Applied Psychology

Keeping Sober over the Holidays

Dec 22, 2020 | By Saranne Durham
Keeping Sober over the Holidays

Holidays are just about here along with their celebrations and family gatherings. All of which are fun, but also can be a quagmire of testing for a recovering addict. Difficult relations and intense end-of-year work demands combined with must-show holiday parties can amount to additional pressure to drink or use.

To help you stay sober we have put together a go-to-guide for the holiday season. First and foremost, though, do yourself a favour:

Celebrate Your Sober Days

Count the number of days, weeks or months you’ve been clean. Remind yourself that this is an achievement that you’ve worked hard for. Celebrate it by doing something you enjoy. Take yourself for a cup of coffee or organise a picnic with a trusted friend. It doesn’t matter what you do, just that you take a moment to remind yourself of the small and big victories along the way. Sometimes, just taking the time to give thanks for all the time you’ve been in recovery and effort you’ve made is enough to help keep you firmly on your path.

10 Ways to Help You stay Sober over the Holidays

  1. Have a Daily Plan: Start the day with a conscious decision to stay sober. If need be write it down then stick it somewhere it will constantly catch your eye. This way you can repeat your decision to yourself throughout the day. Remember to take time to recap whereabout you are in your recovery programme, what you can work on during the course of the day and to chat to your sponsor.
  2. Pick and Choose Invites: Not all social occasions come with the same risk. Think through every invite carefully, evaluating it as a low, medium or high-risk situation. Then devise a plan of action accordingly. If a party has an open bar, should you go? If you do need to attend, then perhaps arrive late and leave early so you limit your time there. Drive yourself so you don’t have to wait to leave. And should someone press a drink your way, you can say you’ve decided on a zero-alcohol approach when you’re driving.
  3. Bring Your Own: Very few people over the holidays are going to object if you pitch-up with your own drinks at a party. Taking your own drinks means you know they’re safe and you don’t need to rely on anyone else. Remember as long as you have something in hand, no one really cares whatever else you choose to toast with when midnight champagne corks pop.
  4. Know Your Triggers: Remember the Alcoholics Anonymous acronym “HALT” – hungry, angry, lonely and tired. These are the most common triggers for recovering addicts. When you feel any of these, take extra care of yourself both physically and mentally. Get plenty of exercise and don’t forget to eat. Low blood sugar can leave you anxious and irritable which, in turn, can make you feel impulsive and tempted by substances.
  5. Manage Your Stress: De-stressing mechanisms include taking time out to decompress and even meditate. As well as making time for regular exercise. The urge to drink or use a drug often feels physical, so giving yourself something else to do can help to satisfy that craving.
  6. Bring a Buddy: A friend who doesn’t drink, smoke or use drugs can be your best ally. Especially when it comes to staying sober at social functions.
  7. Be a Helpful Busy-Bee: Distract yourself by offering to help the host. This helps you stay busy with small tasks.
  8. Write Your Own Script: Plan a few responses ahead of going somewhere. Learning to say no in a way you’re comfortable with, without having to explain yourself unnecessarily, is a helpful skill to develop. A simple “No Thanks” should suffice. But sometimes adding a reason like “I’m driving” or “I’m detoxing or dieting” usually stops questions in their tracks.
  9. Ride Out Your Cravings: A craving typically lasts about 20 minutes so if you can stay strong for that time, the urge should pass. Distract yourself during intense cravings with deep breathing, meditation or changing where you are for a bit. If need be head to the bathroom or outside for a breath of fresh air. If you feel you might stumble, don’t hesitate to call your sponsor.
  10. Lean on Your Support System: Your 12-step support group members understand the impact of the holidays on sobriety best. Make time to attend extra-support meetings over this time. Stay close to supportive friends and family and make it clear to friends who use substances that they will have to celebrate the holidays without you.

For addicts in recovery, holidays are a good time to reach out more frequently to one’s addiction counsellor or therapist. If you feel that you would like to help those who have made the conscious choice to turn around their lives, why not consider becoming a psychologist or Registered Counsellor yourself? SACAP offers a four-year Bachelor of Psychology Degree that is endorsed by the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) as an accredited programme. Students who complete the BPsych Professional Degree are eligible to register as Registered Counsellors with the HPCSA. Registration for Term One 2021 is now open. Ask one of our advisors to call you by filling out this form.

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