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Tips to navigate the holidays sober

Ryedenna Simon-McQueen, LPC

The holiday season is a time to unite, celebrate and spread peace and joy. This season is electrifying with gratitude, appreciation, laughs, hugs and gift-giving. Holiday traditions are highlighted by faith, food, fellowship, reflection and anticipation.

It can also underscore one’s need to fit in, have fun and numb emotional and physical pain. For some people, the holidays usher in depression, anxiety, loneliness, anger and stress.

Often unrealistic expectations, financial pressures and excessive commitments contribute to holiday stress. A holiday survey indicates that the majority of Americans are either overwhelmingly or moderately stressed during the holidays, and the American Addiction Center reports that these strains, as well as winter weather, take a grave toll on individuals.

For someone struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, the holidays can be an especially trying time, and some individuals turn to various substances to cope with stressful feelings, circumstances, relationships and obligations.

For those in recovery from substance-use disorders, it can be difficult to practice recovery principles during the holiday season. Often, many people are afraid to utter the word “recovery” or say, “I am in recovery.” However, if we are honest, we are all recovering, or changing, from something.

When embracing change, fear is often suppressed, and support is essential to make it through the process, especially during the holidays when family events, work parties and social gatherings might require an appearance.

It is possible to attend events and not drink or use other substances. Courage is required, and it is important for those in recovery to have preventive tactics in place that promote sobriety while minimizing triggers.

Here are a few points to ponder for navigating the holidays:

  • Your sobriety is your No. 1 priority.
  • Be honest with yourself first; then you can be honest with others. Be H.O.W. – honest, open and willing.
  • Make a list of things to enjoy that have nothing to do with substance use or alcohol.
  • “Book End” the celebration with a group meeting, such as A.A. or SMART Recovery, before and/or after.
  • Avoid H.A.L.T – becoming hungry (watch your appetite), angry/agitated (manage your feelings), lonely (be with someone) and tired (do not overexert yourself).
  • Prior to the event, get plenty of sleep, a good meal, exercise and relaxation.
  • Use the buddy system – go with a sober friend/family member who knows and understands you.
  • Recognize your “triggers” and “at-risk situations.”
  • Get a nonalcoholic drink, such as a ginger ale, and always keep the glass at least half full. People will not have to ask if you would like a drink.
  • Have an escape plan. Arrange transportation, arrive early, and leave early if you need to.
  • Avoid hanging out near the bar.
  • Dance and have fun.
  • No matter how you are feeling, just don’t drink/don’t use! You will be glad you resisted.

This holiday season, make wise decisions with support and have the type of fun that you will be able to remember in years to come.



HopeHealth educates its patients on the importance of having a health care home. As a primary care facility, HopeHealth’s medical team works to prevent and detect illness and the early onset of disease, provide routine physical examinations and promote overall healthy lifestyles.

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