family gathering during holidays

With the increased amount of alcohol during the holiday season from November to January, the potential for relapse can feel overwhelming. The holidays evoke many feelings, including stress, anxiety, and loneliness. Those with alcohol use disorder can feel tempted to numb these feelings by having a drink, which can create a slippery slope. To avoid alcohol misuse, consider the following tips when moving into the holiday season. 

How to stay safe amid holiday drinking

Navigating the holiday season can often be challenging, especially for individuals striving to maintain sobriety or avoid alcohol misuse. The festive period, characterized by celebrations and social gatherings, can inadvertently heighten the temptation to indulge in alcohol. This guide offers practical strategies and thoughtful insights aimed at helping individuals successfully manage their alcohol consumption during the holidays, ensuring a season filled with joy, health, and well-being, without the shadow of alcohol-related stress.

Exercise regularly

Engaging in regular physical activity during the holiday season can be a highly effective strategy in managing stress and reducing the temptation to consume alcohol. Exercise not only improves physical health but also has significant benefits for mental wellbeing. Activities such as brisk walking, jogging, yoga, or even dancing at home release endorphins, natural mood elevators, which can help alleviate feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression that often accompany the holiday season. Furthermore, establishing a routine around physical exercise can create a sense of structure and normalcy, providing a healthy outlet for coping with the emotional turbulence that sometimes arises during this time of year.

In addition to its mood-boosting effects, exercise can also serve as a valuable social activity. Participating in group sports, attending fitness classes, or simply going for walks with friends or family members can foster a sense of community and belonging, which is particularly beneficial for those who are trying to avoid alcohol. The sense of accomplishment and progress from regular exercise can also boost self-esteem, reinforcing the commitment to maintaining a healthy lifestyle free from alcohol misuse.

Volunteer or stay busy

The holiday season is about giving, so volunteering can keep your mind busy and help you practice gratitude. Studies show volunteering can improve your physical and mental health. People who volunteer typically have a higher quality of life and may even be reminded why they quit drinking alcohol in the first place.

Additionally, these primarily social opportunities provide a loving environment that keeps your spirits high during the holiday season. If you volunteer regularly, you can also meet new people to become a part of your support system. 

Have non-alcoholic drinks handy

Having a plan in place will make attending a party with alcohol go smoothly. If you bring your own drink, such as seltzer water or soda, the host might be less likely to offer you a drink, making you less tempted. 

However, family or friends asking why you aren’t drinking might be challenging. Preparing what you’d like to say in response beforehand can keep you on track. Some potential responses include:

  • “I’m the designated driver.”
  • “I’m taking a new medication.”
  • “I’m in recovery and happy to talk to you about my experience in private.”

However, understand and set your own boundaries. A simple “no” is a full sentence; you don’t owe anyone your story. 

Create a support group or have a “buddy” 

You shouldn’t have to battle alcoholism on your own. Many professionals suggest having friends or a support group with similar struggles who can pull you out from a possible relapse. Attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, one-on-one therapy sessions, or an outpatient rehab program during the holidays can provide helpful guidance. 

The first step always entails reaching out. Many services give those struggling with alcohol misuse a phone number or crisis helpline available during the holidays at any hour of the day. You can also ask trusted family members to be a part of your support group.

Eat well 

Mental health conditions such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder can lead to alcohol use disorder. Nutrition can also impact your mood, so sticking with a healthy, consistent diet may cause fewer mood swings and greater life satisfaction. Fruits, vegetables, and foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids can contribute to a more focused mind.

Consider alternative celebrations

Rethinking traditional holiday celebrations can be a refreshing way to enjoy the season without the emphasis on alcohol. Exploring new traditions that focus on activities rather than drinking can create enjoyable, memorable experiences. This could include hosting a game night, organizing a winter sports day, engaging in arts and crafts sessions, or planning outdoor adventures like hiking or ice skating. These activities not only provide entertainment but also strengthen bonds with family and friends in a healthy, alcohol-free environment.

Another alternative is to celebrate with culinary creativity, focusing on preparing and sharing meals or non-alcoholic beverages that are festive and flavorful. Cooking or baking together can be a fun and engaging way to spend time with loved ones. Themed dinner parties, where the focus is on the cuisine rather than alcohol, can also be a delightful way to celebrate. By shifting the focus of holiday gatherings from alcohol to these enriching and interactive activities, individuals can enjoy the spirit of the season in a way that supports their well-being and sobriety.

Set realistic expectations

The holiday season often brings with it a whirlwind of emotions and pressure to create perfect, memorable experiences. It’s crucial to acknowledge and set realistic expectations for these festivities to avoid feelings of disappointment, stress, or the need to turn to alcohol for comfort. Understanding that not every moment will be picture-perfect and that it’s okay to experience a range of emotions, including joy, sadness, or even indifference, can help maintain a healthier mindset. This approach reduces the pressure one might feel to use alcohol as a means to either enhance or numb these feelings.

Emphasizing the value of simple joys and genuine connections over grand gestures or flawless events can also help in setting realistic expectations. Encouraging individuals to focus on the essence of the holiday spirit—such as togetherness, gratitude, and kindness—rather than on external factors like gifts, parties, or elaborate meals, can provide a more fulfilling and less stressful holiday experience. This shift in perspective can significantly lessen the reliance on alcohol as a coping mechanism for unmet expectations or holiday stress.

Understand holiday grief and loss

For many, the holiday season can be a poignant reminder of loved ones lost, intensifying feelings of grief and loneliness. It’s important to recognize and validate these feelings rather than suppressing them, which can lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms like alcohol misuse. Creating space to honor and remember those who are no longer with us can be a meaningful part of the holiday experience. This might involve incorporating special traditions or memorials into holiday celebrations, allowing for a connection with the past while acknowledging the present.

Additionally, seeking support during this time can be crucial. This could be through spending time with understanding friends or family, joining a support group, or seeking professional counseling. Engaging in activities that bring comfort, whether it’s quiet reflection, creative expression, or spending time in nature, can also be therapeutic. It’s important to remember that it’s okay to experience joy and sorrow simultaneously during the holidays and that embracing these emotions can be a part of the healing process.

Avoid underage drinking 

Families may think it’s not a big deal for an underage adult to drink alcohol at a family party. However, there is always risk involved. For students in high school, teachers can discuss the dangers of underage drinking with their students before winter break. 

Open communication with your children about drinking and its consequences is essential. Letting your kids know the harmful effects alcohol has on the brain when drinking at a young age may prevent them from experimenting. Keep alcohol out of reach in the house, and if your child does get stuck in a situation where they drink alcohol, let them know they can always rely on you without judgment.

If you or someone you know is suffering from substance misuse and looking for recovery assistance, the Wellspring Center of Prevention is here to help. We can assist you in finding a treatment facility through the Self Help Tool

Photo by Nicole Michalou

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