A wonderful time for celebrations, Christmas and New Year are often the hardest times of the year to stay sober. 

With so much focus on socialising and making merry, the festive period can also be the riskiest time of the year for those that have struggled in the past with drink and drug addiction to relapse.

But staying sober this year is something to celebrate and we want to shine a light on those that won’t be using alcohol or drugs to have a good time as well as offering some tips on how to deal with abstaining from drink and drugs this party season.  

A Wonderful Time of the Year

As a traditional time for celebration, the Christmas and New Year periods can have an impact on everyone involved with a recovery journey. Whether you are directly involved in recovery from alcohol or drug addiction, a family member or close friend, this time of year has the potential to have an impact on so many lives. 

Traditionally, Christmas is a time of excess. Emotions are heightened, relationships and normal everyday activities manifest into bigger,  more super-charged events, we spend more and so much of what we experience is accompanied by a drink.Many people who do not usually drink to excess, find themselves going way beyond their normal limits.

For those that are relatively new to sobriety or are going sober for the first time, Christmas can be one of the most important tests of your resolve and recovery.

People in early recovery- along with their support network – must maintain constant awareness that this festive season can put them in so  many  vulnerable situations, as they encounter environments where alcohol and drugs are more open and available. 

Planning on Sobriety this Christmas 

For those in recovery – or just anyone trying to avoid excesses- preparation must start early to avoid a dependency or a relapse and instead create a framework that can be used to enjoy Christmas or New Year to their fullest for many years to come.

Staying sober over the coming weeks is likely to be a daunting prospect for anyone that has previously battled addiction previously.

The first step is to calmly assess some of the more dangerous environments and create a plan- and a mindset to deal with them.

Staying Sober at the Work Christmas Party

It is no secret that Christmas parties with work are notoriously boozy. Colleagues start planning how to maximise on this opportunity weeks in advance. 

For someone that has battled addiction, this may have been the scene of many a drunken escapade and for those newly sober, the thought of being surrounded by drunk work colleagues and free alcohol on tap is likely to cause a lot of anxiety. 

If drinking – and maybe drug taking – are a key part of the night’s agenda, deciding not to attend your works Christmas party may be a sensible option, particularly if the thought of it causes you to feel particularly anxious or that there may be even the smallest chance of you picking up a drink in a moment of weakness or to try and fit in.

But, no one likes missing out and having to listen to the constant office banter without being able to take part, so if you do decide to go, there are some upsides and here are some tips on how to stay sober at Christmas parties:

  • Nominate yourself as the designated driver.
  • Remember ultimately this is a professional environment and staying sober – and still having a good time- makes a very good impression. 
  • If you aren’t driving, book a taxi relatively early in the night so you can leave before things get too messy. 
  • Binge drinking isn’t as prevalent in Gen Z- lots of people just don’t drink
  • Mocktails can be as fun as cocktails
  • Non-alcoholic versions of beer, larger and wine are widely available

When first giving up drinking, it can feel like you’re the only one. The reality is that not everyone likes alcohol! Remember many people don’t drink for health, religious or even fitness reasons, so there is far less judgment. You might be surprised by how many people also aren’t drinking.

Avoiding alcohol as a present

It’s common at Christmas to give alcohol to others as a gift – this can present a problem to someone who is trying hard to be sober.

We wouldn’t advise anyone new to sobriety to have alcohol in their home. Your home needs to be a safe space for you. Even though you may feel strong and focused on your sobriety now, there may come a time when you will feel tempted by alcohol in your home. It is better to avoid the risk.

Be prepared and have a plan for what you will do if you receive any alcohol as a gift. 

If you don’t feel brave enough to tell the gift giver your reasons for politely declining the bottle they are offering, maybe discreetly pass it onto a family member, a  friend or neighbour or even a charity raffle as a donation.Failing that, quickly dispose of the alcohol down the sink.

Sharing others’ Sobriety at Christmas.

Any period of isolation can be dangerous for those on a road to recovery,  especially if it is your first sober Christmas. Self-pity combined with boredom, resentment and loneliness is a toxic mix and would test most people. 

We recommend sharing the time with others that understand your circumstances meaning you can provide support – and celebration for their efforts too.

Failing that, there are many ways to keep busy, as there are many places or causes that are always incredibly grateful for help and support presence over the Christmas period, so plan ahead and make some enquiries.

Coping with family sober over Christmas

Staying sober at Christmas puts a different perspective on everything, and family is no exception. 

Family members can be essential to your recovery plan, but- as many might like a drink themselves- they may have also been enablers of your addiction. Some may even have expressed negative feelings about your previous behaviour and choices. 

Whatever the relationships, if this is your first sober Christmas it is not unusual to feel somewhat overwhelmed by the thought of sharing it with a large group of family members.

Again, plan ahead, there may be alcohol present if you are at house parties, you will need to remain in control and stay focused on your needs not anyone else’s. 

If you know your family will be drinking heavily try and limit the amount of time you spend with them, perhaps plan visits early in the morning when drinking is less likely or plan a walk where the activity is the important thing.

Also plan time with sober friends or take another non-drinker with you. 

It may be a good idea to plan to attend a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous, there are a number that take place on Christmas day.

Try not to get too tired, too hungry, or too emotional. Identify possible sources of stress, whether these are venues, situations or family members and ask for help in avoiding them. 

It is also important to remember that it’s okay to say no. Saying yes to too many invites might place you under additional pressure. You do not even have to explain yourself if you do not want to. Practice keeping things simple and take them one day at a time. 

How to enjoy staying sober at Christmas

The key to enjoying a sober Christmas and New Year is planning. 

As we have outlined above, there will undoubtedly be some situations where drink and drugs may be present and you might feel out of control or anxious. 

Identify these scenarios in advance and – ideally with the help of your network- either plan to remove yourself from them entirely or develop a strategy that enables you to enjoy them on your terms. 

By planning ahead, you are less likely to make bad decisions or do things that could put your hard work and  sobriety at risk.

It’s impossible to predict every eventuality, and isolation can be just as dangerous as turning up, but it is also vital that you understand that any expectations around what enjoying Christmas and New Year might mean don’t involve getting drunk or high. 

Instead, Allow yourself to experience what can be a wonderful time of the year the way you want to – practice gratitude for the simple things that Christmas has to offer.

Put your recovery first; whatever routine you have developed it is important to maintain it. Spend time with sober friends, attend meetings and enjoy you. 

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