The following tips have been devised by Richard Stephenson, transactional analysis therapist and a specialised addiction psychotherapist. After many years treating patients for addiction, he shares his top tips to help guide recovering addicts stay sober through the festive period.

Make a plan

People don’t like uncertainty, which can fuel addiction. A simple way to look after your wellbeing throughout this period, and beyond, is to remember the acronym HALT, which means never try to be too: Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired.

Make a plan that avoids all of these things. It may not always be possible but do the best you can. The better the plan, the easier it will be to avoid temptation.

Don’t isolate

The holidays can be the loneliest time of the year for a recovering addict.

On one hand, you can be reminded of all the relationships that have been destroyed.  You might be haunted by memories of loved ones and friends that have been alienated by destructive and manipulative behaviour attached to the addiction.

Recovering addicts will know all too well that if they want to keep their sobriety, they must avoid people who are still using alcohol and drugs.

What’s the solution, then?

Take advantage of the new sober acquaintances that have come your way. Reach out to those around them and use this holiday seasons as a special opportunity to get to know them better.

Fill that calendar

Loneliness and isolation are your enemy. Make plans to see clean friends and family often, even multiple times daily.

Go out to dinner with someone. Seek parties where non-alcoholic drinks are on the menu. Or, just get out of the house and join in a healthy group activity.

A full calendar makes you feel good and gives you something to look forward to each day.

Do not skip meetings

Your 12 step AA, NA or other support meetings like SMART Recovery or Rational Recovery do not stop during the holidays.

In some cases, there are actually more meetings. Get to plenty of them, they will give you that extra support you need.

Take little steps

Just the idea of never using again can be tough when you are stressed, angry or just wanting to use.

Instead of trying to beat an addiction with sheer willpower, break it down. Aim to stay sober for the next day or even the next hour. Often cravings only last a few minutes and it is much easier to focus on little victories.

Use the holidays as a special opportunity for making amends

Instead of dwelling on failed relationships in your life, make a list of those people and consider ways to reconnect with them. While it is not always possible to make amends to all of them, some (especially family members) could hearing from you and sharing news of your recovery a special gift this holiday season.

It’s important to talk to a counsellor or sponsor about this delicate situation, and get their advice on taking this important step in your individual recovery process.

Give gifts from the heart

It’s easy to feel  guilt and shame about not having resources to give presents and other tokens of love. There are other types of ‘gifts’ that can be just as meaningful.

A simple card (even homemade), a phone call or visit, lending a helping hand with a special project can all be ways to show people compassion. Cash is not a necessity, be creative! 

Share your feelings

The holidays can bring back a host of confusing feelings and memories. Sometimes you may be tempted to dwell on ‘good times’ that involved drinking and drug use. For some, this time of year provokes painful childhood memories if they grew up in a troubled home. Others experience loads of stress, disappointment, and loneliness during the holidays.

The worst thing to do is to keep all these feelings bottled up inside. Find trusted sober friends and support groups where you can share what’s going on in your mind. Support groups will help you regain perspective and work through all these emotions in constructive and healthy ways.

Find healthy ways to celebrate the season

For some in recovery, it’s hard to imagine a Christmas or New Year’s Eve without alcohol and drugs. However, for newly sober people, this time of year can be a chance to rediscover how to have fun without mind-altering chemicals. Take a few moments to find out what is happening in the church and other sobriety-based events are happening in your community – and participate in them!

Avoid dangerous places

There is always that temptation to hang out with old ‘friends’, visit an old drinking establishment, or go out to a party where you could be swayed to engage in old destructive behaviours. Please remember that there is nothing positive for you at any of these places. You only risk relapsing by going. So, say, “No.”

This is easy to do if you already have a full schedule.

Have realistic expectations

Most post-holiday disappointments are the result of expecting too much.

We may find this holiday season is not the exciting and joyous experience others seem to make it out to be. Maybe no one seemed to have reached out to you in any special way. Maybe you haven’t handled all the stress of the holidays as well as you would’ve liked to.

So what?

Maybe making it through this period without using drugs or alcohol is the most significant thing you will do these holidays. Yet, this, in itself, is a major accomplishment.


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“When you have a problem and you drink, take drugs or gamble, the problem won’t go away. Stay and tackle the problem”