Alcohol and the Holidays: What Makes it Hard to Stay Sober?

Alcohol and the Holidays: What Makes it Hard to Stay Sober?
December 7, 2014
|   Updated:
October 26, 2023

As the seasons change and the days get shorter, alcohol consumption also increases, as does binge drinking and drinking and driving. It may feel easy to blame the drab weather, but the holiday season is typically the real culprit.

While the media portrays the holidays as the “most wonderful time of the year,” the winter season leads many people to suffer with their mental health resulting in heightened anxiety, loneliness, and increased levels of depression. This can be especially true for those who suffer from alcohol addiction and are in or newly out of addiction treatment.

Social Custom

The combination of alcohol and the holiday season is almost unavoidable this time of year. The media portrays the holidays as a time to indulge in alcohol, making increased alcohol consumption culturally acceptable and, in some cases, even celebrated.

Alcohol is Everywhere During the Holidays

Many of us have been to parties where kitchens and bars are overridden with bottles of alcohol. Liquor stores even stock up around the holidays with alcohol gift sets for their customers as soon as December rolls around.

Some work cultures deem it “funny” to get intoxicated at the office party, making for entertaining stories to tell in the following years. We see this behavior in both media and the perpetuated cultural norms. People are encouraged to drink to fit in, and many who don’t usually drink have trouble staying sober during the holidays.

What are the Options for Addicts Navigating Social Events During the Holiday Season?

What are the Options for Addicts Navigating Social Events During the Holiday Season?

The dependent drinker faces tough choices when attending events with friends and/or coworkers during the holiday season: (a) go to the holiday parties and try to stay sober when everyone else is drinking, putting your addiction recovery at risk; (b) go and drink but try to maintain your consumption while risking loss of control; (c) overindulge in alcohol and then regret it later; (d) avoid going to any event where alcohol is served.

Those who drink often, specifically those who indulge in binge drinking, end up in a vicious cycle. Many feel shame about how they acted at the last party, so they drink to forget their past behaviors, go to the next party and consume alcohol against their better judgment, feel shame about that experience, and so on. For those aiming for addiction recovery, this cycle can be detrimental.

In contrast, people who choose to miss out on parties where alcohol is present may end up drinking alone because they feel bad that they can’t drink in a safe and controlled way. This often wounds an individual’s self-esteem and self-worth and may make them feel worse than if they would have attended the party originally.

Unfortunately, the options of navigating social events during the holidays all come with consequences and may ultimately hurt an addict's mental health. This can put them at a higher risk of relapse and/or revisiting treatment to remain in addiction recovery.

Family Pressure

The holiday season is when many families congregate to spend quality time and uphold tradition, even when they don’t get together throughout the rest of the year. For some, this can be a happy occasion, but it can be incredibly stressful or triggering for those newly out of treatment or in addiction recovery.

Family turmoil and the resulting dysfunction are always difficult to manage. However, for those who struggle with alcohol addiction, it can be incredibly tough to navigate depending on how their family supports them during their recovery journey.

Family members may have abandoned an individual due to their drinking, or vice versa, creating awkward and stressful moments. In some cases, the family members may suffer from addiction themselves, triggering those aiming to remain sober.

What are the Options for Addicts Navigating Family During the Holiday Season?

What are the Options for Addicts Navigating Family During the Holiday Season?

Depending on the culture of an individual's family, they may find their options limited when it comes to navigating drinking and the holidays with their kin. Where social events may be easier to navigate, family tends to be a bit more complex depending on the individual expectations of its members.

The tough options one must wade through include: bear the opinions of the family as you remain sober (which may be positive or negative,) drink to cope with the difficult experience, and risk further humiliation and relapse, or stay away from the family.

Another decision those in recovery may be forced to make around family is discussing their addiction when they are not ready. Depending on where they are in treatment or recovery, this may hurt one’s progress.


Alcohol and the Holidays: Loneliness

Avoiding social obligations and family events may seem like the easy option for staying sober during the holidays. Still, it can be an extremely tough choice for an individual to make.

If you suffer from alcohol addiction and don’t have love and support around you, its absence can be glaring during this time of togetherness. Additionally, feeling like you cannot attend an event because of your inability to stay sober may make you feel poorly about yourself. These feelings of loneliness can damage your mental health and even lead to relapse.

The changing of seasons that result in short days and long nights does not help subside the feeling of loneliness either. Dependent drinkers, especially, have a habit of isolating themselves when they are experiencing pain, so it may be easy to continue to fall into the feeling of despair. This isolation can make things worse for them psychologically.

This loneliness the holidays produce leaves those struggling with alcohol addiction contemplating whether sobriety is worth it and ultimately can result in relapse.

What are the Options for Addicts Navigating Loneliness During the Holiday Season?

What are the Options for Addicts Navigating Loneliness During the Holiday Season?

Curing loneliness during the holiday season can feel like a battle when it seems like everyone around you is surrounded by loved ones. However, it is important to have tools you can utilize to help combat this loneliness in healthy ways.

Keep reading to learn a few tips on managing your addiction during the difficult season.

Tips for Staying Sober

Societal and familial pressure and loneliness during the holiday season are incredibly hard to navigate for those who suffer from alcohol addiction. It can drive people to attend events where drinking will take place, even against their better judgment, and can trigger a relapse.

Fortunately, it doesn’t have to, though. There are helpful coping strategies for staying sober during the holidays.

Have a Game Plan

Tips for Staying Sober: Have a Game Plan

The most important thing you can do to protect your sobriety during the holidays is to have a plan of action for navigating the season and the events that accompany it.

Determine the extent you want to share about your addiction, always bring a special non-alcoholic drink if you want to evade questioning, and/or communicate to others in your Recovery Circle when you are attending a triggering event so they can help keep you accountable.

The more prepared you are to tackle environments where alcohol is present, the more likely you will stay sober and avoid relapse while still enjoying the holiday cheer.

Attend Alcoholics Anonymous Meetings

Tips for Staying Sober: Attend Alcoholics Anonymous Meetings

One effective treatment tool to utilize during the holiday season is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Many groups offer 24-hour marathon meetings during the holidays so that you can show up anytime, day or night.

Post-COVID-19 pandemic, virtual meetings are available, making 12-step meetings extremely accessible. These meetings can help combat those holiday blues by reminding you that you are not alone.


Tips for Staying Sober: Volunteer

Doing service work can be extremely fulfilling, especially during the holidays. Lots of organizations need extra volunteers during the busy season. This may provide an opportunity to get you out of your own head and into the community to help fight off depression and distract you from negative thoughts and habits.

It also is a great way to practice gratitude for the positive things you have in your life instead of the loneliness enhancing the things you do not have or cannot do because of your addiction.

Connect with Your Support Group

Tips for Staying Sober: Connect with Your Support Group

If you are someone who has been in treatment or attends AA meetings, you most likely have connections to others in recovery. This is a pertinent time to stay connected to that community as they will understand the feelings you currently are experiencing.

This can help you feel understood, supported, and less alone during this season.

Utilize Alcohol Monitoring

Tips for Staying Sober: Utilize Alcohol Monitoring

Those still fresh out of treatment and early in their recovery journey may find alcohol monitoring helpful during this triggering season.

Utilizing a comprehensive monitoring system like Soberlink has given those with alcohol addiction autonomy in their lives while keeping them accountable to their sobriety.

This remote breathalyzer utilizes wireless connectivity with facial recognition and tamper detection that allows its users to send real-time results to those in their community, including friends, family, therapists, and other Treatment Professionals. 

For those who need to remind themselves or their loved ones of their successes in sobriety to assist with management during a triggering time like the holiday season, alcohol monitoring may be for you.

Positivity Can Go a Long Way

Tips for Staying Sober: Positivity Can Go a Long Way

We know that the holidays are often categorized as the “merriest” time of the year and that may not always be the case for those with alcohol addiction. 

It is crucial to your health and sobriety to try and remain positive during this time by engaging in uplifting activities and surrounding yourself with people who understand and support you. This also may mean sitting out from a party or two. But remember the reward that comes from choosing yourself and putting your recovery first.

Most importantly, recovery is not linear for anyone struggling with alcohol addiction, and there may be a few bumps in the road. However, with a positive attitude, reliable treatment tools under your belt, and a desire to stay sober, getting through the holidays can be possible and even enjoyable.

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