Self-help

Holiday Survival Guide: For the Sober Person in Recovery

If you’re in recovery from a substance use disorder, the holidays might be a trying time for you. Holiday festivities often are social gatherings where alcohol is prevalent, which can make it tricky to navigate environments that might trigger cravings, especially if you’re newly sober. Not to mention, holiday stressors such as family drama, financial […]

Grow Therapy therapist Gregorio (Greg) Lozano III LPC By Greg Lozano, LPC

Updated on Jan 12, 2024

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If you’re in recovery from a substance use disorder, the holidays might be a trying time for you. Holiday festivities often are social gatherings where alcohol is prevalent, which can make it tricky to navigate environments that might trigger cravings, especially if you’re newly sober.

Not to mention, holiday stressors such as family drama, financial pressures, or societal expectations can contribute to the vulnerability of individuals in recovery. The stress might tempt you to lean into old maladaptive coping methods, such as relying on substances to temporarily make you feel better. 

Here are six useful pieces of advice if you’re in recovery this holiday season:

1. Broaden your sober support network

Having other sober people in your network is key during this tricky time. These people know exactly what you’re going through and can provide advice and motivation. Speak to them ahead of time to clue them in that you could use their support this holiday season. 

“Whether it’s through talking with friends and family, support groups, or 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous, make sure to have a strong list of three to five people you can connect with if you need to talk,” suggests Sean Abraham, a licensed clinical social worker with Grow Therapy. “Having multiple people available to rely on when you are experiencing cravings and triggers means you will be more likely to attempt to reach out and actually reach someone.”

2. Have a self-care regimen

It’s helpful to have a self-care routine that you stick to throughout the holiday season to keep your overall mental health in check. If you’re taking care of yourself and feeling well, this can help reduce your chances of relapsing. 

When I consider self-care, the best doctors are the least complex – rest, hydration, nutrition, fresh air, and sunshine,” says Lauren Brunner, a licensed clinical social worker with Grow Therapy.

Regimentation and routine are also of utmost importance here too, Brunner says. She recommends the following:

“These are things that are in our control. A daily routine with structure and regimentation that incorporates the components of self-care can be a safety net when overwhelming urges and cravings take hold,” Brunner says. 

3. Have your self-soothing and coping skills ready to go

Self-soothing can look a lot different ways. I have found that having a large toolbox of self-soothing skills at the ready can be really important,” Brunner says. Ideally, you want to have self-soothing strategies that work for all different types of scenarios. For example, for moments where you’re anxious and overwhelmed, you might want to try meditation or breathwork – or if you need to boost your mood or energy levels, you might want to opt for a high-intensity workout, Brunner says. 

It’s always a good idea to have a short list of concrete things that you can do or skills you can practice to find some peace or comfort when things get hectic and unmanageable.

- Sean Abraham LCSW

Additionally, you want to be able to easily access these coping skills. When you’re triggered or actively in crisis, it’s hard to think straight and remember what can help you. It’s always a good idea to have a short list of concrete things that you can do or skills you can practice to find some peace or comfort when things get hectic and unmanageable,” Abraham says. “Try writing a list of coping skills and keeping it in your wallet or on your phone so it is always available when you need it.” 

4. Play the tape through

Abraham recommends using the “play the tape through” strategy. It’s common to reminisce on times that you were drinking or using your substance of choice, thinking that they were good times, which might lead to cravings and desire to experience that again. 

“If we can remind ourselves what actually comes next when we take that first drink or use that first time, it can be easier to cope with the cravings as they arise,” Abraham says. “Instead of thinking, ‘Getting drunk tonight will be a blast,’ play the tape through by asking yourself, ‘Will it really be fun? Will it really only be tonight? What happened last time I drank?’”

When you play the tape through in this way, you’ll remind yourself of your motivation to stay sober in the first place.

5. Develop and stick to an exit plan

You aren’t obligated to stay somewhere that makes you feel uncomfortable. It’s important to put yourself first in recovery to keep yourself safe. 

“During the holidays, we can often find ourselves in situations with drugs or alcohol, be it with our families or friends, and it can be really difficult to manage the cravings that arise when we see the substances or other people using them,” Abraham says. “Having an exit plan that you can put to use to have a quick and reliable way to leave the event or occasion can be the difference between sobriety and a setback or relapse. This might mean asking a close, sober friend to give you a ride if you tell them you need to leave.” 

Of course, there’s always a rideshare option like Uber or Lyft if you don’t have a sober person who can drive you. 

6. Seek support with a substance abuse counselor

Whether you’re looking to overcome your substance abuse problem or simply need support on your recovery journey, a therapist can help. Grow Therapy can connect you with an online therapist who accepts your insurance and specializes in substance abuse.

Frequently Asked Questions

About the author
Grow Therapy therapist Gregorio (Greg) Lozano III LPC Greg Lozano, LPC

Greg Lozano is a licensed professional counselor who specializes in mood disorders, trauma, PTSD, anxiety, depression, and relationships.

This article is not meant to be a replacement for medical advice. We recommend speaking with a therapist for personalized information about your mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who can offer support and address any questions or concerns. If you or your child is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should dial 9-1-1 and/or go to the nearest emergency room.

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