hands holding holiday wrapped gift

The holiday season is a time when family and friends look forward to spending time together. For people in recovery, this time of year presents a double-edged sword that can put them at higher risk for a relapse. There are more events where alcohol may be served, and this time of year can be stressful for many people. Recognizing that you could be vulnerable means you can take steps to avoid a holiday relapse.

Tips to Help You Avoid Relapsing Over the Holidays

These suggestions focus on avoiding alcohol at parties and other holiday events.

1. Don’t Be Afraid to Change Some Holiday Traditions

Now that you’re in recovery, you may realize that some of the holiday traditions that you have observed no longer serve you. If your out-of-town cousins traditionally get together for a pub crawl during the holidays, this is no longer something you’ll want to participate in if you want to keep your sobriety intact.

Instead of doing things out of a sense of obligation, suggest an alternative. If the goal is to spend time with people you don’t see often, go sledding and get some hot chocolate afterward. Play a favorite board game, with snacks and sodas, for an enjoyable yet alcohol-free time.

2. Have a Plan for Turning Down Alcohol in Advance

If you’re going to holiday parties where alcohol will be served, decide how you will deal with a host offering you a drink. Most people who are hosting parties will have at least some type of non-alcoholic option available. The easiest way to deal with the situation could be to say, “I’m not drinking, but I would like…. Thanks.”

Keep in mind that it’s up to you whether you want to talk about your sobriety or not. You aren’t obligated to reveal that you’re in recovery. There are many reasons why you may not be drinking. In fact, you may not be the only guest at a holiday party who is avoiding alcohol for one reason or another.

3. Bring Your Own Drink with You

You can always bring your own non-alcoholic drink (soda, cranberry juice, sparkling cider, etc.) to a party. Pour your own drink into a cocktail glass to avoid anyone commenting on whether you are drinking alcohol. If you are at a party where guests are drinking from cups, clearly mark yours so you don’t accidentally drink from someone else’s cup that contains alcohol.

4. Have Your Own Plan for Getting Home

It’s always gracious of someone to offer to drive to parties, but that also means you are stuck there until the person you came with is ready to leave. If you are at a party and you feel that you’ve had enough of being around people who are drinking, get a ride home with someone else, call a cab, or get another friend to pick you up.

Self-Care Suggestions for Avoiding a Holiday Relapse

While the holiday season can be a busy, stressful time of year, you can lower the likelihood of experiencing a relapse by keeping up with your self-care routine.

1. Continue Attending 12-Step Meetings

Don’t let yourself get so caught up in how busy the holidays can become that you stop going to meetings. You may need extra support to stay sober, since being around groups of family members can bring up issues that normally lay dormant. This can be stressful for anyone, much less someone in recovery. Lean on other members and your sponsor, as necessary, to get through this time of year.

2. Stick to Your Regular Schedule for Meals, Exercise, and Sleep

For someone in recovery, it’s important to stick to a regular schedule when you can. If you know you’ll be traveling and you won’t be able to eat a regular meal, pack a nutritious snack to take with you.

Exercise doesn’t have to be complicated. Go for a short walk (10-15 minutes) if you don’t have time to go to the gym. Spending time out of doors is refreshing and it’ll help you to manage stress to step away for a short time.

Do the best you can to go to bed at a reasonable time. If you’ve been up late one night, try not to do the same for several nights in a row. It’s easier to make poor decisions when overtired, which means avoiding exhaustion should be a priority.

3. Take Some Time for Yourself Over the Holidays

You don’t have to accept every invitation that you receive over the holidays—or any other time of year, for that matter. Schedule some time for activities to recharge your batteries. Read a book, try a new recipe, watch a movie, listen to music, meditate, do yoga, attend a religious service, or spend the afternoon doing whatever is meaningful to you.

Moving Forward After Relapse

A relapse can be frustrating, but it’s not the end of the world. A holiday relapse doesn’t have to mean that you can’t look forward to a Happy New Year. English Mountain Recovery can help you get back on track with your sobriety.

By Jodee Redmond