4 Ways to Celebrate the Holidays Sober
It may be popular to take a month off from drinking, like Dry January, but for many, waiting until the new year to be sober (for whatever reason) isn’t really an option.
The time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day is rife with alcoholic beverages. Whether it’s the wine on turkey day, the eggnogs and cocktails of the December holidays, or the bubbly at the New Year’s Eve party, there’s no shortage of opportunities to overindulge—and regret it in the morning.
But alcohol can leave us dehydrated, hungover, and very often bloated and uncomfortable. Feeling that way, even over the course of a month, is not especially appealing.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) recommends that women drink no more than seven servings of alcohol per week. Plus, mixing a depressant like alcohol with what is already a stressful season can exacerbate feelings of anxiety, depression, isolation, and grief, explains Robin Casey, Psy.D., founder of Spring Psychological Services, in Atlanta.
With the right preparation, however, it’s possible to set boundaries, organize alternative activities, and make other plans to enjoy a happy, healthy, and hangover-free holiday. Here are a few ideas for staying sober so you can stay merry, bright, and clear-eyed every morning during December.
1. Plan Ahead
Hilary Sheinbaum, author of The Dry Challenge: How to Lose the Booze for Dry January, Sober October, and Any Other Alcohol-Free Month, recommends forward thinking. “Given that so many holiday gatherings involve alcoholic beverages,” she says, “it can be very helpful to go in with a plan and prepare for what you might say or do when someone offers you a drink.”
Instead of bringing a bottle of wine, Sheinbaum suggests sharing your favorite nonalcoholic beer, wine, spirit, or pre-made cocktail to share with the host and other guests. “People are less likely to offer you an alcoholic beverage if there’s something already in your hand, even if it’s sparkling water,” she explains.
Casey says you can also contribute to the festivities in other ways, whether that means preparing your favorite dish or making the party playlist. Sheinbaum recommends using the buddy system: Ask a partner or friend to come with you to certain events to “keep you company and accountable” to your commitment not to drink.
2. Set Boundaries
Casey says that, while it may be impossible to avoid settings where alcohol is served, it’s important to know and avoid the scenarios where you may be tempted to drink.
“For example, having dinner at a restaurant bar after a stressful day with someone you usually drink with is not a good choice if you’re trying to abstain,” she says.
While you don’t owe people an explanation for not drinking, both Casey and Sheinbaum say that if you do share your decision, being simple and direct is best.
Casey recommends letting family members or friends know in advance that you’ll be abstaining at gatherings or responding with “no thanks, I’m not drinking tonight” if someone offers you alcohol.
Telling people you’re driving, have to wake up early the next day, or just don’t want a hangover is usually enough to quiet any naysayers. Nevertheless, Sheinbaum also suggests having a clear exit strategy, whether that’s texting a friend, setting an alarm, or having another engagement lined up in case you want to leave early or avoid certain people and situations altogether.
3. Make Alternative Plans
If you find certain parties and other events too stressful or triggering, it’s also totally okay to opt out, says Casey. Rather than miss out on quality time with friends and family, you can always plan a nonalcoholic shindig.
“Organize a potluck or a bake-off with friends, get a bunch of people to sign up for a workout class and grab coffee after, or even host a game night with nonalcoholic beverage offerings,” Sheinbaum says.
Another option: Gather loved ones for a scenic holiday walk or hike. “There’s something about being outdoors that leads to great conversation and connection,” Casey says.
4. Track Your Success
Casey suggests using a journal or calendar to write down the benefits you reap during your break from alcohol. This can help you visualize your progress and hold yourself accountable.
And unless you have alcohol use disorder—in which case, it’s best to consult a doctor, Casey says—don’t be too hard on yourself if you slip up.
“It’s important to learn from setbacks, almost like a loving detective,” explains Casey. “Maybe you stumbled because you were stressed by your weekly staff meeting. So, after next week’s meeting, plan to have dinner with a supportive friend or take a yoga class to unwind instead of heading home and pouring yourself a drink.”
Bottom line: The holidays can be a time of indulgence, but if you aren’t feeling up to it this year, there are ways to enjoy a sober season that still allow you to wake up and hit the gym in the morning, bright-eyed and clear. And it won’t make you any less fun!
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