You’ve worked so hard to quit drinking. It’s not easy, and it’s something you must work on every day of your life. You should be so incredibly proud of getting this far. But now the holidays are coming up. And you’re scared. How are you going to avoid the urge to drink during social gatherings? Especially when there are so many parties and dinners this time of year. Sure, you could avoid them altogether. But you don’t have to. Being around alcohol is something that is going to happen from time to time as you navigate your new sober world. It will be helpful to have some strategies in place, so you can handle unexpected situations as they come up.
Don’t Be Too Hard on Yourself, Especially in the Beginning
As you’re starting your sobriety, things may feel harder than you expected them to. That’s ok! If getting invited to your friend’s annual holiday party feels just overwhelming to handle, it’s ok to say no. Give yourself some wiggle room, especially in the beginning. If you feel in your gut that staying home is the right choice, stay home. However, if you want to go, there are ways to enjoy a social outing while staying sober. It may just take some practice.
Know Your Limits
When you’re at a party or holiday dinner, the urge to drink may always be there. But the urges may vary in intensity. A champagne toast on New Year’s, for example, may be easy to avoid with some sparkling cider instead. But being around a group of friends that are drinking for the entire party may present a more difficult situation. If that uncomfortable feeling is too hard to shake, don’t feel bad for removing yourself from the situation. The chances are that your friends and family know at least a bit of your struggle and won’t mind that you’re putting your mental health - and your sobriety - first. And if they don’t, then you may need to reevaluate who you spend your time with. Recovery is a journey, and it’s best spent with people who are willing to support you.
Track Your Urges
Knowledge is power - and this goes double for recovery. When you track your urges, you can better understand what triggers your desire to drink in social situations. The better you understand your urges, the better you will be at controlling them. So, how do you track your urges? Well, there are apps available that you could download on your smartphone, but it’s also easy to do it on your own. Carry a notepad with you every time you go out or download a note-taking app on your phone. When the urge to drink hits, write down the following:
- The date and time
- Where you are (Be specific. For example: Main Street Cafe, sitting outside at a patio table)
- Who you were with
- What triggered the urge (For example: Sally ordered a martini)
- How you felt before the urge hit. (Happy, sad, stressed, tired, etc.)
- The intensity of the urge on a scale from 1 to 10.
Tracking your urges like this allows you to see the bigger picture. Do your urges intensify over the holidays? Do you only have urges when you’re with a particular group of friends? Are your urges milder when you’re in a specific place? Having all this knowledge about your urges can help you make smarter decisions in social situations. Sometimes seeing everything on paper can help bring things into perspective. And when you know what may be triggering your urges, it will be easier to avoid those triggers.
Be Prepared to Plan
We’re not all-natural planners. However, if you’re recovering from an alcohol addiction, becoming a planner is essential. At the beginning of your recovery, you’re going to be faced with many challenging scenarios. Work parties, family holiday dinners, birthday parties, etc. - that can be extremely overwhelming. Call a support person beforehand if you know a holiday dinner might be triggering for you. Explain the situation and let them know there’s a possibility you may need their help that evening. You don’t even have to go into details. A simple, “I’m staying sober over the holidays and would love your support in doing so tonight” is all it takes. Ask a friend who’s not attending the party to check in on you mid-evening. Consider setting up a code word or text with a friend if you need a quick “out”. The more layers of protection you have in place, the easier it will be to resist an urge when it hits.
How to Handle an Urge When it Hits
All the charting and planning in the world may still not prevent you from having an urge to drink. And you may not know when or how it will strike. So, learning how to handle those alcohol urges is critical. There are a couple of different ways you can approach a drinking urge:
- Distraction - One way to handle an urge is to distract yourself from it. Distraction is a very effective tool, especially early on in your recovery. So, if someone offers you a drink at a Christmas party and you have the urge to accept, consider one of the following options:
- Walk away. Say “No, thanks.” and walk away from the bar area. Grab some appetizers instead.
- Change the subject. Instead of accepting the drink, say no and ask the offeror about sports, the weather, or whatever pops in your head.
- Seek out someone safe. If you spot another sober friend or someone that knows what stage of recovery you’re in, seek them out. Odds are, they’ll be more than willing to support you.
- Default to your drink refusal script- Be prepared with a memorized answer when you’re offered a drink. This strategy can help you maintain your cool and resist urges. Abstaining from alcohol is your choice- and your right. A firm “No thanks. But I’ll have a diet coke, please (or whatever your preferred non-alcoholic drink may be).”
- Avoid triggers- If you’ve been tracking your urges like mentioned above, you should be at least somewhat aware of what your triggers are. Once you know them, you can avoid them. For example, if driving by your favorite bar makes you want a beer, don’t drive that way. If a particular coworker aggravates you and ups your stress level, don’t associate with them outside of work.
Get Some Extra Therapy Sessions In
If you’re recovering from addiction, you’re most likely in therapy in some form. With the holidays coming up, schedule an extra session every week. Go to an extra meeting. Call your sponsor more than usual. Needing help is ok, and it’s a sign that you’re trying hard to stay sober. So, it’s something to be proud of. There’s never any shame in asking for extra help. Tell your support team that you’ll be attending more social gatherings than usual and may need more assistance. They probably have some great tips and will be more than willing to help you set up some extra layers of support. Remember to tell your therapists, counselors, and sponsors about the coping mechanisms you’re working on. Talking everything out will help give you some accountability for sticking to your plans over the holidays.
Pick up a New Hobby
There’s a reason why art, music, and alternative therapies are a part of alcohol rehab. When you throw yourself into a creative outlet, recovery feels a bit easier. In fact, scientific studies are showing it as well. But even after you’ve completed rehab, creative outlets are still beneficial, especially in the beginning stages when the urges may be the strongest. You don’t have to be an artist or an accomplished musician to pick up a creative hobby. The holiday season is a perfect time to experiment with something as simple as crafting. And in today’s world, you can teach yourself pretty much anything with the assistance of YouTube. Throw yourself into crochet, weaving, knitting, scrapbooking, painting, learning an instrument, or anything else you’ve always wanted to do! An alcohol addiction will take up a lot of a person’s time. When you’re recovering, filling that time with a productive hobby can be a great way to reduce the times you feel urges. Cravings and urges can feel all-encompassing, but so can any kind of art. Balancing out your urges with a healthier outlet is always a good idea.
Host Your Own Alcohol-Free Get-Togethers
If a party is on your turf, you get to make the rules. If you’re nervous about attending family events during the holidays, consider hosting them yourself! Not only will you be able to eliminate the temptation of alcohol, but you can also plan the event on your terms. Invite the people that make you feel happy and secure - it’s all up to you! Theme parties are a great way to have a sober good time during the holidays, as well as white elephant gift exchanges. And instead of alcohol, you can serve sparkling cider or holiday fruit punch. There are many ways to plan a festive party without missing the alcohol. No pressure, it’s your party, and you can plan it any way you want to. Have your friends (the ones that are aware you’re sober) help out. It could end up being a great thing to look forward to - without the pressure of drinking.
You’re only human. If mistakes happen, tomorrow is a new day.
Nearly ⅓ of recovering alcoholics relapse during the first year of their sobriety.
Recovery isn’t a destination; it’s a journey. And since you’re human, mistakes happen. If you slip up during the holidays - YOU ARE NOT ALONE. And it doesn’t mean you failed either! You get up the following day, and you start again. There’s a reason why people trying to beat an alcohol addiction are called “recovering alcoholics”. You are recovering each day. The addiction doesn’t go away; you just get better at resisting it. And like any new skill, you’re not going to master it right away. The important thing is not to wallow in your misstep. Contact your sponsor, therapist, your best friend - and pick yourself back up.
If you need help, reach out. Alcohol Rehab Center has plenty of resources for people interested in starting their recovery journey or those who just need a little support along the way. Give us a call today.