Surviving the Holidays Sober

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Sobriety is difficult to maintain in any setting. In college, pressures to engage in the drinking and party culture can make sobriety more challenging. A less discussed but equally challenging time is going home for the holidays for winter break. With newfound sobriety and a support system in college, how does the sober student cope with pressures when they’re home for break?

Why start drinking? In U.S. colleges, the culture of binge drinking remains a powerful force that young people need to work hard to avoid. For more, read here.

Studies show that people either do themselves or expect others to drink more around the holidays. On average, people consumed 4.4 drinks on New Years Eve; meanwhile, 47% of men and 40% of women admitted to binge drinking to ring in the New Year, American Addiction Center’s cite found.

How to Stay Sober for the Holidays

For sober party-goers, there’s a particular challenge at play to remain sober but still parttake in the social fun. As one sober writer, Katie MacBride explained for the digital news outlet Quartz, “It is not the abstaining from alcohol that’s difficult and isolating—it’s the stubborn insistence that you either play along with faux revelry or keep quiet and drink your juice with a smile. It’s a false dichotomy: one that says you must either lie to yourself and others, or be miserable. You are either the whole, happy town of Whoville or the Grinch, determined to abscond with everyone else’s joy. This is why we sober people get quiet in groups of holiday revelers: We can’t quite play along, but we also don’t want to get in the way of your fun.

So how can sober college students survive the holidays at home? Here are 10 tips from the Recovery Research Institute, a leading nonprofit research institute of Massachusetts General Hospital, an affiliate of Harvard Medical school:

  1. Stay Tuned to your body with H.A.L.T: If you’re physically or emotionally uncomfortable, you’re vulnerability is raised and you are more susceptible to make impulsive and perhaps unhealthy decisions about alcohol. Consider tending to the following needs: hunger, anger, loneliness, and tiredness. Consider ways you could relieve these uncomfortable feelings that don’t involve turning to alcohol.
  2. Don’t come unprepared: If you’re sober, it’s important to be aware that holiday parties could possibly be triggering because alcohol is widely present. Consider bringing support materials, such as a book about sobriety, a personalized list of sobriety-encouraging quotes, or even a sober friend to give you support.
  3. Introduce new activities: It may be up to you to introduce an activity that doesn’t involve drinking, depending on the crowd you are with. Have a handful of activities you can suggest or just start up that can engage you, such as cookie decorating, tree decorating, cooking or watching a movie.
  4. Write yourself a letter: Write yourself a letter about why you want to stay sober, acknowledging the struggles and cheerleading your progress so far. Have encouraging words handy and available to read for when you may need them most. Keep it to 500 words so you can read it on-the-go.
  5. Have a back-up plan: If the temptation or pressure to drink becomes overwhelming, have a back-up plan of something to do elsewhere where drugs and alcohol aren’t present. Even knowing you have an alternative can provide comfort and options.
  6. Have A Sobriety Elevator Pitch: Have a few sentences-long pitch to talk about your sobriety with family and friends. Having a rehearsed explanation that you have crafted can help you from feeling caught off-guard and more comfortable with how much of your personal story you divulged.
  7. Volunteer to be of help: Whether it’s cooking, getting more soda from the basement or hanging up coats, offer to help the party hosters. Getting physically involved with something can be a nice distraction, and allows you to connect to people through a simple task.
  8. Express gratitude: Start writing 3 things you are grateful for every day leading up to break, and continue to do so while you’re home. Having a mental catalogue of all of the things in your life you are happy for can act as a buffer against negative thinking, which may intensify the impulse to drink.
  9. Use Apps: You may not be able to access your support system in college as easily over break - take advantage of apps on your phone that can offer advice and encouragement to access at any time during the holidays that you may need support.

Staying sober is difficult and takes work. It is even more challenging to adapt your newfound sobriety to changing circumstances and social situations. But each new situation is another opportunity to practice readjustment. Knowing you have a support system such as a peer mentor, a sober living house to go back to, and/or an individual therapy counselor means that you don’t have to face the journey to sobriety alone.