Don't Drink? How to Get Through the Holidays Sober
The season of Champagne toasts and boozy parties can be tough if you don't drink alcohol.
It's bad enough if you abstain because of religion or health, or you just don't care for the stuff. But it's really a challenge if you're alcohol-dependent and have recently quit.
RELATED: 5 Real Women Share What It Was Like Giving Up Alcohol for a Month
Here, 9 ways to stay merrily sober.
Skip the riskiest parties
You can easily get away with abstaining from alcohol at an afternoon work get-together or a crowded buffet dinner. Other events are more challenging, and should be avoided. "I don't ever go to a wine tasting," says Anne Fletcher, author of Sober for Good and the forthcoming Inside Rehab, and a former problem drinker herself.
"Don't go to events that center on alcohol, especially if you're new to all this. If it's labeled a cocktail party, or it's an event at a bar, why go?"
Drink something fun
The good news for non-drinkers is that there have never been as many fun, festive alcohol-free cocktails to choose from. If they're not on the menu, it's no fun to ask the bartender or host for a drink, and get tap water. If you are the host, stock a cooler or 'fridge with non-alcoholic beverages, fancy juices, flavored ice teas, non-alcoholic beer, or ginger beer, suggests Fletcher.
If you're invited to a party, and you're comfortable doing so, suggest to the host that she have something non-alcoholic.
"I sometimes bring my own diet soda just to be sure," says Anne Fletcher.
Tis' the season to assert yourself when boozy blowhards pressure you to imbibe. "Know your 'no', says addiction expert Mark Wallenbring, M.D., founder of Alltyr.com ("Addiction Treatment for the 21st Century"). And practice it!
Visualize yourself enjoying yourself through a party and then leaving—just like an Olympic athlete visualizing the perfect dive.
Rehearse what to say when someone offers a drink. "Have a stock phrase that's short and doesn't invite further conversation, like, 'No thanks, I'm trying to get healthy' or "No thanks, I'm just laying off for a while'" says Dr. Willenbring.
Finally, rehearse your escape in your mind. "Leaving is always better than drinking."
RELATED: How to Drink Mindfully
Bring a sober friend
Not drinking is more fun if you can recruit a friend of family member to join you (and high-five you every time you turn down a glass of wine).
"If you can, go to a function with someone who will be supportive," says Dr. Willenbring.
"If you're in AA, bring your sponsor."
RELATED: How Alcohol Affects Your Body
Watch out for the "screw it" moments
Family events can be particularly stressful.
Says Dr. Willenbring, "One of the most common causes of relapse is an argument with a loved one that leaves you feeling helpless. I call it the 'screw it' moment. You don't want to drink but this situation feels so crappy that you do drink."
The best defense? Be aware, and prepare. "If you are in recovery group, go to meetings. Or go to your place of faith. Exercise. Don't let yourself get boxed into a corner," says Anne Fletcher.
It happens. You have a drink. The bartender accidentally put vodka in your Virgin Mary. Or you had a glass of wine or two at a dinner. Realize that this can be a no biggie, even if you are serious about abstaining. Oh, P.S.: You did not relapse.
What's the difference? "What turns it into a relapse is if you buy a liter of vodka on the way home, or the next day," says Dr. Willenbring.
Look to the future, and honor what you have already accomplished.
"Every sober day you have is a day no one can take away from you."
Find new fun
Like your friends but can't drink with them anymore? Keep 'em but change the event.
Suggest dinner, or going to a holiday movie, or ice-skating.
Exercise often becomes one of the biggest sources of pleasure in people who've quit drinking. Why not share it?
Don't go hungry
"A common saying at AA meetings is, 'Never let yourself get too hungry, angry, lonely, or tired," says Fletcher.
Neuroscientists have found that some of the same brain compounds that regulate overeating also regulate addictive drug behavior. So eat, even if it's just a small snack, before you go to a party.
Another benefit is that you might be less tempted to overeat calories while you're there.
Make a list
Quitting drinking, says Dr. Willenbring, is like quitting smoking—it often takes many tries over several years before it's fully successful.
The good news is that most people are successful, and that people who have stayed sober for five years rarely return to alcohol dependence.
The best way to stay motivated is to "focus on how great your life is now. Write down all the things you've gotten back, the things that are better now."
That is, make a list. Check it twice. Now that you're no longer naughty, that's nice.
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