Holiday Challenges to Addiction Recovery

Posted on December 9, 2014

What’s your plan?

Holiday TemptationDecember is here and opportunities for urges and cravings seem to be everywhere. SMART volunteers have put their heads together to offer some suggestions to help you navigate this month’s challenges.

People who achieve long-term sobriety have three characteristics in common:

They make a firm commitment to abstinence.
They make lifestyle changes to enhance that commitment.
They plan and practice for urges and drinking situations.

Plan, Plan, Plan

The Change Plan Worksheet is an excellent tool to use when preparing for any holiday events that you will be attending over the next few weeks.

Motivation and Commitment

Updating and reviewing your personal Cost Benefit Analysis (CBA) and your personal Hierarchy of Values (HOV) prior to an event can serve to remind you of why this plan is important and what you’re trying to accomplish.

Urge Coping

The holidays are prime-time for urges. This is a good time to re-familiarize yourself with your favorite urge-busting tools. Check your handbook or the online toolbox and begin actively practicing these tools before you need them, to strengthen your urge-busting muscles. Include the tools that work best for you in your plan for dealing with those tempting holiday events if you choose not to avoid them.

To Go or Not To Go…..that is the question

But how do you decide? SMART volunteers have compiled a list of questions and suggestions to help you make well-informed, responsible choices:

BE PREPARED: Attending parties and holiday events as a non-drinker

Things to ask:

• What is the event really all about?

• Is it appropriate for my stage of recovery?

• What are my motives for attending?


Things to do:

• Take a sober friend with you if possible

• Ask what the alternative drinks will be; do you need to bring your own beverage?

• Go in with an inward attitude of pride in not drinking (not outwardly obnoxious)

• Have an exit strategy if you get too uncomfortable (e.g., fake emergency or engagement)

• Make sure your car is not parked in a spot where it  is blocked in by other cars

• Don’t volunteer to be the designated driver as that requires that you stay until the end of the event

• Have your own transportation or means of getting away

• Observe the people pounding the drinks down; ask yourself if they are really witty, popular, etc. or just incoherent and not very interesting?

• Remind yourself of the actual purpose of the gathering

• Personalize your list by adding your own ideas

Being prepared for the holiday events this month can bolster your sense of self efficacy during the recovery process and help you begin the process of re-learning to trust yourself.

For more ideas on dealing with difficult situations in recovery, check out a meeting near you or online.

We wish you all a happy, safe and healthy holiday season.

Source: Henry Steinberger, Ph.D., and numerous other generous and creative SMART Recovery volunteers

8 thoughts on “Holiday Challenges to Addiction Recovery

  1. HughK

    Great and VERY timely article!

    One person told me they take a “keep cup” with them to functions with a herbal tea bag in it and ask for it to be filled up from time to time with hot water and have never been asked why they have it.

  2. David Lewis

    Recovery from addiction and long-term sobriety are for most people achievable goals. Sobriety is defined as moderation in or abstinence from consumption of alcohol or other psychoactive substances and the quality of refraining from excess. I found SMART Recovery meetings and the associated tools very helpful in achieving my own recovery goal of abstinence from addictive behaviours in relation to the consumption of alcohol. Self management and self control are effective tools in addressing addictive, dependent, problematic, self-harmful and self-destructive behaviours in relation to the consumption of alcohol and use of psychoactive substances.

  3. Waylon

    This is a great article for recovering addicts. What to ask and things to do, alone, are great tips. Thanks for sharing this. I will send my clients to this article!

  4. Randy Marshall

    Camille…a thought…The “illusion of wellness” is the single greatest foe for people with time in recovery. Keep the “healthy fear” of having just one…have a great holiday!!!

  5. Camille

    Thank you for bringing this up for reflection. I have 3 years of sobriety and have a sense that I might be able to have one drink “on a special occasion”. This is faulty thinking on my part. I’ve been down this road before. So I appreciate your reminders for the holidays and also the reminder that the CBA is not a one time exercise. I have not visited this process in a while I think now is the time. Best holiday wishes to all, Camille

    1. HughK

      I have certainly had that “sense” or the salesman bubbling away in my head looking for an opportunity 😛
      What might make it a REALLY special occasion for me is NOT to have THAT drink and maintain my hard won sobriety and life engagement 😀

  6. Dr Jacquie Damgaard

    Great tips. I remind my ExecuCare clients who are new to recovery to lower the social bar during the holidays until they have better strengthened their coping strategies and regained their ability to deal with more intense situations. For those who feel ready to brave the office holiday party, be prepared with coping mechanisms if you encounter triggers, and have an exit strategy if things get too intense.

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