Whether an individual is just out of rehab or has been abstinent for a long time, the holiday season can still be a challenging time for maintaining sobriety. Alcohol is a common presence at celebrations with family, friends, and even coworkers, making it difficult to enjoy many events. At the same time, missing out on celebrations can make a person feel lonely during this emotionally charged season, and it can even put a strain on relationships.

In addition, certain elements of the season can also present triggers that might make cravings harder to avoid. Emotional and physical triggers exist that can make it easy to give in to those cravings and fall off the wagon. As described by Psychology Today, the stress, anxiety, and depression that can be common during this time of year can sometimes lead people to break their abstinence.

Staying Sober during the Holidays

Even with all the season’s challenges, individuals who are in recovery can make it through the holidays and stay sober. All it takes is a little vigilance, planning, and awareness of some tools and practices that make it easier to avoid relapse while still having an enjoyable holiday season.

The Importance of Preparation

The holidays are often seen as a time of unmitigated joy and celebration. However, for people in recovery, this time of year can represent a threat to continued sobriety. Money issues, difficult relationships, and other stressful aspects of the holidays are often similar to the situations that led to the drug or alcohol abuse to begin with, making the holiday season appear to the individual recovering from substance abuse as a series of potential traps leading to renewed substance use.

The best way to avoid these pitfalls is to be prepared in advance. Knowing potential triggers that may lead to cravings can help the individual make a plan to avoid the various situations, or develop alternative responses that enable the person to cope without resorting to drugs or alcohol. As described by an article from Psych Central, it can also be important to be aware that each person’s willpower is limited. As a result, knowing when to say no and avoid a situation altogether may be the best bet in certain cases.

Common Triggers

One of the things that can help most in preventing relapse during the holidays is awareness of common triggers that may lead to picking up again. As discussed above, the following holiday season triggers are the most common:

  • Extended family time
  • Loneliness
  • Parties
  • The old neighborhood
  • Seasonal affective disorder

Dealing with these triggers is best managed by recognizing them, developing responses to them, and practicing those responses before encountering the situations. For example, rehearsing ways of turning down offers of drugs or drinks from old friends can make it easier to resist those temptations when they occur. In addition, knowing alternative ways to enjoy the holidays without drinking or drugs, as well as situations to avoid, can help individuals make sure that relapse to substance abuse doesn’t happen during this stressful time of year.

Things to Enjoy

Focusing on what can be enjoyed during the holiday season can prevent the individual from experiencing feelings of missing out or isolation. The following ideas are just some examples of how a person in recovery can enjoy the holiday season while avoiding the temptation to use alcohol or drugs.

Nonalcoholic beverages

An individual struggling with addiction should never feel obligated to leave the beverage planning to others. Instead, the individual can plan ahead and bring special, nonalcoholic beverages to parties. Make sure to inform the party host so there will be no issues. If for any reason there is an issue, that party may be a situation to avoid.

New friends

Recovery often brings relationships with new friends who are also in recovery or who are supportive of the individual’s abstinence. Making sure to spend time with these friends during the holidays can increase confidence and motivation to continue to stay sober.

Friends from “those days”

A lot of people head home for the holidays or find themselves in other situations where they encounter people from the period when they were struggling with substance abuse. Avoiding parties and declining invitations to spend time with these individuals can go a long way in preventing triggers. However, if these friends are unavoidable, it can be important to have an advance plan for responding to their presence without resorting to substance use.

Places that trigger

Similarly, the holidays often involve celebrations at locations that might serve as triggers. Parties in bars or at the homes of family or friends who used to participate in drug use or drinking, or with whom conflict creates a high level of stress, can serve as a subconscious trigger.

As with people, places may not always be avoidable. Being aware of potential triggers and having a plan for how to respond to them that distracts from the temptation to use drugs or alcohol can help.


Sometimes, it may feel like being around people can increase the stress of the season. However, being alone during the holidays can trigger depression and anxiety that contribute to cravings and relapse to substance abuse. Be sure to spend time with supportive loved ones to the degree possible to maintain positive emotions. If nothing else, be sure to connect with friends met in rehab or in peer support group meetings. These friends can provide the cheerleading and motivation needed to get through the season without giving in to cravings.

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