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Staying Sober on New Year’s

I had my last drink on July 19, 1997. The next day, everything changed. Despite making what would be a life-changing decision, and despite it being the middle of summer, one of the first thoughts I had was how I was going to stay sober on New Year’s Eve. I couldn’t even imagine it. I felt like my world had ended and the thought of not drinking on New Year’s Eve was crushing.

Spoiler alert: I managed to stay sober that New Year’s Eve and on every one since (so far).

Changing your use of alcohol or drugs often also means changing your default behaviors, coping strategies, and social rituals. This can be particularly hard around the holidays. From stressful situations such as parties, family gatherings and the toast-and-cut-loose expectations for New Year’s Eve, the season can be full of triggers and challenges for those working to abstain from alcohol or drugs. If you’re staying sober or even working to reduce your substance use this year, it is important to understand your triggers and associations with substance use (people in recovery sometimes refer to these as “people, places, and things”), your strategies for staying sober, and your support system.

Here are some handy tips to help you get through New Year’s Eve, one of the biggest drinking holidays of the year:

  1. You don’t have to go somewhere where there will be drinking or substance use. I didn’t for several years. Consider creating a new tradition for yourself to mark the start of a new year, or gathering with a small number of friends who aren’t drinking or using.

  2. If you do go out or to a party, go with a plan! If you are going to be around people who are drinking, plan what you’re going to say if you are offered a drink. Practice saying out loud “No thanks, I’m not drinking.” Have an excuse ready, such as “Thanks, but I’m driving tonight.”

  3. Keep a non-alcoholic drink in your hand most of the time. People are less likely to offer you a drink if you already have one.

  4. Have an escape plan. Make sure you can easily leave if you start feeling itchy. I’d recommend making sure you drive by yourself so that you can leave whenever you need to, and not feel like you have to stick around to be someone else’s ride home.

  5. If you’re in recovery and have a sponsor, check in with them before you go out to a gathering or party. Even better, check in with your sponsor while you’re there and again once you’re home to let them know you made it through the night.

  6. If you don’t have a sponsor, have a safe person or people you can check in with. Bonus points if they’re with you.

  7. Play it through. Do this before you go to any potential drinking or using situation. It’s easy to forget what’s at stake. Instead of focusing on what you’re missing out on tonight, think about tomorrow and the day after that and the day after that. You got sober for a reason. What would a relapse actually mean for you?

  8. If you’re in recovery, go to a meeting and talk about your concerns. You’re not alone. Many people have “been there, done that.” It can feel good to be surrounded by people who understand your struggle.

  9. If you’re in therapy, talk to your therapist. Make a safety plan during your therapy session to help you through New Year’s Eve, or any event that is a potential relapse trigger.

And of course-if you’re not in therapy and need some extra support-contact us today.

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