Getting Through the Holidays Without Drinking: A Primer

You know the holiday season is meant to be a time of magic, togetherness, and joy, but you also understand that it’s a high-stress, high-drama period waiting to erupt.

Both sides of the coin — love and laughter and unprocessed stress — culminate in a fact that’s especially challenging for people on a journey of sobriety. People drink a lot during the holidays, and all the emotions that arise during this time can make it especially challenging to stay sober.

Do you feel like locking yourself in a cupboard until it’s all over? You’re not alone, but it doesn’t have to be this way.

The holiday period offers people in recovery a unique chance to rediscover the true essence of celebration, connection, and tradition. Your biggest gift? Your sobriety. Don’t forget to give it the honor it deserves.

We’ll delve into ways to transform your holiday experience from an endurance test into a true joy here!

Setting Realistic Expectations for a Sober Holiday Season

Navigating the holiday period as a (newly) sober person becomes easier once you have a realistic idea of the pressures you will face.

The three most common scenarios include:

  • Being invited (or pressured) to drink — sometimes repeatedly.
  • Finding yourself alone and confronting dark emotions.
  • Dealing with the consequences of others’ binge drinking.

Holiday (office) parties, family gatherings, and the potential loneliness of spending the holidays by yourself can all lead to temptation.

Be honest with yourself about the hurdles you are most likely to face and develop a plan that allows you to revel in your sobriety.

Should you believe you won’t be able to stay sober in the presence of relatives or old friends who drink heavily during the holidays, make other plans. If you think you can’t handle being alone, make sure you aren’t.

Form Alliances with Other Sober People

Have you decided to attend parties or other celebrations where people will drink — and often heavily? Are you worried that the company of drunk people will make you question your sobriety, do you value your family bonds so much that you don’t want to decline invitations?

Consider asking someone you trust to be your accountability partner — and offering the same in return. Inviting a sober friend, colleague, relative, or someone from your support group to attend your holiday celebrations with you can transform your experience.

An accountability partner makes it infinitely easier to:

  • Turn down drinks.
  • Leave if your stress levels creep up.
  • Find an understanding sober person to talk your worries through with.

You can also gain someone who will stand up for you or quietly escort you away from a holiday celebration that’s spiraling out of control.

Organize Sober Holiday Celebrations

Celebrating the holidays with other sober people is one of the most powerful ways to not only endure but also enjoy the festivities.

Traditional celebrations with people who have fought hard for their sobriety can reawaken that holiday spirit that’s dulled with age and experience — because you’ll all have a lot to be grateful for.

Parties, dinners, and barbecues aren’t the right choice for everyone, though. Your sobriety represents freedom, so why not consider a more active way to mark the holidays?

Hiking, rock climbing, canoeing, and biking are all fun and adventurous ways to take control of a stressful time. They’re also physically demanding activities that will keep your mind off any cravings or temptations to drink. The cherry on top? Active outdoor holiday celebrations will leave you feeling exhausted in the best possible way, allowing you to enjoy some much-needed R&R after you’ve completed your adventure.

What to Say to People Who Pressure You to Drink During the Holidays

It’s what we’re all afraid of — and yes, it does happen. Some people will urge you to “go on, just have one drink,” especially if they don’t know how hard you have worked to stay sober.

Many sober alcoholics and other people who have stopped drinking struggle when people pressure them to drink, and it’s that much harder when the pressure comes from someone you love dearly. Many feel like they owe the people in their lives an explanation, but we recommend keeping it simple.

You could try:

  • Getting straight to the point: “I’ve stopped drinking, actually. I’m [insert time] months sober. I hope you can support me in my sobriety!”
  • Using humor: “I’m celebrating my sobriety this Christmas. I’d drink to that, but you know…”
  • A stoic approach: “No thanks, I don’t want a drink!”

Exit Strategies You Can Use When Things Get Rough

If you’re afraid that get-togethers with family or friends might be too much, plan some clever exit strategies in advance.

Agree on a code word with someone you trust. If the party, dinner, or family weekend is pushing you to the brink, ask your exit-strategy partner to fake an emergency that requires immediate assistance and allows you to leave politely.

Are you planning to travel home to attend a family celebration? Locate good support groups in the area, so you can always attend a meeting nearby if you feel the need.

Do you hate the thought of spending the holidays alone, or are you trying your best to politely avoid relatives or friends? See if you can work overtime during the holidays, or otherwise volunteer for a cause you care about.

Will you be alone during the holidays? Do you look forward to the peace and quiet, but do you also worry that you might be tempted to drink? Keep yourself busy with:

  • A book or film series.
  • An online course.
  • A hobby you can practice at home, like indoor gardening, cooking, video gaming, knitting, woodworking, meditation, exercise, or painting.

A Final Word

Every change is daunting. The holidays are milestone moments that have a way of leading to introspection. While the rest of the world seems to be carrying on as it always has, you’ve transformed.

We promise you that the holidays will get easier with time. If it’s rough now, take comfort in the fact that it won’t always be that way. You’ll develop new, sober traditions and find ways to enjoy the joy and magic the holiday season brings after a few rounds. Who knows? You might even manage to inspire others to stop centering their holidays on alcohol and focus on the joy they can bring instead.

Martijn van Eijk
Martijn is a passionate creator and the driving force behind He created this website to assist individuals and their families in conquering alcohol addiction and finding a joyful, fulfilling life after alcohol. With a deep understanding of the challenges they face, he empowers readers with valuable insights and practical guidance on their journey towards recovery. Author of the Stop Shaking Book.