It's Christmas Eve. You've just come back from catching up on the last minute shopping your partner was supposed to have done last week. You've narrowly escaped another conversation with your mother-in-law, and there are twice as many screaming children as usual in your living room. Even though you've been to holiday events every night this week and managed to keep from drinking without too much trouble, tonight is on another level. Your sister walks by and jokes that you look like you could use a drink. Forgetting that it's been almost a month since you decided you were giving up alcohol, she tries to hand you one, and you have that familiar thought: "Well, maybe just one..."
Does any of this sound familiar? If so, you’re not alone. The holidays can feel like a minefield for anyone who is trying to give up drinking or at least change the way they drink. Whether you’re 11 months into last year’s New Years’ Resolution to quit alcohol or you’ve only just made the decision to drink less, the increased social pressure to drink at a seemingly endless parade of seasonal parties and events, in combination with the added stress of busy schedules and more time with family than any other time of year creates a perfect storm. It's understandable. At the other end of the spectrum, you might be feeling a lack of social connections as it seems like the world around you is celebrating with family and friends while you are alone. Whether it’s too much socialising or not enough, either of these scenarios can put people at risk of lapse or relapse. So what can we do about it?
Yes, the challenge of the holidays is going to be difficult, but the good news is, this is predictable. You know you're going to be at events where people are drinking and you know that you're going to be more stressed than usual. This means you can attend events fully armed with excuses for why you're not drinking, non-alcoholic beverages on hand, and maybe even an escape plan if you need to duck out early to get away from the temptation.
If you know you tend to get lonely at Christmas, look for opportunities to connect with other people! Reach out to the neighbours, find a meet up in your area, or volunteer to spend the day helping others. Even if you decide to stay at home, fill the day with things you really like — it’s okay to splash out on your favourite foods and other Christmas luxuries, even if you’ll be enjoying them alone.
Find other ways to manage stress.
If your diary is filled up more than any other time of year, the last thing you probably have the inclination to do is carve out time for yourself. That said, doing things to relax and reduce your stress is a really important part of setting yourself up for success in staying sober through the holidays, especially if alcohol has been a go-to coping strategy for you in the past. Think about other things that help you to unwind and build these intentionally into your schedule. If you are truly pressed for time, this can be as quick and simple as taking 10 minutes to go for a walk or take some deep breaths, as long as you keep it consistent and do it before you reach the point where you are so overwhelmed that drinking feels like the only option.
Reconnect with your motivation.
If you're reached the point of deciding to cut down on alcohol or cut it out of your life completely, it's likely you had some very good reasons for doing so. Come up with a way to regularly remind yourself of what those are. It may be a good idea to keep a list somewhere that you know you'll see it often, put aside a regular time to write about it or talk to a loved one about your reasons for changing the way alcohol affects your life. You are likely to be in a lot of environments that don't support your choices, so make a conscious effort to connect with things that DO.
Celebrate your successes.
Instead of only focusing on what's hard about controlling drinking during the holidays, are there ways you can reward yourself when things do go well? Maybe that's as simple as recognising the natural rewards that come from the changes you're making, such as lack of hangovers, fewer morning after regrets or better quality time with loved ones. Or maybe you can create your own incentive. Can you put aside some of the money you used to spend on alcohol and put it towards something you really want, like a holiday or that new smartphone you've had your eye on? Looking forward to something can mitigate some of the disappointment you might feel at "missing out" in celebrating with family and friends by drinking.
Enlist the help of a good support network.
It is important to remember that you don't have to go through this alone. For some, the holidays can feel like a time where you're surrounded by people but feeling lonelier than ever. Ask for help. You may have friends or family who are happy to support you and keep you accountable for the choices you are making to change your drinking habits. If not, there are other places you can find that support. You can connect with others with similar goals in the forums.
If you get to the point where you need more intensive support, you can connect with a Drug and Alcohol Counsellor either by webchat, email or by phoning the National Drug and Alcohol Helpline for help in your state.
What else has worked for you in getting through the holidays without drinking? Feel free to share your ideas on the forums, it's a great way to help other people who are struggling and to remind yourself of the successes you have had so far. Enjoy a safe and happy holiday season.