Staying Sober For Christmas & New Year

Lauren Smith
Dr. Samantha Miller
Written by Lauren Smith on 12 December 2022
Medically reviewed by Dr. Samantha Miller on 05 June 2024

Full of temptations and stresses, the holiday season can be one of the most difficult times for people in recovery from addiction. But with some self-knowledge and planning, you can make it to January with your sobriety intact and enjoy yourself along the way.

Staying Sober For Christmas & New Year

Why do people relapse during the holidays?

For people recovering from alcohol and drug addiction, the holiday season can be especially treacherous. Some may be tempted by the libations that flow during this time of year and find it dangerously easy to join in a glass of egg nog at Christmas or a glass of champagne when the clock strikes midnight on January 1st. They may feel like the only person not indulging at an office Christmas party, have others press drinks into their hands, insist on a toast, or even buy them bottles as gifts.

Some find the festivities and family gatherings stressful and triggering, while others feel lonely and isolated amidst the celebration, especially if they’re estranged from family or have experienced bereavement. They may turn back to substances to deal with these difficult feelings.

Treatment may also be disrupted during the holidays and your healthy routines can be thrown into upheaval. And for all the mistletoe and lights, the holidays arrive during a cold, dark time of the year, which can increase feelings of depression and isolation.

But it is possible to weather the holidays without faltering in your recovery and enjoy the festivities. Here’s how.

Know your triggers

Do you feel tempted to indulge when your family passes around the wine on Christmas Day? Do encounters with your siblings devolve into arguments that leave you wanting to use? Anticipating when you might be tempted or triggered over the holiday season will allow you to plan your response in advance.

You may be able to avoid some of these landmines. For instance, if your cousin always tries to pass you a drink, you can keep your distance from him at family gatherings. If your office Christmas party is alcohol-soaked, you can put in only a brief appearance or skip it entirely. You could also suggest a few close colleagues gather with you for a sober dinner instead.

Have a plan

You can’t avoid every triggering event or uncomfortable environment during the holidays. Indeed, part of recovery includes encountering these potential traps and keeping your cool. But it’s useful to have a plan in place to guide you and help you out of sticky situations.

Your plan may include:

  • Preparing remarks to say when someone offers you a drink. You don't need to explain more than you want to.
  • Bringing your own non-alcoholic beverages. There are hundreds of non-alcoholic drinks on the market, from 0% beers to alcohol-free gins.
  • Sober activities, either in place of Christmas parties or to do during a family gathering. For instance, you could go ice skating, take a driving tour of Christmas lights, decorate gingerbread houses, and play games.
  • Scheduled meetings with your sponsor or therapist, or a plan to phone them if you feel tempted.
  • Strategies for dealing with relatives you find difficult. For instance, you might resolve to ignore belittling remarks from a sibling and see them as a reflection of their own insecurities.
  • Bringing a sober friend along to events for support and so you won’t feel like the only person not drinking.
  • Attending support meetings such as AA and NA, which are usually held every day of the year.
  • Leaving the Christmas party before everyone gets drunk.
  • Finding your own transportation, so you don’t have to stay longer than you want.
  • Having a tailor-made excuse if you want to leave an event early. Maybe you need to walk your dog or meet up with a friend. Even better if the excuse is real and someone else is counting on you to turn up.
  • Have a repertoire of self-care activities if you feel down or otherwise tempted. These might be hot baths, exercise, or even just a quiet cup of coffee.
  • Keep reassuring literature and mantras on your phone and within reach if you’re struggling.
  • If someone gives you alcohol as a gift, have a plan to quickly dispose of it, either passing it on to someone else or pouring it down the sink.
  • If you’ll be alone for Christmas, make plans to volunteer, call a friend, participate in a hobby, or take a trip instead.

Focus on the benefits of sobriety

Feeling left out of the festivities at your office Christmas party? Just remember that you’ll be spared the next day’s hangover and regrets. You’ll avoid embarrassment and remain professional, which will leave your colleagues and bosses with a good impression of you. You can also be the designated driver for friends who might otherwise be at risk on the roads. Also, remember that you're unlikely to be the only person who isn't drinking, even if it feels like it sometimes.

Wistful for boozy Christmases of yore? Just remember all the times the festivities devolved into family quarrels and or were forgotten in a blur of alcohol. Instead, you get to spend peaceful, valuable time with your relatives, without saying anything you regret. You also get to treasure the best moments of the day, which you might have otherwise overlooked: a tender conversation with your grandmother, time teaching your nephew a new board game.

Missing the all-night parties of a previous New Year’s Eve? Focus on how far you’ve come since then and on your plans for even further growth next year. While other people will be thrust into the new year with pounding headaches and the comedown blues, you’ll be off and running.

Try service instead

The holidays don’t have to be about indulgence, consumption, and greed. It may help you to think of the season as being about companionship and service instead. Instead of wallowing or slipping into your old habits, you can volunteer to collect donations for a local food bank, serve meals at a homeless shelter, or bring gifts to children in the hospital. Shovel the snowy driveway of an elderly neighbor or bring them a warm Christmas meal. Reach out to a newcomer at a support group meeting or an acquaintance in recovery. Step up to entertain the kids at your family’s Christmas party—that’s one group that will be reliably sober.

If you stay busy and focus on others, you might be surprised how quickly and pleasantly the season passes and how little you’ve thought about your own struggles and temptations.

Have fun

A sober holiday season isn’t a punishment. Rather, it’s a time to celebrate and be grateful, including for your sobriety. Buy yourself a gift you’ve long wanted, plan fun activities with friends, or even take a trip somewhere tropical.

Activity History - Last updated: 05 June 2024, Published date:


Dr. Samantha Miller is a practicing NHS doctor based in Glasgow, UK, who regularly contributes as a medical reviewer for mental health and addiction.

Activity History - Medically Reviewed on 09 December 2022 and last checked on 05 June 2024

Medically reviewed by
Dr. Samantha Miller


Dr. Samantha Miller


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