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12 Steps for Staying Sober During the Holidays

by Landmark Recovery

December 21, 2018
Two women who are happy to be creating new sober traditions

No matter what holiday you celebrate, this time of the year can be very stressful if you are recovering from drug or alcohol addiction. From visiting family, to packed airports, to pricey expenditures and more, the end of the year brings unneeded stress that can potentially trigger a relapse.

Navigating the holidays without a cohesive support system or a relapse prevention plan can be risky, especially if you have only recently completed rehab. If you’re worried about possible relapse during the holidays, here is a complete guide for navigating the end of the year in a sober and safe manner.


1. Have a Sober Strategy in Place

An individual making a plan on how to stay sober through the holidays

You should create a plan to protect your sobriety ahead of time for any holiday event that might potentially trigger a relapse. This could mean going to a 12 Step meeting before or after an event with your sponsor or a sober friend, or making sure that you can leave the gathering at any time. Some helpful sober strategies include:

  • Bookending – set up telephone calls before and after any holiday events so you can check in with your sponsor and they can hold you accountable for staying sober.
  • Limit Your Triggers – You should also feel empowered to limit your time in stressful situations or around difficult people.
  • DEADS – The DEADS approach comes from SMART Recovery and is a relapse prevention plan that can help you in any situation in which you feel the urge to use again.


2. Avoid Known Triggers

This one should be obvious, but sometimes it needs to be restated. If you know that a situation is going to have triggers, you should avoid it altogether or do your best to reduce your exposure to them. For example, if your Uncle Sam is going to make fun of your recovery or offer you an alcoholic drink, you should just avoid him. If your old party crew invites you to hang out again and you know that drugs or alcohol will be present, just say no. If you know the office Christmas party is going to have plenty of booze and partying, then maybe plan on making a brief appearance and leaving before things get crazy.


3. You CAN Say No

The phrase No painted on the sidewalk

One of the first things to remember about the holidays is that you can always say no. Family and friends are important, but if you are worried that visiting them will trigger a relapse then you need to prioritize your recovery. Your family may not understand, but your recovery and health should come before holiday obligations. Likewise, if you believe that staying home alone during the holidays could also trigger you to use again, then consider calling up someone you trust to either spend the time with or to join in their festivities.


4. Set Boundaries for Events

Regardless of your family’s willingness to follow them, you should set boundaries before coming back home for the holidays. For example, saying “please don’t offer me alcohol”, “please don’t invite this person”, or “please allow me to smoke outside”. Of course, your family members are the ones who ultimately decide whether to honor these boundaries, but by stating your boundaries ahead of time, you will be justified in removing yourself from the situation if they are violated.


5. Bring Your Own Transportation

A man getting out of his car to go to a social event

Bringing your own transportation is a must. In one regard, this is another barrier to being tempted to use again. After all, you may be less likely to binge drink or get high if you have to drive home during the month with the most DUI arrests of the year. Secondly, you have a getaway option for if you feel like the situation is too much to handle. If you’re worried about needing to escape, then you should plan out a backup location or friend’s house where you can escape to.


6. Bring a Trusted Friend or Loved One

This could be a friend or partner who is supportive of your journey of recovery. Anyone who can be a person to confide in and talk to when things get rough during the holidays.


7. Take a Reality Check

A girl talking to a friend about her addiction

If you find yourself wrapped in anxiety and on edge about the approaching holiday season, you may benefit from a reality check. Talk with a sponsor, friend, or therapist who understands that you are in recovery and relay the stresses and anxieties you are feeling. Chances are, around the holidays they will also be experiencing the same stresses and pressures that you are. The realization that everyone is experiencing stress during the holidays should help lower expectations and allow you to be more forgiving of yourself.

Instead of showing up to a holiday event on edge and defensive, you can arrive open minded, positive, and accepting. Ask yourself, what do I have to be thankful for this time of year? Time off work? The chance to see family members and friends you haven’t seen in a long time? Good food? Just think of all the progress you have made thus far in your recovery and be proud of your accomplishments.


8. Designate a Safe Space

If you know that being around your family will be a potentially triggering situation, then you should designate some kind of safe location nearby to regroup. This could be a room, your car, the garage, or even a close friend’s house, where you can go to in order to regroup, recharge, and de-stress. If you feel overwhelmed, this will be a place to escape to in order to remind yourself not to let things get to your head.


9. Start New (Sober) Traditions

Two women who are happy to be creating new sober traditions

This one is not necessarily vital to your recovery but it can be a fun and lasting way of enjoying the holidays sober. This could be hosting your own sober holiday party, purchasing some new board games, creating a holiday crafts table, going ice skating, and even volunteering. Your enjoyment of these new activities will be amplified by the knowledge that you are staying sober and spreading joy to others.

There are many ways to spread joy, especially through community service or through simply helping others. The holiday offers many opportunities for spiritual growth. You could serve a meal at a homeless shelter, reach out with hospitality to a newcomer at an AA or NA meeting, or spend time with a neighbor. There are a million different ways to give back, pay it forward and be of service.


10. Don’t Use the Holidays as a Time to Air Grievances

The holidays may feel like your only chance to confront or resolve disputes with family members in person. However, this isn’t the time to ask your family members to hold themselves accountable for things that may have hurt you in the past. It’s also not the time to be extra hard on yourself about the ways in which your addiction has affected your family. Be gentle with yourself and those in your family.


11. Exercise

A woman exercising in a gym.

The holidays are normally the time of year when we give ourselves a little break that winds up wrecking our entire healthy routine. It may seem like unnecessary extra work, but your exercise routine, whether it be yoga, lifting weights, or running, is actually more important to beating stress this time of year than any other time. It’s a great way to relieve tension and work out frustrations, as well as a great way to make room for all that food you’re going to be eating.


12. Avoid H.A.L.T.

HALT stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. In other words, if you are feeling hungry, get something to eat. If you are feeling angry, talk to somebody about it. If you are feeling lonely, call up your sponsor, a friend, or attend a meeting. If you are feeling tired, try and get some rest. Celebrating the holiday season should be about enjoying the break. The better you feel physically and emotionally, the better you will be prepared to face stress. Take the time to enjoy some personal reflection, find quiet time for relaxation, and nourish your spirit.


Next Steps

The holidays may be a difficult time, but you do not have to face addiction recovery alone. It is a more common experience than people think and there are many support groups and options available to help you fully heal. Landmark Recovery provides drug and alcohol recovery centers that help addicts take the first steps towards achieving and maintaining sobriety. Our therapy programs help patients to understand and cope with past mistakes with the eventual goal of leading a happy, fulfilling life that is substance free. Our caring staff is trained in residential treatment, individual and group therapy, as well as an intensive outpatient program and detox treatment.

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About the Author

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery was founded with a determination to make addiction treatment accessible for all. Through our integrated treatment programs, we've helped thousands of people choose recovery over addiction and get back to life on their own terms. We're on a mission to save one million lives over the next century. We encourage all those struggling with substance use to seek professional help.