The Dry Season – Maintaining Sobriety During the Holidays

Ah, the holidays. It’s the most magical time of year, with its dancing lights and syrupy carols, its sumptuous feasts and fast-flowing liquor. But what if you are among the more than 23 million Americans in recovery, according to current estimates from the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS)? How do you keep maintaining sobriety in the season of holiday wines and New Years’ champagne toasts?

Tis The Season

The simple fact is that the holiday season is also the season of stress. Studies show that the prevalence of anxiety, loneliness, and depression peaks during the holiday season. Daily routines which can provide comfort and predictability, especially to those battling addiction, are disrupted by an endless train of parties, travel, and days off work. Financial and familial stressors swell to seemingly mammoth proportions: There are gifts to buy, meals to make, houses to decorate, and a litany of relatives to visit. And the pressure to wear the mask of merry-making is immense. In the face of the extraordinary stresses of the holiday season, the temptation to have a little nip, a sip just to take the edge off, can be enormous, precipitating a lapse that can have devastating consequences for your health and your relationships.

Knowing Your Triggers

Those who battle addiction know that these self-destructive patterns do not simply appear in a vacuum. Something—and, more likely, a constellation of things—precipitates the excessive behavior. So one of the most important elements in maintaining your sobriety during the holidays is knowing what is most likely to trigger your addiction. Are you more likely to want to drink after a fight with your spouse? Do feel you need something to settle down after a long day with the kids? Or maybe you most want to drink when you’re happy? Do you find that a celebration isn’t complete without a little liquid lubrication?

Understanding those moments when you are most vulnerable to your addiction is key to prevention, to ensuring that temptation does not cascade into relapse.

Self-Help MBSR Mindfulness

Take time to care for yourself, whether relaxing, exercising, or being with friends

Practice Extreme Self-Care

In the rush and tumult of the holiday season, it can be all too easy to put yourself—and your sobriety—on the backburner. And this is precisely what makes the holiday season, for many, the season of lost recovery. Amid the chaos and the added stress of the holidays, your sobriety depends upon your ability and your willingness to make yourself a priority, to put yourself and your wellness at the top of your holiday list. There is nothing selfish in this. Your family, your friends, your coworkers will benefit, in the short or long run. After all, to save another, you must first save yourself.

So, what do you do? First, try to maintain your ordinary daily routine as much as possible. This can minimize exposure to those events and activities that trigger your addiction. When your routine is disrupted, and it inevitably will be to some extent, then ensure that you are on guard against those scenarios most likely to stir your addiction. Have a plan in place to quiet that compulsion. Identify those behaviors that are most effective for you in fighting your addiction: Is it exercise? Meditation? Prayer? Social support?

As you work what works for you, make sure that you have ready access to the resources that you need. If you find strength and comfort in recovery programs and support groups, ensure that you know the holiday meeting times and places of those groups, even when you are traveling. Addiction is often its most ravenous in the face of loneliness, and, for many of us, loneliness is never stronger than when we are in the middle of a festive holiday crowd. But the support of likeminded people, of those who understand and are fighting the good fight of recovery themselves, can vanquish the loneliness that leads many addicts to seek companionship at the bottom of a bottle.

Recognize the Physiological Basis of Addiction

Addiction is far more than a simple psychological process. It is a complex network of emotional, psychological, and physiological processes. Thus, to maintain your sobriety during the holidays, it is incumbent upon you to take care of your body as well as your mind and your spirit. Ensure that you are getting ample and replenishing rest and focus on proper nutrition, even amid the decadent treats of the season.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that you must deprive yourself of the pleasures of the season, the late night parties and the delicious goodies of the holidays—that will only lead to resentment and to a greater temptation to fly into the arms of your drug of choice. But neither should you deprive your body—and particularly your brain–of the rest and the nourishment it needs to help you stay strong, serene, and centered in your sobriety. For more information on maintaining sobriety, visit

The holidays are a trying time for everyone. The pressures and pleasures of the season seem to license excess, indeed, to require and condone indulgent, self-destructive behaviors. But if you are working to maintain your sobriety, the holidays do not have to sound the death knell on your recovery. Through strategy and support, you can stay clean through the holidays, you can keep yourself and your wellness at the top of the priority list. And you can enjoy a wonderful season—while greeting the New Year healthy, strong, and free of regret!

By Terri Beth Miller

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Latest update: December 23, 2016
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