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Tips to Stay Sober at Holiday Parties

people staying sober at a holiday party

While the coronavirus pandemic may change the holiday party landscape, you may still find yourself in situations where alcohol is abundant. Here are some tips to stay sober as well as possible triggers to avoid. It’s natural to be wary of gatherings – especially if you feel that you could be confronted with these triggers. 

Planning can help you navigate triggers and mitigate the likelihood of re-occurrence.

Managing Emotions During the Holidays

One of the tips to stay sober at holiday parties is to manage your emotions. Holidays are often seeped in deep emotions – some positive and some negative. Regardless of which emotions you experience during the holiday season, it’s crucial to learn to manage euphoric recall – or glamorizing past substance use – or even depression to prevent a re-occurrence. 

Some of the heightened emotions you can experience during the holidays are:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Anger
  • Loneliness
  • Depression 


Managing your stress is very important. Attending a holiday party while your stress level is high may have a negative impact on your recovery. Stress management is one such tip to stay sober during the holidays (and any other time your stress level is higher than normal). Some ways to help reduce stress in your life include: 

  • Learn to accept that some situations are out of your control. 
  • Be assertive instead of aggressive. 
  • Set appropriate boundaries. 
  • Learn to say no to requests that would create additional stress in your life. 
  • Create social support systems and utilize them. 
  • Exercise regularly. 
  • Practice relaxation techniques such as yoga, breathwork, & meditation 
  • Get enough sleep to help your body recover from stressful events. 


Anxiety is when you worry or feel uneasy about a situation. Worrying too much over a situation can affect you physically and emotionally.

Some common anxiety triggers are: 

  • Stressful environments 
  • Trauma 
  • A co-occurring diagnosis such as depression 
  • Traveling
  • Financial concerns
  • Socializing 
  • Grief & loss 

Treatments for anxiety could include a dialectical behavior therapy program. Another option would be our adventure therapy or our experiential therapy. Others may find 12 step practices or motivational interviewing techniques helpful for their anxiety. 

Angertips to stay sober at holiday parties

Anger is a natural response to situations in your life. Letting your anger get out of control is not good. Controlling your anger is important. Effective anger management skills will help you stay sober at holiday parties. 

Tame Your Temper: 10 Anger Management Tips 

Anger can be a very positive emotion when it’s processed and shared in a healthy manner. Uncontrolled anger can take a toll on you, your relationships with others, as well as your recovery. Here are some simple tips to help you stay sober during the holidays by controlling your temper: 

  • Think Before You Speak: Take a few seconds to collect your thoughts before speaking out of anger – it’s easy to say things you might later regret in the heat of the moment.
  • Once Calm, Express Your Anger: State your concerns & needs clearly and in an assertive, but non-confrontational, manner. 
  • Exercise: Activity can help you relieve stress. If you feel yourself getting angry or frustrated, take a few minutes to go outside for a quick walk. 
  • Give Yourself a Break: A few moments of quiet during the times of day that tend to be most stressful for you can help mitigate feelings of anger. Put yourself in a little timeout and practice mindfulness and breathwork
  • Be Solution-Oriented: Instead of dwelling on the problem, work to identify possible solutions. If your child misses the bus more often than not, consider finding solutions that can help the morning go smoother such as choosing the next day’s outfit the night before. 
  • Avoid Placing Blame: Use “I” statements to avoid placing blame on others. “I feel upset because…” instead of you “You don’t…”
  • Let Go of Grudges: If you can forgive someone that has angered you, you can free up space for more positive emotions instead of being swallowed up with anger and resentment. 
  • Diffuse the Situation with Humor: There is a time and a place to use humor to diffuse a situation – but in those moments that you can, it can help lighten the mood a little bit. However, avoid using sarcasm. 
  • Learn to Relax: There are several options that can help you relax when you feel your temper begin to flare such as listening to music, journaling, yoga, or even repeating a simple phrase to yourself. 
  • Know When to Get Help: If you feel that your anger is out of control and is harming those around you, it may be time to seek out help. 


Have you ever been in a relationship and felt no connection? Have you ever been surrounded by a group of friends and feel left out? What you are feeling is called loneliness. Loneliness is when you desire a connection but do not receive it. The holidays can be a particularly lonely time for many individuals for a number of reasons such as complicated relationships and high expectations.  

Learning to manage and overcome loneliness is one of the most essential tips to stay sober this holiday season. Some suggestions to help combat holiday loneliness (as well as general loneliness) are: 

    • Seek out Others: Call a friend for coffee, join a book or sports club, or visit your place of worship. Surrounding yourself with others can help you avoid the instinct to isolate. 
    • Ask for What You Need: Communicate your needs to your friends, family, and partners. We can’t expect those close to us to instinctively know what we want or need from them.
    • Set Realistic Expectations: Learn to expect specific support from specific people according to their abilities. If your mother is incapable of showing empathy, then don’t expect that from her and find someone else to turn to for that particular show of support. 
    • Volunteer: Giving back to community and those in need is a great way to combat loneliness. Plus, once we start seeing our impact is larger than ourselves it is a great tip to stay sober.


Depression is a persistent feeling of sadness and a loss of interest. Depression is considered a mood disorder. If left untreated depression can have a negative effect on your life. If you experience depression it is important to seek out help, especially in the form of therapy and, possibly, medication. 

Tips to Stay Sober: Create A Plan

You can stay sober at holiday parties by creating a plan. Your plan should be well thought out. The purpose of creating a plan is to hold you accountable for your actions. Keep in mind your goal is to stay sober at holiday parties.

Your plan should consist of the following:

  • Bring a buddy (who is also sober)
  • Phone a friend
  • BYOB (beverages)
  • Decide how to decline
  • Revisit your holiday obligations
  • Limit time around triggers
  • Have an exit strategy

Creating Your Plan

Bring a Buddy (who is Also in Recovery) Taking a buddy with you who is also sober will help you stay clear from alcohol – which in turn will help you stay sober at holiday parties. Your friend should be someone you trust. They should also be someone who will help you be accountable for your actions. 

Phone a Friend

If a friend is unable to go with you to a party, the next best thing is to call a friend. Instead of picking up a drink, pick up your phone. Again, this friend should be someone who can empathize with you and help you stay sober. 

B.Y.O.B. (Bring Your Own Beverage)

One way to stay sober at holiday parties is to bring your own non-alcoholic beverage. If you know there is going to be alcohol at the party, take your own drinks. Being prepared with your own beverages will help minimize the risk that you might participate in substance use.

We have tried Curious Elixirs and enjoy them. They are not a replica of alcoholic drinks, but are intended to be enjoyed with nice additions like twisted orange slice or over ice. There are plenty of variations of these type of non-alcoholic beverages and many beers also have non-alcoholic versions.

staying sober during the holidays

Decide How to Decline

It is important for you to know how you will decline alcohol at holiday parties. Here are five examples you can use to decline alcohol at a holiday party.

  • Say no thanks, I am the designated driver
  • Be polite, but firm. (i.e. “thanks for thinking of me, but I am not drinking tonight”)
  • Turn down a drink with humor (i.e. “Nah man, I already had my share, and probably yours, too!”) Keep jokes polite and tasteful. You don’t want to insult anyone for drinking
  • Explain your reason for staying sober but only if you want to
  • Change the subject it really is not anyone’s business if they start to push you. Simply change the subject: “how about that bedlam game?”

Revisit your Holiday Obligations

Is it really necessary for you to attend every holiday party you’re invited to? The answer is very likely no. While this year may look a little different due to the coronavirus pandemic, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t examine your holiday obligations anyways. 

By revisiting which holiday obligations are truly necessary, you can remove yourself from situations that may not be ideal for your recovery. For example, you may not be able to excuse yourself from the Annual Christmas Eve Gift Exchange at your grandmother’s house but you can, and should, avoid the hometown bar with 50 of your old high school buddies. 

Limit time around your triggers

You cannot limit your time around triggers if you don’t know them. One important step in creating your plan is to learn and understand what your particular re-occurrence triggers might be. Some of the most common triggers are: 

  • Social situations where substances are available 
  • Euphoric recall, or glamorizing past substance use 
  • Social isolation 
  • Stress
  • Intense emotions 
  • Over-confidence in your recovery
  • Illness – physical or mental 
  • Sex & relationships
  • Positive life events

While you cannot avoid all of your triggers altogether, you can learn how to minimize risks when confronted with certain triggers in order to avoid re-occurrence. During the course of your recovery, you and your recovery guide likely pinpointed your triggers and created a recovery maintenance plan that included how to cope with your specific triggers. 

Have an exit strategy

A good exit strategy involves knowing your limits and allows you to feel less pressure to drink. Be prepared to walk out of the party if you begin to feel pressured, anxious, or overwhelmed. An exit strategy may also include preemptively declining an invitation. 

All of these tips to stay sober are intended to help you think through the holidays and how you can protect your time in recovery.

Staying sober at holiday parties takes work and dedication on your part. However, if you take precautions, you should have no problem enjoying the holidays. If you have been an Integrative Life Center client, and you find that you need additional support during this time, please join us at our alumni meetings


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