The holiday season for someone seeking sobriety or living in early recovery from addiction can be difficult. During any year, family gatherings typically can cause stress or anxiety and almost always involve alcohol. This year especially may be difficult during the COVID-19 pandemic, where holiday gathering will be smaller and more intimate, which can cause further discomfort and high stress.


Therefore, it is key for any person trying to be sober, currently in treatment, or living in early recovery to guard against factors that may contribute to detrimental emotions, overwhelming feelings, or lead to relapse. Making sure as a person new in recovery that you plan accordingly to handle what might be a difficult and emotional holiday season.


Here are some important tips to stay sober during the holidays:



Make sure you show up and hope for the best but plan for the worst. Have the contact information for professionals, your sponsor, or other sober supports. Preplan a list of meetings that are either in person or virtual. Talk with friends that are in recovery and plan out what meetings you will attend as well as other activities you can do. Get help and support for setting boundaries, like when a parent may begin to discuss uncomfortable subjects, or your uncle begins to drink too much during Christmas. Understand that leaving a dangerous situation is always an option. Make sure you plan ahead.



Your recovery has to come first, which includes coming before any family responsibilities. Do not get guilted into attending an event that you think will be dangerous for your sobriety. Make sure before the holidays and during the holidays to engage in activities and behaviors that are positive for your body, mind, and spirit. The holiday season can feel like a whirlwind and it can drain people emotionally and physically. So, once again, plan accordingly.



Again, your recovery and your own self-care need to come first. You need to suit up and show up as a part of your family, but you also need to know when something is too much for you to handle. Get support in setting boundaries and know your boundaries and your limits when you consider agreeing to anything or when you are at a family holiday event. If your family likes to drink a lot and you realize the Christmas party is getting out of hand, leave. If you feel like you are being forced into responsibilities and obligations you cannot handle in your recovery during this holiday season, explain yourself and your reasoning and let your family know this year you will not be able to accommodate those expectations.



Families around the holidays always have holiday traditions, which are typically wonderful. However, some of those traditions make not suit you in your recovery. So, begin new traditions. Create new, wonderful traditions with your friends in recovery. Make memories with others in recovery that can become new annual traditions that support health and wellness.



Relapse triggers are often thought of as physical things- old using friends or drinking buddies, establishments like the bar you always drank at during the holidays, or substances themselves like drugs and alcohol. It is important to avoid anything that may be cause for concern, but another trigger to watch out for, and a type of trigger that can be even more difficult to handle than things like old friends or bars, is emotional triggers. Coincidentally, for many in recovery, family members and family dynamics can be the biggest emotional triggers. These dynamics can lead to bringing up old stories that can create feelings of guilt, shame, fear, and remorse. Being part of these situations that create difficult and strong feelings can then lead to feelings of resentment and anger. Therefore, as mentioned above, make sure to have a plan to avoid these by setting boundaries and know your limits. Additionally, make sure a sponsor or other sober supports can be available if or when these feelings arise.



Gratitude is important in and for recovery. While the holidays can be difficult, finding gratitude is both important and, with some effort, should be fairly easy. Gratitude for your sobriety and your recovery. Gratitude you are no longer shackled by the chains of addiction. Gratitude for new friends and new experiences. Gratitude that your family wants you to be part of the holiday celebration. Gratitude that you do have a choice today to engage in activities and behaviors that are positive rather than negative. Find gratitude and it will make the holiday season much more joyous.



In Alcoholics Anonymous it is said that selfishness and self-centeredness are the root of the problem for those that suffer from alcoholism and addiction. While many of these tips sound selfish, in fact, they are self-concerning. Yes, your recovery needs to come first and in order to maintain your recovery you may have to engage in self-concerning behaviors. However, in the chapter “Working With Others” in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous also says this in relation to being at gatherings that may be difficult or include alcohol: “Go or stay away, whichever seems best. But be sure you are on solid spiritual ground before you start and that your motive is going is thoroughly good. Do not think of what you will get out of the occasion. Think of what you can bring to it…Your job now is to be at the place where you may be of maximum helpfulness to others, so never hesitate to go anywhere if you can be helpful.” This advice is given so that you won’t consistently think about yourself and your situation. There is no purpose in sitting in fear of an upcoming holiday event or trying to avoid it if it may be uncomfortable. Instead, you should show up to be helpful, with gratitude. Think about how you can make this upcoming holiday season or holiday event better for your family members and loved ones. Bring joy and enthusiasm. Ask how you can be a better spouse, child, or family member. Look at the holidays as a time you can show up and increase the happiness of the occasion. The idea is to make sure your motives are right, that you are showing up to your family with love, and seeing where you might be a helpful, productive member of your family and your community.


If you or someone you know needs help for addiction or co-occurring disorder issues, please give us a call. Maryland Addiction Recovery Center offers the most comprehensive dual diagnosis addiction treatment in the Mid-Atlantic area. If we aren’t the best fit for you or your loved one, we will take the necessary time to work with you to find a treatment center or provider that better fits your needs. Please give us a call at (410) 773-0500 or email our team at [email protected]. For more information on all of our drug addiction, alcohol addiction and co-occurring disorder services and recovery resources, please visit our web site at