Staying Sober Over the Holidays

As it stands, staying sober is no small task. In fact, it is one of the most difficult things that any individual will ever have to do. If you have experienced active addiction firsthand, and you are now in recovery, you understand that while addiction is devastating, extensively damaging and altogether life-threatening, getting sober often proves to be more difficult than continuing to destroy your life at the hands of a chemical substance. Not only do you have to navigate day-to-day life without the use of drugs and alcohol (for what might be the very first time ever), but you have to effectively cope with uncomfortable feelings and emotions as they crop up. There are certain times of life during which staying sober proves to be a bit more difficult. Staying sober can be challenging if you are dealing with the loss of a loved one, for example, or if you are undergoing a major change like transitioning from one career to another or making a move across the country.

Staying sober can also be exceptionally difficult around the holidays – a time when ugly sweater parties, White Elephant gift exchanges and company gingerbread house decorating competitions shift into high gear. While COVID-related restrictions and guidelines might lead to a holiday season that is slightly different than those we are used to, it is important to be well-equipped with the tools and coping mechanisms needed to keep your sobriety intact through potentially triggering situations.

How to Refuse a Drink at Holiday Parties

While some of us undoubtedly enjoy throwing on our ugliest Christmas sweater and heading to one of many holiday-themed parties, many of us dread such functions for a variety of reasons. We will have to make small talk with the coworkers and acquaintances we typically avoid, we will have to whip up some ghastly casserole for the potluck dinner and we will have to politely refuse the alcoholic beverages that seem to be offered to us every five minutes. It can be a lot to deal with. Politely refusing drinks at holiday parties and other social functions tends to cause men and women who are in early recovery an unnecessary amount of stress. Seeing as we are prone to overthinking, we might mull over 10 different responses to one simple question – “Can I get you something to drink?” While a simple, “No, thank you” typically suffices, we have a tendency to believe that our responses need to be significantly more intricate and evolved. while this isn’t the case, we have compiled a list of several things you might say in response to such an offering.

Below are several hypothetical scenarios, coupled with appropriate responses. Remember – “no” is a complete sentence! You are not obligated to share your sobriety with anyone, let alone detail the ins and outs of your recovery program. Do what you’re comfortable doing, and remember that your sobriety is really no one’s business but your own.

Scenario 1: You are invited to attend a small staff-only Christmas party at a local bar. Every employee is given two drink tickets upon his or her arrival. You aren’t sure exactly what you’re taking when the tickets are shoved into your hand, but there you are, standing alone in a bar with what could easily transform into two free cocktails.

Response: Since you already have the tickets in hand, the most appropriate thing to do is get rid of them as quickly as possible. Hand them off to someone you know, and simply say something like, “Here, you can go ahead and have these. I’m not drinking tonight.”

Scenario 2: You are at a small gathering with a bunch of your closest friends – it’s the first social event you’ve been to since you got out of inpatient rehab. You knew there would be alcohol at the party, and so you considered not going at all – but your sponsor suggested you give it a shot and make your escape if you started to feel uncomfortable or triggered. The alcohol didn’t really bother you, but you found yourself in a group of friends who started talking about where the heck you had been for the past two months. “I heard you were in rehab.” “Yeah, I heard you had a problem with meth and it got really bad. Is that true?” “What was rehab like?” “Do you think you’re actually a drug addict?”

Response: If you get bombarded with questions about your sobriety, the best thing to do is to set and maintain your personal boundaries as soon as possible. Whether you’re dealing with close friends or acquaintances, your personal recovery journey can stay as private as you would like it to. An example of something you might say if you want to shut it down is, “I appreciate your curiosity, but I don’t really feel comfortable talking about my recovery yet.” Or, “It’s a long story, one that I prefer not to discuss at this time. I’m a lot better off than I was, that’s for sure. Thank you for asking!”

Scenario 3: There is an open bar at a holiday party you are attending, and you know that open bars happen to be one of your personal relapse triggers. You show up at the party anyways, and are immediately offered a drink. You politely refuse, but are repeatedly offered drinks throughout the remainder of the evening as different people keep noticing you empty-handed.

Response: First of all, if you know that open bars are a personal relapse trigger, it is probably best to avoid this party altogether. When it comes to rejecting an invitation, you don’t need to make up an extravagant lie – simply say you appreciate the invite, but you will not be able to make it. If you do decide to go to the event, bring a member of your sober support group with you – someone who can hold you accountable and make sure that you are staying on course. Another great way to avoid being repeatedly offered a drink is by having some kind of beverage in your hand at all times, something like sparkling water garnished with a lime or anything else that might be easily mistaken for a cocktail.

staying sober through holiday stress

It can be difficult to entirely avoid holiday-related relapse triggers, seeing as this specific time of year seems to be riddled with excessive alcohol consumption and abnormally high-stress levels. What you can do, however, is ensure that you are adequately prepared for any situation that might arise – from being offered a drink at a holiday party to dealing with a highly dysfunctional family over your annual Christmas feast. Below are several actions you can take in order to ensure that you are prepared to take on any adverse situations while successfully protecting your sobriety.

  • Make a list of 12-step meetings (virtual or in-person) that you can attend on a daily basis – Share in meetings every day in order to maintain personal accountability.
  • If you start to feel stressed out or overwhelmed, refer back to the coping mechanisms you learned while in intensive outpatient treatment – These could include calling a member of your support system, going for a long walk outside, meditating for 10 minutes or reading a poignant excerpt from the Big Book (or another piece of recovery-related literature).
  • Set and maintain boundaries – If your family wants you to return home for a week but you know you can only stay sane for between two and three days, do what you can – always prioritize your sobriety.
  • Know exactly what you are going to say when refusing a drink at a holiday party – This will leave no room for error – rehearse your responses, and run through a list of potential circumstances in your head beforehand.

Guardian IOP and Relapse Prevention Training

At Guardian IOP, we put a strong emphasis on relapse prevention training, helping our clients identify and work through all potential relapse triggers. For more information on our integrated recovery program or for more tips on staying sober during the holidays or to get started, give us a call today at (888) 693-1894, we are available to help you 24/7.


Reviewed for accuracy by:

Anna earned her Masters of Social Work at Barry University in Miami, FL in 2017 and completed her internship in co-occurring disorders. Anna has a Bachelors of Art in Religious Studies from Naropa University and is a certified yoga and meditation instructor. Anna has received specialized training in somatic counseling with an emphasis on body-centered psychotherapy.