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  • Experiencing challenges in life can make it difficult to feel a sense of gratitude.

    This can make Thanksgiving especially stressful for people new to recovery from alcohol addiction, since the holiday comes with expectations around feeling grateful.

    These expectations are in addition to stressful addiction triggers that the holidays can evoke.

    If you are in recovery this holiday season, see the 12 tips below for being gentle with yourself and making it through social events that include alcohol without relapsing

    Alcohol And Thanksgiving

    Alcohol consumption in the U.S. is associated with the holidays, and Thanksgiving Eve made TIME Magazine‘s recent top 10 list of the booziest holidays, taking the eighth spot.  

    Another recent study showed a connection between anxiety and depression and drinking on Thanksgiving

    Adults who experience daily anxiety were more likely to plan to drink on the holiday than those who experience depression, but those who experience depression ended up drinking more. 

    This was shown to be especially true for women who have negative expectations for the holiday, and men who have positive expectations.  

    Fortunately, there are ways you or your loved one can manage feelings of depression, disappointment, and other negative emotions that can trigger a relapse. Here are 12 tips for enjoying this Thanksgiving sober:

    1. Practice Self-Care

    It’s much easier to maintain addiction recovery when you take care of yourself. Before and after Thanksgiving, protect your health by:

    • sleeping at least eight hours a night
    • eating healthy foods
    • drinking plenty of water
    • exercising regularly

    Also be sure to make time for relaxing activities like reading, meditating, taking a bath, spending time with pets, and doing arts and crafts. When you’re relaxed, you’re less likely to crave alcohol

    2. Attend Support Groups

    Before the festivities begin, check out a local Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting or another support group.

    Here, you’re likely to find people facing the exact same struggles you are. Plus, if this is your first sober Thanksgiving, you can learn helpful coping tips from more experienced group members. 

    3. Bring A Sober Buddy

    If you’ve found a sober friend in treatment, through a support group, or in any other way, consider asking if they want to swap time at holiday parties. 

    This also provides an excuse to leave in the event there are drugs or alcohol present because you have to get to the other person’s party.

    Family can be a great source of support and belonging, but having someone there who fully understands what you’re experiencing can be an added source of comfort.

    4. Consider Your Triggers

    Triggers are people, places, feelings, or other stimuli that make you want to drink alcohol. Write a list of your known triggers, and prepare ways to handle them

    For example, if you find out that an old drinking buddy will be at the same celebration as you, plan to keep your distance from them. You could also just skip the event. 

    Similarly, if you’re triggered by the smell of alcohol at dinner, try breathing deeply or remembering all the reasons you overcame substance abuse in the first place. If you still feel uncomfortable, excuse yourself from the table. 

    5. Bring Your Own Drinks

    Don’t assume that your host will provide non-alcoholic beverages. Instead, bring enough water, juice, or soda to last the whole gathering

    If you want something more festive, try apple cider, hot chocolate, or eggnog. You could also make a mocktail, such as a Shirley Temple or non-alcoholic pomegranate spritzer. All of these tasty beverages can make alcohol less tempting. 

    6. Always Have A Drink In Your Hand

    No matter what drinks you bring, always have one in your hand. This will reduce the chance of someone offering you an alcoholic drink, which could be triggering. 

    In some cases, a person might notice that your drink is non-alcoholic and offer you a boozy alternative.

    Prevent this situation by drinking from a mug rather than straight from a soda can, for example. That way, no one will know what you’re drinking. 

    7. Keep Sober Friends Close

    It might not be possible to bring a sober buddy with you to the party, but you can still lean on your sober friends for support.

    Ask them ahead of time if you can reach out. See if you can find two people so that you’ll have a backup if one person is busy.

    If you feel overwhelmed during the celebration, call or text them. They can talk you through triggering situations and hold you accountable for staying sober.

    8. Take Breaks

    When you arrive at a celebration, identify a safe place you can go if you feel overwhelmed. This might be a quiet room, a patio, or even your car. You could also go for a walk around the block. 

    These breaks give you time to relax, meditate, contact your sober friends, or do anything else that helps you manage alcohol-related anxiety.

    Don’t worry about what other people might think when you take these breaks. Your health should be your first priority. And they probably won’t even notice!

    9. Plan An Exit Strategy

    Sometimes, a break isn’t enough to ward off cravings. If you feel close to relapsing, leave the celebration immediately.

    To make this easier, drive yourself to any events so you won’t have to wait around for someone else before you can leave. 

    Also, plan how you’ll respond if anyone asks why you’re leaving. Depending on your comfort level, you can either be honest or make an excuse, such as “I have to go meet some friends.” 

    10. Don’t Give In To Shame

    The suggestions on this list are related to healthy coping mechanisms — something everyone has experience with, to a greater or lesser degree depending on the person.

    In other words, they don’t mean that you aren’t normal. Practice being gentle with yourself as you’re learning these and other new coping skills. 

    Some people find it helpful to picture themselves as a child when learning something new. It’s not as easy to be hard on yourself if you see yourself in this way.

    11. Start New Traditions

    It’s never too late to start new Thanksgiving traditions. There are many ways to celebrate the season sans alcohol, such as volunteering at a soup kitchen, picking apples, or visiting a holiday lights display.

    You could also host your own sober Thanksgiving dinner. Prepare some delicious mocktails, and inform any non-sober guests that the event is alcohol-free. 

    12. Give Thanks For Your Sobriety

    If you are new to being sober, your challenges are likely still fresh as you work on developing new, healthier habits.

    It can be difficult to sense a feeling of gratitude when life has been challenging. However, the effort is worth it. 

    Studies show that over time, a gratitude practice helps improve our mental and even physical health. Plus, the more we practice gratitude, the easier it gets. 

    Release expectations for what you should feel grateful for and just notice when you do feel grateful. 

    For example, maybe thinking about your family isn’t bringing up gratitude but noticing your aunt’s dog’s goofy grin and constant tail-wagging does. 

    One day, you’ll be able to feel gratitude for yourself and how far you’ve come in building a sober life.

    Find Help For Addiction

    You don’t have to struggle with alcohol addiction alone. Ark Behavioral Health offers a variety of personalized, evidence-based addiction treatment programs, including medical detox, mental health counseling, and support groups

    To learn more about our treatment centers, please reach out to us today.

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2024 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.

    National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism - Handling urges to drink
    National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism - Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder
    United States National Library of Medicine - Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)

    Medically Reviewed by
    Kimberly Langdon M.D.
    on November 17, 2022
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