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Having a Hard Time During the Holidays: Coping Strategies and Support





The holiday season is a stressful time as it is, bringing with it busier schedules and higher expectations for our interpersonal relationships. However, individuals struggling with substance use disorders may have a particularly hard time during the holidays as they maintain their sobriety.  

People without significant mental health concerns usually can cope with these seasonal stressors. However, the holidays may mean the return of family conflict, trauma, or feelings of loneliness for some. A person struggling with substance abuse or recovering from addiction may need to take additional measures to avoid relapse in these situations. Even a person who has successfully completed drug rehab treatment can struggle. Nevertheless, staying sober during the holiday season begins with having a plan for the coming months and making intentional choices about what to do in potentially triggering situations.

Have a Plan for the Holidays

During the holidays, you may find yourself at family gatherings or other festivities accompanied by alcohol and other substances. These environments may be unpredictable or pose uncomfortable situations with increased access to alcohol or drugs.

To avoid relapse in these scenarios, you can plan to attend an AA or NA meeting before attending a holiday party or talk on the phone with your sponsor before and after the event to hold you accountable. The key is to go prepared to protect yourself and your sobriety; come up with an “escape” plan if you need to leave early, find your own transportation, or ask a sober friend to go with you.



Many people in recovery understand the importance of staying busy in maintaining their sobriety; the same applies to the holiday season–an even busier time of year–too. Consider volunteering or getting involved with your community during the season of giving. Being of service to your community will allow you the opportunity to connect with others and avoid feelings of isolation and self-pity.

Be Mindful of Your Behavior and Environment

If you are trying to stay sober or avoid drinking during the holidays, incorporate certain behaviors and thought patterns into your holiday plans. At social gatherings or family events, carry your favorite non-alcoholic beverage at all times so people will be less likely to offer you a drink. Also, try to avoid asking someone else to grab you a drink; they may mistakenly bring you an alcoholic beverage if they aren’t aware that you are sober.


In these environments, it’s important to avoid situations and behaviors that might be triggering, along with people that can trigger someone trying to prevent relapse during the holidays. If you know a particular person at a function is going to ask you about your sobriety, avoid them.

You may even be invited to a work-related holiday party where your colleagues are likely to drink or use other substances. Don’t be afraid to make a brief appearance or decline the invitation altogether; protecting your sobriety means not forcing yourself to “power through” an uncomfortable or triggering event.


For those in recovery from substance use, the expectations and stress associated with the holidays may trigger or influence them to cope with substances or relapse. Some people struggling with addiction may delay seeking treatment until after the stress of the holiday season has passed. Families may consider the holidays an inopportune time for their loved ones to enter treatment as well. Getting help for substance abuse and addiction during this time of year can allow you to recover and begin the new year with a clean slate–a gift to yourself and your loved ones, too.

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