How to Stay Sober During the Holiday Season & Avoid Relapse Triggers

Last Updated: Dec 16th 2020

Reviewed by Brittany Polansky, MSW, LCSW

How to Stay Sober During the Holiday Season & Avoid Relapse Triggers

The period from Thanksgiving to New Year’s is fun and festive, but for many of us, the holiday season means coping with several weeks of stress and fatigue. If you’re in recovery, getting through the temptation-laden holidays is especially challenging.  

Relapse Triggers During the Holidays

Relapse isn’t a sudden event but a gradual process that begins weeks or even months before you decide to use drugs or alcohol. You may find yourself occasionally thinking about using, and in time the thoughts turn into urges or fantasies that become more frequent and more intense. Even subtle feelings of frustration or sadness can begin the process. 

It pays to be vigilant. If you aren’t careful, holiday relapse triggers can sneak up and threaten your hard-won sobriety. Be especially wary during early recovery, which University of California Santa Cruz defines as the first year of sobriety. 

Holiday Relapse Prevention

Get familiar with your holiday relapse triggers. Recovery is different for everybody, and your triggers are yours alone. Be mindful of emotions, thoughts, and sensations that make you feel like using. If you make an effort to understand your particular triggers, you can figure out how to cope with them. 

Some triggers are easier to spot. Are you triggered by social pressure or specific events? Maybe certain people or things remind you of your past, or perhaps you’re triggered when you drive by familiar places. Watch for internal triggers like sadness, loneliness, shame, anger, irritability, guilt, or grief.  

Avoid risky situations. Be honest with yourself, listen to your gut, and don’t put your recovery in jeopardy. Don’t bend the rules, and never permit yourself to use “just this once.” If you know a holiday event will be too difficult, stay home. If you’re required to show up, make an early appearance, and then politely excuse yourself. 

Family pressures. Holiday get-togethers with the family can be wonderful, or they can be downright brutal. If a toxic family member throws you off balance, or if your family can’t enjoy the holidays without drugs or alcohol, shorten your visit, or go earlier in the day. If you’re just not feeling the spirit of the holidays this year, it’s okay to spend the day with a sober friend or hunker down with pizza and a movie or a good book. 

Prioritize guilt-free self-care. Set healthy boundaries and don’t allow yourself to become too tired or stressed. Maintain a regular schedule that includes time for rest and exercise. Carve out quiet time for reading or meditation. Fill your refrigerator with healthy foods and go easy on the sweets and carbs. Drink plenty of water and stay well-hydrated. 

Tips to Stay Sober During the Holidays

  • Put your sobriety first, and don’t let the season derail you. The holidays will pass, and life will return to normal. 
  • Plan ahead. Think about potential dangers and acknowledge your limitations. Be ready for a few bumps in the road.  
  • If you’re tempted, take a minute to consider the potential consequences, and remember why you wanted to quit in the first place. Getting drunk or high won’t solve any problems, but it sure can make everything worse.
  • Don’t worry about offending anybody if you need to change your plans or make a speedy exit. Don’t let anybody push your buttons or make you feel guilty.
  • Don’t let your friends talk you into being their designated driver. It’s unfair to take advantage of your sobriety, and it can set you up for stress, resentment, and dangerous temptations. 
  • You can tell people that you’re in recovery if you like, but when it comes right down to it, you don’t owe anyone an explanation. 
  • Spend time with supportive people who don’t use drugs or alcohol. Don’t hesitate to ask for help or reach out to others in recovery if you’re struggling. Write down a list of people you can call, then keep it handy. 
  • Listen to trusted friends and family if they notice you’re having a rough time, or that your behavior or attitude has changed. Try not to be offended. Sometimes good friends recognize your triggers even before you do. 
  • If you’re craving drugs or alcohol, realize that urges typically come in waves that pass in a half-hour or less. Wait it out and keep your mind occupied until the cravings lessen. Watch a video, do a puzzle, take a hot shower, go for a walk. The cravings may not disappear entirely, but they’ll be more manageable. 
  • Practice gratitude every day, and appreciate the little things that bring you happiness. Be grateful for your sobriety

Alternate Plans for Getting Through the Holidays Sober

If you feel like being social, think about hosting a substance-free party for friends in recovery. Drag out the board games, watch movies, or host a potluck or a traditional ugly sweater contest. Provide plenty of beverages like sparkling cider, ginger ale, or non-alcoholic punch. 

Alternatively, attend a holiday get-together hosted by a local recovery center. Watch for “alcathons” or “narcathons,” often hosted by 12-Step groups during the holidays. Other ideas include bowling parties, skating rinks, or fireworks displays.  

If You Relapse

Relapse is part of the recovery process for many people, but don’t automatically assume that it’s inevitable or that recovery is all or nothing. If you’ve had a momentary slip or a full-on relapse, it doesn’t mean you’re a failure or your efforts at recovery have been a waste of time and money.  

Don’t beat yourself up. Forgive yourself, stay positive, and use this rough patch as a valuable learning opportunity. It may be helpful to call a counselor or attend a 12-Step meeting, or if necessary, get yourself back into recovery. If anxiety or depression triggers your relapse, get help right away.

We’re Ready for Your Call

If holiday temptations are getting you down, or if you’ve experienced a relapse, we’re here for you. At 1st Step, our friendly team of experts can walk you through your options for getting back on the road to recovery. Please give us a call at 855-425-4846  or contact us online

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Brittany Polansky, MSW, LCSW

Brittany Polansky, MSW, LCSWBrittany has been working in behavioral health since 2012 and is the Assistant Clinical Director at our facility. She is an LCSW and holds a master’s degree in social work. She has great experience with chemical dependency and co-occurring mental health diagnoses as well as various therapeutic techniques. Brittany is passionate about treating all clients with dignity and respect, and providing a safe environment where clients can begin their healing journey in recovery.