Staying Sober on Thanksgiving

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If you have been sober for any length of time, you have probably developed a structured daily routine. Maybe you wake up and meditate for 10 minutes before getting ready for work, or you hit the same online 12-Step meeting every night at 8 p.m. Maybe you have gotten in the habit of calling your sponsor at least once a day, or you look forward to your one-on-one therapy sessions every week. You feel solid and stable in your recovery, because you know what you have to look forward to during the week ahead.

Then the holidays roll around, and your structured daily routine is tossed out the window entirely. You have family gatherings to travel home for and a range of social events that all seem to revolve around drinking. Your available sober support network grows significantly smaller. Additionally, you are faced with a wide variety of potential relapse triggers, from family dysfunction to financial stressors. There is no question about it — it can be difficult to stay sober on the holidays. Rest assured, it can be done, so long as you continue to prioritize your recovery and reach out for help whenever help becomes necessary. If you have not yet gotten sober and you are looking into professional treatment options, Guardian Recovery is available to help. We provide people across the country with accessible and effective treatment options, offering several levels of clinical care. To learn more about staying or getting sober this holiday season, contact us today.

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How to Stay Sober Over Thanksgiving

Ah, the holidays — the most triggering season of all. Thanksgiving is rife with potential relapse triggers, from having uncomfortable conversations with prying family members and seeing old friends to pouring hundreds of dollars into turkey and accoutrements while struggling to pay the bills. If you have already maintained sobriety for quite some time, you have likely honed your relapse prevention skills and set appropriate boundaries with your loved ones. Still, additional support is often required during this particularly high-stress time of year. If you are early in recovery, you might be wondering how you are possibly going to survive the holidays.

We have compiled a list of 10 tips designed to help you stay sober over Thanksgiving. If you feel particularly overwhelmed or if you feel your sobriety is at risk, there is absolutely no shame in reaching out for additional guidance and support. Guardian Recovery is always available to offer assistance, no matter where you are on your personal recovery journey.

#1. Don’t slack on your personal recovery program.

It’s easy to write off daily 12-Step meetings or phone conversations with your sponsor, considering everyone is exceptionally busy this time of year. If you’re traveling home for the holidays, you might not have access to the meetings you usually attend, or you might have to skip out on an individual therapy session. Be sure you are keeping up with your personal program of recovery. Map out a couple of in-person meetings in your hometown, or utilize online meetings to stay on track. You will probably have to make some adjustments, but it certainly can be done.

#2. If you don’t feel comfortable in your current environment, leave.

If you show up to a holiday party and everyone is already wasted, there is no harm in turning around and walking out the door. If tensions start to escalate during Thanksgiving dinner, excuse yourself and take a walk around the block. Leaving is okay. You might be worried about hurting feelings or appearing rude, but the world will keep turning if you remove yourself from a precarious situation — guaranteed.

#3. Remember that “no” is a complete sentence.

Set and maintain healthy personal boundaries. If you are invited to a small get-together with a group of your old drinking buddies, don’t feel obligated to provide an explanation as to why you can’t attend. If something doesn’t feel right or if you feel it might compromise your recovery, simply avoid it.

#4. BYOB. No, not beer.

If you are going to a social gathering and you know there will be ample alcohol, bring your own non-alcoholic beverage just in case. Bring something you enjoy drinking, whether that be sparkling cider, your favorite craft soda or a case of La Croix. If you have a drink in hand people will be less inclined to offer you booze. Don’t assume the host will remember not everyone drinks! It is better to be prepared.

#5. If you feel comfortable doing so, be open and honest about your recovery journey.

One of the best ways to avoid being repeatedly offered alcohol is by saying, “I don’t drink, I’m an alcoholic.” Of course, if you don’t feel comfortable talking openly about your personal recovery journey, there are an arsenal of valid excuses you can lean on as well. “I don’t drink and drive.” “No thank you, I’m not drinking today, but I appreciate the offer.” “I’m on antibiotics.” Prepare how you are going to respond ahead of time.

#6. Stay engaged in service work.

There is no shortage of opportunity to give back over the holidays. If you are having a family Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday evening, consider spending Wednesday volunteering at a local homeless shelter or bringing a 12-Step meeting into a local detox center. Staying engaged in service work is a great way to keep yourself grounded.

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#7. Create new sobriety-friendly traditions.

Maybe you decide to skip out on a traditional Thanksgiving dinner altogether. If you are fairly new to sobriety and your family doesn’t quite understand your recovery journey, developing a new tradition might be the safest bet. Rather than sit at home alone and question your existence, invite some sober friends over for a pizza and movie night. Make volunteering into a new annual tradition, or collect canned food to bring to a local food drive. If your current holiday traditions don’t seem to fit into your new sober lifestyle, there is no harm in starting from scratch.

#8. Avoid your personal relapse triggers to the best of your ability.

If you know Thanksgiving dinner is going to be triggering because your family will be guzzling wine and fighting loudly, limit the time you spend there. Go for the meal and take off. If you know meeting up with friends at a local dive bar after Black Friday shopping isn’t the best idea, skip out on it. Some triggers might be unavoidable; if this is the case, be sure you have a meeting lined up afterwards, or make a phone call in preparation. Practice honing your relapse prevention tools before the holidays (for example, playing the tape through, reaching out, or engaging in 15 minutes of mindfulness meditation).

#9. Make sure you have several sober supports on speed dial.

People are usually busier than normal over Thanksgiving and the remainder of the holiday season, but you will undoubtedly find a few people who are willing to answer your call no matter what time of the day or night. If you are going to a particularly stressful event, like a work party or a family dinner, be sure a couple of your sober support know your whereabouts and will be available to take a call if need be. Reaching out for help and processing your emotions over the phone (or simply venting) can mean the difference between relapse and continued sobriety.

#10. As far as family goes, know your limits.

Maybe your family is functional and super supportive of your recovery, and spending time at home over the holidays is something you look forward to. Maybe your family is harshly dysfunctional and you are counting down the hours until your drunk uncle makes a scene at the dinner table. If you feel obligated to spend time with your loved ones but you know you can only handle their insanity in small doses, make an excuse to leave early. Remember to prioritize your sobriety and your mental and emotional health, and try to avoid biting off more than you can chew.

Getting Sober Over the Holidays

If you have been struggling with a substance use disorder of any severity and you have been considering reaching out for help, you might be tempted to wait until the holiday season is over. You might think, “My family will miss me if I’m in rehab over the holidays, I can’t do that to them.” Or, “I’ll just wait until after New Years, my resolution this year will be to get clean and sober.” In reality, the best gift you can give your family is your sobriety and your safety. Rather than putting your loved ones through the wringer for yet another year, seek professional help as soon as possible. Addiction is a progressive medical condition, meaning related symptoms continue to worsen in severity the longer they are left untreated. There is a good chance that if you attempt to make it through the holiday season before reaching out for help, the consequences of your addiction will only get worse. Yes, your loved ones will miss you, but they will be comforted knowing you are laying a solid foundation for lasting sobriety, so future holiday seasons are nothing but happy, joyous and stress-free.

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If you have been sober for any length of time, or if you have been struggling with addiction and you are interested in learning more about the treatment process, contact us today. As soon as you reach out to Guardian Recovery you will be put in touch with an experienced Treatment Advisor, who will answer any additional questions you have and guide you through our simple admissions process. We begin by conducting a brief pre-assessment over the phone, which helps us determine which level of care is the most appropriate for your unique case. If this is your first time in treatment, we recommend you begin with a short stay in a medical detox center before transitioning into a higher level of care. If you are simply looking for additional support during this potentially difficult time, we might recommend short-term involvement in one of our intensive outpatient treatment programs. Next, we offer a free, no obligation insurance benefit check. If you are currently insured through a major regional or national provider, there is a good chance some or all of our addiction treatment services are covered either partially or in full. If you are currently uninsured or underinsured, we offer additional coverage options including self-pay and private pay. Simply contact us to get started and we will take care of the rest. We wish you and your loved ones a safe and happy holiday season, and we look forward to helping you get started on your personal journey of addiction recovery as soon as you reach out for help.


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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave


Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

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Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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