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Have Yourself a Sober Christmas

Christmas time brings new challenges if you are struggling to stay sober.

You want to participate in family gatherings. You want to enjoy time with the people you love and perhaps don’t get to see all that often. The trouble is that, for most families, holiday celebrations include alcohol. It may be in the punch or eggnog. It may be that they enjoy craft beers or holiday cocktails. But alcohol is alcohol is alcohol — whatever form it takes.

You know how it’s going to go when you get together: Someone (usually the same someone) urges you to “Have just one. After all it’s Christmas.” Other members of the family sneak peeks at you all evening, checking to see if you are keeping your promise to stay sober. They worry that you may ruin Christmas — again — by being somehow inappropriate because you’ve had too many. Some will look the other way if you give in to temptation. Others will sigh and blame and shame you.

Regardless, you know the tension in the room will mount as the evening wears on. Do you have a plan for how to deal with it and stay sober?

Planning is everything. No, you can’t “wing it”, counting on yourself to resist all temptations despite the pressures, real and imagined, that come with holiday gatherings. People who manage to stay sober and even to take another positive step in their sobriety think about the following:

  • Consider whether you really ought to go to the family party this year. If you are newly sober, a family celebration that includes abundant alcohol simply is not the place for you. Don’t expect everyone to understand. Those who are in support of your sobriety will. Those who don’t, won’t. Your sobriety isn’t dependent on getting everyone on board.
  • Offer an alternative. One way that you might be able to stay clear of alcohol and still see family is to arrange to have breakfast at a local eatery. If the point is to get together, not to get drunk, a breakfast that is fueled by coffee, not alcohol, is fine!
  • Look for fun holiday activities in your area and invite family members to join you there. Go look at the lights in a local park. Visit Santa. Help out at a soup kitchen or a holiday party for disadvantaged children. End the visit with hot chocolate and the satisfaction that comes with really sharing in the holiday. I promise you, everyone will remember those kinds of times even better than they will remember this year’s alcohol-laced gathering.

If you do decide to go to a family party where alcohol is available

  • Bring your own non-alcoholic but festive drinks.
  • Be prepared with a joke or a friendly but effective come-back, if you know someone will persist in offering you an alcohol drink.
  • Have some excuses handy if you need to leave.
  • Decide how you will deal with what feels like “sabotage”. There may be someone in your family who doesn’t know how to respond to someone who is newly sober. Someone who gets really uncomfortable with your decision (often because they know they should cut alcohol down or out) may try to get you to slip. “A drink or two once a year isn’t going to hurt you,” he says. Oh, yes it will. If you are like most people struggling to give up an addiction, one can lead to two can lead to more. You’ll wake up on the morrow feeling guilty, angry and discouraged.
  • Put supports in place. Identify a relative who is an ally. Talk to them ahead of time about how they can be most supportive of you. Perhaps they can run interference with the less supportive folks. Perhaps they can suggest something for the two of you to do together (Take a walk? Call another relative with holiday wishes?) if they observe that you need a break. If there is no one in the family you can count on, make sure you have the phone numbers for your sponsor or a buddy on your phone. You can always excuse yourself to make a phone call.

Take care of your sobriety.

  • Keep going to meetings if you find them to be helpful, but do choose a meeting wisely. More than a few clients have shared with me that they go to meetings during holidays mainly to connect with others who will go out drinking with them afterwards. ‘Tis the season to be jolly, they say. If you find yourself in a meeting where this is the case, make your excuses and FIND ANOTHER MEETING!
  • Celebrate your sobriety. Have a get together with friends who are also in recovery. Staying sober is something to celebrate. Instead of a toast, create a ritual to support each other’s efforts. Light a candle. Break out the sparklers left over from the 4th of July. Toast marshmallows! There are other ways to mark an important occasion than with a substance induced “high.”
Have Yourself a Sober Christmas

Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D.

Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. She writes regularly for Psych Central as well as Psych Central's Ask the Therapist feature. She is author of the insightful parenting e-book, Tending the Family Heart. Check out her book, Unlocking the Secrets of Self-Esteem.

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APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, M. (2018). Have Yourself a Sober Christmas. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 25, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 16 Dec 2018 (Originally: 16 Dec 2018)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 16 Dec 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.