How to stay sober during holidays, events, and special occasions

5 tips to protect sobriety and ways to moderate drinking when you feel tempted or pressured

Birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, and any special occasion where people gather and celebrate together can be mine fields for the person who is protecting their sobriety or trying to manage their consumption of alcohol. No matter where someone is in their recovery journey, the temptations and pressures are always there. There’s that dreaded awkward moment when you are offered a drink and feel pressured to join in. Or, the moments of loneliness and isolation that bring up negative emotions and temptations.

Happy times for others can be difficult times for people in recovery, but you can manage your way through by staying mindful of your recovery principles and making a plan. There are millions of people in long term recovery who make it through, and you can too.

Read on for some tips to keep working your recovery program and protect your sobriety in any occasion and make every day special.

5 Tips to stay sober during special occasions, parties, and events

It’s been said that alcohol is the one drug people have to explain and justify not using to others. You know what you’re heading into from your past experiences. Empower yourself with these five tips and head into those situations with confidence that you’re going to protect your sobriety from any challenge that may arise.

  1. Make a plan

    You need a plan to protect your sobriety. This includes a master plan that includes smaller plans for predicted situations as well as some contingency plans if you need to adapt. Let’s say you’re going to attend a party or family gathering where the alcohol will be flowing and you know you’re going to be tempted.

    • Find and attend a meeting beforehand. It’s really hard to drink after listening to people’s stories about their struggles and victories. Here’s a list of virtual meetings you can jump online or call into. Some are open 24/7.
    • Invite a sober friend along with you as your +1. The buddy system works.
    • Set a time limit that you’re going to be somewhere that’s stressful or going to have difficult people present. And if they’re there, avoid them.
    • Be prepared to politely refuse alcohol and drugs when offered. You can just say something like, “I’m working on my health,” which is totally true. Or, you drove and need to be careful, which brings us to our next bullet:
    • Have an escape plan for when things get too hot to handle. This will include having your own transportation as well as a polite excuse for heading out. It could be something as simple as, “I have to go take care of something that just came up” – and that something is you and your sobriety.
    • This is a big one: Don’t put your drink down and get your own drinks. You don’t want to pick up the wrong drink by mistake and getting your own drinks means you know what’s in them. People often bring alcohol to parties as gifts or to contribute, only to end up drinking it themselves. Bring something non alcoholic to drink with you.

  2. Avoid triggers and traps

    As you make your plan, it’s a good idea to make a list of your known triggers so you’re not surprised. You’ve likely already explored some of these in your recovery program, but there are some extra special things that can center around holidays and events.

    Don’t feel pressured to go to a party or event if you don’t feel up to it. It’s perfectly fine to give yourself a pass and skip a year. This is one of the best things to do if you’re in early recovery. You can’t drink if there isn’t something to drink within reach. There are a number of sober groups like AA and NA and SMART Recovery that have parties on holidays and big drinking days that distract and offer community and fellowship. Attending a meeting where anniversaries of sober dates are celebrated is a great reminder of the joy in recovery.

    The people closest to you, family members and trusted friends who know you’re in recovery, will be there to support you. Stay in communication with your loved ones. They want you to make it. You’re not alone.

  3. Keep up your self-care and recovery routines

    Holidays and those three-day weekends turn all schedules upside down, but now is the time to honor your commitment to yourself and your recovery. You can still keep up with your program even if you’re travelling for an extended period of time.

    Stay on schedule with your meetings and therapy sessions. Your therapist may offer a telehealth option if you aren’t in an all-digital recovery program like Affect’s that can be accessed from anywhere via your phone. You can call into or attend online meetings for various AA, NA, and other 12-step groups, and find a meeting to attend in the town you’re visiting.

    One of the best things you can do is just take a walk when things get tough. Keep exercising, journaling, meditating and doing all the things that are part of your routine. The challenges and missions in Affect’s app are a great way to keep yourself working your program all the time, any time and you don’t need to be enrolled in the program to use them. You’re building healthy habits to replace your old toxic ones. Keep at it and keep busy.

  4. Keep busy by doing things for others

    One of the best ways to keep busy is by helping others. There is never a shortage of ways to volunteer and help people. Being of service to others is one of the best ways to stop focusing on your own troubles. Lending a helping hand to those in need shows you your own strength and the value you can offer to the world.

    Look for ways to help in community kitchens or homeless shelters or with charities. You can help with your local recovery groups. You can also just help one person at a time, adding a goal to your recovery program to find someone each day to do an act of kindness. You’ll feel true warmth and goodness every time you give something of yourself to help another and take another step away from the fears, resentments, and negative self-image your addiction has created.

  5. Come up with a new story

    For almost everyone, holidays are hardly the way they’re depicted in commercials and movies, or the way people present them on social media sites. Almost everyone who has realized the damage alcohol and drugs have caused can touch a memory of a holiday, birthday or anniversary where things went bad because they drank or used too much. Those past experiences and traumas from holidays can also resurface and our own expectations can be our enemy in the battle for our new sober life.

    But, you’re writing a new chapter in your life story and now is the perfect time to explore, unpack, and start to resolve issues that may be haunting from those days. This can lead you to a feeling of empowerment and more control. Starting a birthday or anniversary by journaling and reflecting on how it used to be and how it is now sets you up for a great day where you realize and appreciate all that you’ve done. Talk with your counselor or therapist or sober friends about those childhood experiences or the times in your drinking life that became dark. As you explore resentments, shame, or guilt you can break down the barriers to forgive others and yourself.

    It might seem hard, but those feelings and memories will create stress and negative emotions that will lead to a relapse if they’re not addressed. When you do, you’ll find a sense of gratitude and strength. It’s time for your personal holiday movie to have its happy ending.

In the grand scheme, any holiday is really just another day and recovery is a journey everyone takes one day at a time. Sobriety doesn’t take a holiday. We manage our substance use disorders every day. We don’t think of addiction as a weakness, we think of recovery as a strength. Substance use disorders are chronic conditions, not much different from something like diabetes. Just as a diabetic needs to pass on the cookie platter or the birthday cake to stay healthy and manage their condition, people in recovery need to pass on the bar.

How to moderate drinking during events, parties, and special occasions

If you’re not in recovery but may be concerned about your level of consumption of alcohol or drugs and want to moderate your use during the season of excess and binging, the guidance is much the same as how to maintain sobriety – make a plan, avoid triggers and trouble, keep busy, find other ways to celebrate. There are some other things you may consider.

  • Set goals and track yourself

    Setting goals and sticking to them is the key to moderation. The goal is up to you. You may chose to not drink on certain days, limit yourself to a certain number of drinks over a period of time, or for an evening out. Be honest with yourself and hold yourself accountable. Also, pay attention to the size of the drink you’re having to be accurate about how much you’re consuming. You can keep a journal to track your drinks, but there are also apps that can help you monitor and track your drinking. Then, look back and assess how you’re doing. If you’re having a problem keeping to your goals, that’s a moment you’ll want to reflect upon.

  • Don’t drink alone or keep alcohol in the house

    Drinking alone to the point of getting drunk is a “red flag” of a substance use problem. If you’re trying to moderate your drinking, limit your access and don’t keep a convenient supply around. Having to go out to get a drink is a moment to pause and reflect and reconsider the choice. If you’re finding yourself wanting a drink to deal with a stressful day, using alcohol as a coping mechanism is another red flag of a problem with substance use. You’re not a social drinker if you’re drinking alone.

  • Don’t refill your glass before it’s empty

    You can’t track your drinks if you’re always topping off your glass. When you’re at that party where the drinks are flowing, finish your drink so you have a complete and accurate count. And then, take a look at the next tip.

  • Alternate your drinks with non-alcoholic ones

    It may seem obvious, but it is the key to moderation and pacing yourself. Give your body time to metabolize the alcohol, drinks can be quite a bit stronger during celebrations and parties. And you may find you actually enjoy yourself more. You certainly will feel better the next day.

  • Remember to HALT

    HALT is an acronym for “Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired.” If you’re feeling any of these, you’ll want to avoid situations and events with alcohol or drugs. Your mental state is vulnerable and your body is weak. Some people don’t eat to save the calories for the party, including those in alcoholic beverages – a recipe for disaster that can also be a signal of an eating disorder.

It’s not necessary to drink to enjoy and celebrate holidays and events. While it is true that people do drink more during those gatherings and special days, people who drink a lot may not realize that a large portion of the population don’t drink very much or even not at all because they have surrounded themselves with people who drink like they do. The facts are d30 percent of American adults don’t drink, and the top 20 percent consume the majority of all alcohol, with the top ten percent consuming as much as 74 drinks a week. 20 million Americans have Alcohol Use Disorder, and only 1 in 13 people get the help they need.

Can I stop drinking during holidays?

With all of the pressures and easy access, holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries are a time when many people bottom out and realize they have lost control. Sobriety dates during the holiday season and early January are very common compared to other times of the year. Many people have a second birthday on the day after their birthday, the day they woke up after “celebrating” too much and decided to make a change.

There are all kinds of stories about that moment of clarity when people awaken to the reality of their addictions on holidays. It could be a fight in the family, or an embarrassing incident at a party, or an accident while driving, among many more. You may not experience a hard bottom, but you may have tried to manage your drinking and discovered that you couldn’t do it.

Can you stop drinking during holidays? The answer is a resounding yes. Countless people have made the commitment to a new way of life free of alcohol and drugs during the holiday season and on those special occasions all year long.

But, it’s very difficult to do it alone. And stopping drinking suddenly when someone has been drinking excessively can be life threatening, so getting professional help with medical assistance to help with withdrawal is more than just a good idea.

Fortunately there is help available that works and is always there whenever and wherever you need it.