The holiday season, a time of cheer and celebration, can also be a challenging period for individuals in recovery from addiction. The increased social gatherings, the abundance of alcohol, and the complex family dynamics often associated with this time of year can trigger stress and cravings which can heighten the risk of relapse.

For those on the path to sobriety, navigating the holidays requires careful planning, self-awareness, and a strong support system.

29.5 million people were classified as having an alcohol use disorder and 24 million people were classified as having a drug use disorder

~ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

Addiction and the Holidays

The holiday season is often portrayed as a time of joy, togetherness, and celebration. However, for the millions of individuals in recovery from addiction, this time of year can present a unique set of challenges that may threaten their sobriety.

Navigating the Holidays in Recovery from Harvard Health Publishing notes that "social gatherings, increased alcohol consumption, and family dynamics that can trigger stress and cravings" can all pose significant risks for those on the path to recovery. 

Additionally, the pressure to join in on drinking and drug use can be overwhelming, especially for individuals who are newly sober. The constant exposure to triggers during the holiday season can lead to increased stress, anxiety, and feelings of isolation. It's important for individuals in recovery to be aware of these potential challenges and have a plan in place to manage them effectively.

CTA Holiday Blues Guide

Challenges of Sobriety Around the Holidays

Navigating the holiday season while in recovery requires a proactive approach that acknowledges and addresses potential challenges and personal triggers. By understanding these factors, individuals in recovery can develop effective strategies to maintain sobriety and protect their well-being during this time of year.

social pressure

Social pressure to consume alcohol or drugs can be a significant challenge for individuals in recovery during the holidays. The pervasiveness of alcohol in social gatherings, where it is often considered an integral part of the celebration, can create an environment that implicitly encourages drinking. 

Additionally, the holiday season is often associated with societal expectations surrounding 'cheer' and excessive celebration, further amplifying the pressure to partake in alcohol consumption.

Direct instances of pressure can arise from friends or family members who may offer drinks, express disbelief at the decision to abstain, or make insensitive comments about sobriety. These interactions can be particularly difficult to navigate, especially when individuals are trying to maintain social connections and family bonds.

Family Dynamics

Complex family dynamics can pose a significant source of stress for individuals in recovery during the holidays. Reunions with family members can bring up unresolved conflicts, past traumas, or negative family patterns that can trigger emotional distress and increase cravings for substances. The absence of certain family members due to estrangement or loss can also lead to feelings of loneliness, grief, and isolation, further exacerbating emotional vulnerability.

Additionally, the lack of understanding or support from family members regarding addiction can be a major challenge. Misconceptions about addiction, insensitive comments, or unintentional actions can undermine an individual's recovery efforts and heighten the risk of relapse.


The holiday season is often accompanied by societal and personal expectations that can add to the stress and pressure faced by individuals in recovery. The expectation to appear happy, festive, and in control can be overwhelming, especially when dealing with the ongoing challenges of recovery. The pressure to give the perfect gift, host flawless events, or fulfill unrealistic expectations from others can contribute to increased anxiety and stress, significantly increasing the risk of relapse.

Financial Stress

The financial burden of the holiday season can be a significant source of stress for individuals in recovery, particularly those already facing financial strains due to treatment costs or other related expenses. The pressure to purchase gifts, participate in expensive events, or meet societal expectations surrounding holiday spending can be overwhelming and can contribute to feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, and stress.

grief, loneliness and Isolation

The holidays can intensify feelings of grief, loneliness, and isolation, particularly for those who have experienced loss or are estranged from loved ones. These emotional burdens can increase susceptibility to relapse as individuals may seek to return to familiar coping mechanisms to manage these difficult emotions.

impact of Media and advertisements

The holiday season is saturated with media and advertisements that promote alcohol consumption as an essential part of celebrations and festivities. This constant exposure can normalize alcohol use and reinforce the social pressure to drink, making it more challenging for individuals in recovery to maintain sobriety.

Lack of Routine

The holiday season often disrupts an individual's regular routine and structure, which can be challenging for those in recovery who rely on these elements to maintain their sobriety. The lack of schedule, increased free time, and abundance of social events can disrupt healthy habits and coping mechanisms, making it easier to succumb to triggers and cravings.


7 Tips For Managing Sobriety During the Holidays

While the holiday season can pose challenges, maintaining sobriety is possible with proper preparation, self-care, and a supportive network. Be sure to approach the season with a plan in place to manage potential triggers and stressors, ensuring a holiday season that is both enjoyable and healthy, in line with your recovery goals.

1. Understand Personal triggers

Being aware of your personal triggers is key to maintaining sobriety during the holidays. Take time to reflect on what situations or emotions may increase cravings and produce a plan to manage them effectively before the holidays arrive.

2. communicate boundaries

Communicating boundaries with loved ones about your recovery can help reduce social pressure and potential conflicts. Letting them know in advance that you are not drinking or using drugs and setting limits around topics of conversation can help create a supportive and understanding environment.

3. consider alternatives

Finding ways to celebrate the holidays that do not involve alcohol or drugs can be beneficial for maintaining sobriety. Consider hosting sober events, participating in activities that align with your values, or attending support group meetings to connect with others in recovery.

4. reach out for support

Recovery from addiction is not a journey that can be traveled alone. A strong support system can provide the necessary encouragement and accountability needed to maintain sobriety during the holidays. This may include:

  • Supportive friends and family members. Surround yourself with individuals who understand your journey and are committed to supporting your sobriety

  • Therapists or counselors. Trained professionals can offer valuable insight and support during this time, especially for those dealing with past trauma or complex family dynamics.

  • Recovery sponsors or mentors. These individuals can serve as a source of guidance and accountability, providing support when faced with challenges or triggers.

5. create new traditions

Creating new traditions that align with your recovery goals can be a positive way to celebrate the holidays. This could involve volunteering, partaking in outdoor activities, or focusing on self-care practices.

6. Stay connected with Your recovery plan

During the holidays, it's crucial to stay connected with your recovery plan and maintain self-care practices. Continuing therapy sessions, attending support group meetings, and practicing healthy coping mechanisms can help you navigate the challenges of the holiday season while staying committed to your recovery journey.

7. embrace the joy of sobriety

Finally, it's essential to remember the joy and fulfillment that comes with sobriety. Embrace the progress you have made and celebrate your strength and resilience during this time. It's a time to reflect on how far you have come and look forward to a future free from addiction.

Celebrate Your Progress

As we step into the festive season, remember that your journey towards sobriety is a testament to your courage and resilience. Embracing your sobriety during this period doesn't just mean avoiding triggers or practicing self-care; it's about celebrating the strength it takes to choose a healthier path day after day.

These moments might come with challenges, but they also bring opportunities - opportunities to create new traditions, to find joy in simple moments, to build stronger connections, and to cultivate gratitude. Sobriety offers a chance to experience the holidays with newfound clarity and purpose.

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2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) Releases; Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration,

Managing Sobriety and Stress Over the Holidays; Michael Leach; Washington Blade

Navigating the Holidays in Recovery; Peter Grinspoon, MD; Harvard Health Publishing

Trying to Stay Sober This Holiday Season? We've Got You Covered; Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation