Stay sober in the holidays

By: Mark Dasios

The raised glasses during a toast at dinner. The taste of spiked cider, eggnog, and rum cake. The clinking of champagne glasses on New Year’s Eve. Social norms dictate that the holidays should be spent eating good food and drinking alcohol to celebrate the end of a long year. Unfortunately, these pressures can be overwhelming to individuals on their journey to staying sober. 

However, this doesn’t have to mean there is no hope. Here are four tips that can help you if you are struggling with alcohol addiction during the holidays. 

Tip #1: Recognize Holiday Triggers

The pressure to conform to social norms becomes heightened during the holiday season. There might be certain smells, sounds, situations, or people that might trigger thoughts of wanting a drink. To persevere through your recovery journey, it is best to avoid triggers that cause you to think about alcohol.

For example, if you know that your uncle John is going to offer you a drink, try your best to avoid him, at least during moments when you are struggling. If you know that eating gingerbread reminds you of the accompanying taste of eggnog, avoid it. Having a plan for your holiday parties and social gatherings where alcohol may be present will help you manage your triggers and avoid any slips. (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2021).

Tip #2: Keep Your Focus

The holidays provide an opportunity to relax and escape from our everyday routine. For recovering alcoholics, alcohol may once have been a key factor in how they achieved relaxation during this time. Although relaxation is important, we must remember the true purpose of the holidays—to spend time with friends and family. So, instead of allowing your mind to be distracted by external means of relaxation and enjoyment, allow yourself to be present and enjoy the company of your friends and family. Make sure to keep their presence as part of your motivation to stay sober (WFLA)

Tip #3: Stay Busy

While the holidays provide an opportunity to relax for a short while, this increase in down time might allow intrusive thoughts involving alcohol consumption to arise. The best way to prevent these intrusive thoughts is to stay busy! Plan various activities on a daily basis. These activities should be something that you enjoy.  Remember that part of your recovery involves taking the relaxation, pleasure, and reward you associated with alcohol and finding them in other ways. So, try to find something you enjoy that also brings you the same sense of reward (Boyd).

For example, if you like walking, plan a different route every day. The task of thinking of new routes to travel will act as an initial distraction. The anticipation of going on that walk will create that excitement and feeling of reward that alcohol may have provided you. Finally, actually going on that walk will both help you feel physically rewarded as well as feed your sense of accomplishment, having followed through on a plan. This same framework can be applied to any activity:

If you are having trouble finding an interesting activity or hobby, here is a good place to start: 

Tip #4: Enjoy Yourself! 

This final tip is simple: enjoy yourself as a child would during the holidays. When a child opens a new toy, their face lights up, and they immediately become obsessed with the toy. They are enjoying themselves too much to be preoccupied with anything else. A similar strategy works for a recovering alcoholic. If you are enjoying yourself during a holiday celebration, you are focused on the current moment, which prevents intrusive thoughts from entering your mind. 

Regardless of where you are in your recovery, you have persevered through so many challenges and deserve to celebrate your accomplishments. This celebration can act as a reminder of why you started your recovery journey in the first place. Seeing your friends and family and enjoying their time with you will keep you motivated to continue with your recovery.

For some, these tips might not be easy to practice, and that is okay. Remember that recovery is an ongoing process and what is easy for one recovering addict may not be easy for another. There will be good days and bad ones, but by remembering to keep your focus and enjoy yourself, you can find the holiday magic again.

Works Cited

“Alcohol during the Holidays: 4 Ways to Sip Smarter.” WFLA, 1 Dec. 2017,

Boyd, Caitlin. “Alcoholism During the Holidays: 7 Ways to Prevent Relapse.” Alcoholics Anonymous, 21 July 2021,

Edwards, Martha E. and Peter Steinglass. “Family Treatment Outcomes for Alcoholism.” Journal of Marital and Family Therapy. vol. 21, 1995, 475-509.

Melemis, Steven M. “Relapse Prevention and the Five Rules of Recovery.” The Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, vol. 88, no. 3, Sept. 2015, pp. 325–32.

Recognizing Holiday Triggers of Trauma | SAMHSA.

Sobriety Strategies: 13 Tips for Staying Sober.