THE GIFT OF SOBRIETY
For much of America, binge drinking and holidays go hand in hand. For someone who's in recovery or simply trying to take a break from booze, the transition from December into January can be a minefield of gatherings, parties,stress, rekindled relationships and/or family drama — all of which make temptation that much harder to resist. It is, however, possible to survive the holidays sober if you plan, prepare, and strategize.
TAKE IT SERIOUSLY AND KNOW WHAT YOU'RE UP AGAINST
Dr. Lawrence Weinstein is the chief medical officer of American Addiction Centers. His experience in managed behavioral healthcare and addiction services spans more than 20 years. He knows as well as anyone just how dangerous the holidays can be for problem drinkers."While a time of celebration for most, the holidays often pose significant challenges for those in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction, as they can sometimes incite feelings of stress, loneliness and anxiety — all of which are potential triggers for relapse," he said. "In fact, a recent study published by American Addiction Centers found that roughly 29 percent of Americans consumed more alcohol around the holidays."
PICK YOUR PARTIES CAREFULLY
According to Weinstein, the battle starts by carefully choosing your battleground, and in some cases, the best bet might be to simply stay away from gatherings that you know will present temptation."Be mindful about which events to attend," he said. "Avoid going to gatherings that may be triggering. Remember, attending an event at the expense of your sobriety is not worth it."
This holiday season, remember that it's much easier to stare down temptation when you've got someone on your side."Bring a sober friend to accompany you," Weinstein said. "Using the buddy system is a great way to support each other and helps eliminate feelings of alienation you may have felt if you had gone to the event alone."
HAVE A GETAWAY PLAN
Parties can be easy to walk into and hard to leave. Before you stroll into any gathering, make sure you have an exit strategy in case you feel cornered — and make sure you aren't dependent on anyone else for a ride home.
"Prepare ahead of time to be able to leave a party if you're feeling tempted," Weinstein said. "This often means driving yourself so you can leave as soon as you need to."
FIND ANOTHER WAY TO CELEBRATE
If the temptation is too much to bear, you simply might need to reimagine what holiday festivities look like. In the end, you might be better served to visit your friends and family alone or in smaller groups, and saving the party for those who share your goal of sobriety.
"You are not alone in your journey through recovery," Weinstein said. "Look for other ways to celebrate the holidays within your community, such as through a sober meetup group."
Daring not to drink can be intimidating and lonely, but you'll be surprised how much support you'll get if you're honest about your intentions. You might even find a willing partner who has been waiting for a reason to stop drinking, just like you.
"Being open about your addiction and recovery can be a hard thing to do, but telling your loved one and those you trust about it will allow them to support you," Weinstein said. "If you're feeling stressed or overwhelmed, don't be afraid to reach out to your loved ones or sober coach to help get you through it."
GO IN WITH A PLAN
Dr. Kristen Fuller works with the Center For Discovery, a nationwide organization that provides treatment for substance abuse and other disorders. She stresses the need to plan ahead before you head out to a booze-soaked gathering. She also concurs with Weinstein about self-reliance in case you feel the sudden need to split.
"Develop a plan to protect your sobriety ahead of any holiday event or activity that could potentially trigger relapse to substance abuse," she said. "This may mean going to a 12-step meeting before or after the event, attending the festivities with your sponsor or a sober friend, or making sure you can leave the gathering at any time and are not dependent on someone else for transportation."
GO IN HEALTHY
If you're sure you're going to encounter temptation, you'd be wise to arm yourself with the strengthening therapy of self-care going into the party.
"Celebrate the holiday season and the fullness of your sober life by taking time for yourself," Fuller said. "Proper nutrition, gentle exercise and restorative sleep can do wonders for your well-being. The better you feel physically, the stronger you will be emotionally."
BE ACCOUNTABLE TO SOMEONE ELSE
Kristen M. Rice, behavioral health coach and founder of Raw + Revolution Coaching, worked in substance abuse recovery before launching her own business, which counts recovering alcoholics among its client base. For her, temptation is much easier to resist when you know someone will be checking up on you.
"For people who are newly sober, I find accountability to be the strongest factor in taking the option of drinking off the table," Rice said. "I purchase a professional grade Breathalyzer for my newly sober clients and have them do Breathalyzer check-ins to show their sobriety. If they miss a check-in, a designated point of contact is notified."
While that may be extreme for your intents and purposes, the general principle applies. "Creating an external accountability check helps add a component of responsibility when willpower may be wavering," Rice said. "Especially during the holidays, which has the highest relapse rate due to emotional and situational triggers."
BLEND IN WITH A MOCKTAIL
If you're holding what appears to be a cocktail, you'll blend in with the crowd and face much less pressure to have a drink.
"For those not in recovery who are just trying to cut back on drinking or are not wanting to drink at an event, I like to recommend that you always have a mocktail in your hand, which can be as simple as a Sprite in a rocks glass with a lime," Rice said. "That cuts back on having to turn down drink offers or field questions on why you're not drinking."
KEEP YOUR GUARD UP
Fuller agrees that you should keep a mocktail handy "so people aren't constantly offering you a drink."
Be alert, however, and take nothing for granted. "When you order a beverage, pay attention to how it is being made," Fuller said. "If you ask someone to get a beverage for you, he or she may not know your situation or might forget your request and bring you an alcoholic drink."