, delivering toys to a children’s hospital, or visiting the residents of a nursing home can be reason enough to feel great about yourself because you made a difference in someone’s life.

7) Stay Home

The holiday season comes with family gatherings, work parties, and other holiday celebrations. But these events can be quite triggering for those in recovery. Whether it’s because there’s a certain person in attendance, an open bar, or the possibility of family drama, you’re under no obligation to attend holiday events, especially when attending would put your recovery in jeopardy.

Remember: You know your limits better than anyone. If you don’t think you can handle being around people that might be drinking or partaking in the holiday festivities, then there’s no shame in staying home.

Because ultimately, having a safe and sober holiday is more important than any family gathering or work party.

DetoxLA Is Always Here for You

Your relationship with DetoxLA doesn’t end when you complete our co-ed detox program and leave our Los Angeles detox center. We can help you come up with relapse prevention strategies and enjoy a sober holiday.

To learn more about co-ed medical detox and addiction treatment programs, contact DetoxLA today.

MEET THE AUTHOR

Dane is the Director of Brand Strategy for Never Alone Recovery, where he helps brands in the mental health, addiction, and recovery industries connect with their audiences. Dane’s interests include technology, the film industry, travel, marketing, music, and coffee.

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