How to Stay Sober from Thanksgiving to New Year’s
With the holidays coming up, now is a good time to make a plan for how you will remain sober during this high-risk time of year. The holidays are a difficult time for people who struggle with alcoholism. People tend to drink more alcohol on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve than they do on other days of the year.[i] Increased drinking happens for a variety of reasons, including the increased number of parties and the increased depression and stress some people experience over the holidays.
Think for a moment about your situation. Did you struggle to stay sober last year? Do you feel especially concerned that you might be prone to relapse this year? Well, get out a pen and paper. Below are a few questions for you to think through and journal about as you come up with a specific plan for how you will remain sober this year.
What have been your past patterns over previous holidays?
Think back to last year. What happened, specifically? If last year was unsuccessful, write out the day that you relapsed or the moment when you were tempted and almost relapsed. What preceded the relapse? What were you thinking or feeling when the relapse happened? If you succeeded last year, write out what helped you remain strong and what went well.
What are your triggers?
Based on your knowledge of yourself and your drinking, write out a list of situations, thoughts, emotions, behaviors, people, and locations that tend to trigger your drinking. Take about five minutes to brainstorm and write out a comprehensive list.
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What are things you absolutely should not do this year over the holidays?
Based on your knowledge of your triggers and memory of what happened in previous years, create a list of things you will not allow yourself to do over the holidays this year. Maybe you know you can’t attend your cousin’s annual party. Or, you know that you shouldn’t drive a certain route past your favorite liquor store. Whatever it may be for you, take about five minutes to write out a list of things you need to avoid.
Who will you go to for accountability?
Pick at least one person to serve as an accountability partner over the holidays. Give this person a call and see if he or she will allow you to check in by phone everyday over the holidays as a means of accountability. Come up with a schedule for the first day you will talk, the time you will talk each day, and when you will no longer need to check in at the end of the holidays. Discuss what those conversations will look like.
How will you reduce stress and depression?
The holidays can be a time of extra stress and extra depression for some people. If this is the case for you, come up with a plan for how you will reduce any negative feelings without the use of alcohol. What coping skills can you use? Do you need to clear your schedule to reduce stress? Write out a list of coping skills for stress reduction that don’t include alcohol or other negative behaviors.
What replacement activities can you enjoy?
It is very possible you will have to miss some fun events over the holiday to maintain your sobriety. You may have to stay away from people you want to see and avoid places you want to go. This can be difficult and disappointing. Because of this, it is important to not just focus on the things you can’t do, but to also brainstorm a list of things that you can do. What are some fun things you want to do over the holidays that don’t involve drinking or drinking triggers? Write out a list. Think about who you can reach out to so you won’t be alone on Christmas day. Consider fun outings that can take the place of going to the bar. Look for parties that will be alcohol free. What are some safe ways to spend your holiday with people you love?
As a final step, go over your complete plan with your accountability person. Hopefully this person is someone who knows you well. See if he or she thinks you should add anything to your plan and ask if your plan seems accurate.
Staying sober over the holidays is not impossible. Take some time to think through a plan, and you will increase your chances of success.
[i] Kushnir, V. & Cunningham, J. A. (2014). Event-specific drinking in the general population. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 75(6), 968-972.