10 Tips for a Thankful Sober Holiday

thankful sober holiday family walking in the woods

Suggest an after-dinner walk with the whole clan!

As a person in recovery, I am thankful every day. During the holidays, I am particularly aware of my blessings, and this is Thanksgiving, the time to be loud and proud about the things one is grateful for. I do remember the early days of recovery and how nervous I was that the festivities would derail my hard-won sobriety. So, with the help of the therapists at Sanford Behavioral Health, I have compiled a list of 10 tips to help those in early recovery have happy, healthy, sober holidays!


10 Tips for a Thankful Sober Holiday

I am thankful to be the picture of decorum at holiday events this year. I’m the designated driver, the person who wields sharp knives with impunity, even the one who produces a yam casserole with perfectly golden marshmallows atop. It wasn’t always this way. I remember the awkward days during my first few sober holidays. Would someone ask me why I wasn’t drinking? Would the sights and smells of the holidays trigger a craving? And what if I went to a party and wanted to leave early? Did I even want to go to a party if I couldn’t use my drug of choice? Airports—everyone drinking in those terminal bars! I used to think, let’s call the whole thing off!


Here are some tips for enjoying the holidays and staying sober this year and beyond:

1. Anticipate Triggers

Before the tinsel and the toasts, think about things that might threaten your sobriety this holiday season. Plan how you intend to manage those situations. If the annual boat parade is always an alcohol cruise, give it a pass this year. And if your mother, sister, or uncle gets on your last nerve, plan your answers to their probing questions and your exit strategy.

2. Establish Thankful Sober Holiday Boundaries

There is nothing wrong with arriving early and leaving early. It is a good policy for those new to recovery, especially in an environment that taxes your recovery plan. Having a sober friend ready to call for advice or a ride home is always prudent. This will be my tenth sober holiday season, but my loved ones know that when I say it’s time to go, it is time to go.

3. Take Care of Yourself and Your Recovery

The holidays can be exhausting, expensive, and stressful. Take time this sober holiday to meditate, exercise, sleep, and eat. Get outside for an awe walk, hold a baby, and commune with the family dog!

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4. Manage Family Stressors and Traditions

Does your family toast with eggnog before Christmas dinner? Or do your family/friends meet for a cocktail at the local pub while the turkey is cooking? The traditional family get-together may be located somewhere you associate with your drug of choice. Let’s face it: you love them, but families can push every button. This is the year to set boundaries and enjoy the holidays on your terms. You might feel “left out” or lonely if you have to bow out of a family gathering that feels too risky. Fill the time with a long walk or a movie – something you love to do.

6. Plan Your Answers to Inquiring Minds

Miss Manners says it best. “The gracious manner of declining food or drink is, “No, thank you,” and the gracious, not to say decent, response is to let it go at that.” If you are nervous about what to say when someone asks if you’d like an alcoholic drink this sober holiday season, don’t be. It is no one’s business but yours why you requested club soda. If you feel more comfortable saying you are the designated driver or a person in long-term recovery, fine.



7. Address PAWS and SAD

Recovery during the holidays can be tough. And if you experience Seasonal Affect Disorder (SAD) when the weather gets bleak, acknowledge that fact. Get the proper professional help. Post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) is a group of symptoms resulting from abstinence from addictive chemicals. If you’re new to recovery, PAWS can impact sleep, concentration, coordination, memory, and emotional reactions. Healthy food, a regular schedule, and loved ones who are educated about the disease of addiction are key to managing PAWS during the sober holiday season.

8. Maintain Your Recovery Routine

This is important. There are so many demands on your time during the holidays you might be tempted to miss a 12-step meeting, relapse prevention class, or cancel your recovery hike. But the best thing you can do is to keep on a schedule, maintain connectedness, and foster your recovery routine. The holidays come but once a year. Quit pushing yourself. It’s unrealistic to expect to soldier through every trying moment. Instead, ask for extra support. Plan ahead. Do what you’re able to and leave the rest.

9. Therapeutic Alliance or Addiction Treatment

Rely on your therapist to help you through the pitfalls and triggers of the sober holidays. And if you decide to commit to addiction treatment during the holidays, good for you. The best gift you could give your loved ones is your commitment to getting healthy during the holidays. The Sanford Behavioral Health clinicians understand that the holiday season can bring about additional stressors that require specific interventions and detailed responses. The Sanford team provides individualized treatment programming that recognizes the potential barriers to being in treatment during the holiday season

10. Have Fun!

You may be tempted to join the children’s table if your adult loved ones are in the “party” mood. And with your clarity of mind, you will win the Scrabble tournament. A thankful, sober holiday is tailor-made for good old-fashioned fun. If things get stuffy, head outside for a walk or go for a short drive to clear your head. But take the time to stop and think about your life-giving recovery. And have fun.


This is the time of year to be thankful, and I am grateful that the memories I am making this year will be well remembered and that sober holidays are the new normal.


Thankful Sober Holidays at Sanford Behavioral Health

Sanford Behavioral Health has a team of experienced therapists, counselors, and addiction specialists who help you confidently navigate the thankful, sober holiday season. Staying sober during the holidays is possible with the proper support and healthy habits. Visit us online today to learn more about our comprehensive addiction treatment programs, or call us at 616.202.3326 to schedule a free consultation.


If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, eating disorders, or co-occurring mental health conditions, don’t wait to change your life – click the link below and get in touch today. 

after marilyn head shot bio

Marilyn Spiller is a viral writer, recovery coach, and recovery advocate. She is the Marketing Director at Sanford, responsible for written and creative content, website design, new media, promotions, subscriber outreach, and SEO. Excursions Magazine is a particular source of pride; it serves a wide range of readers, and “excursion” has become part of the company vernacular, describing Sanford’s signature experiential outings for those in treatment. She also developed and hosts the podcast Anatomy of Addiction and is Vice President of the Board of JACK Mental Health Advocacy.