Preparing for Holiday Challenges to Addiction Recovery

What’s your plan?

December is here and opportunities for urges and cravings seem to be everywhere. SMART volunteers have put their heads together to offer some suggestions to help you navigate this month’s challenges.

Remember, people who achieve long-term sobriety have three characteristics in common:

  1. They make a firm commitment to abstinence.
  2. They make lifestyle changes to enhance that commitment.
  3. They plan and practice for urges and drinking situations.

Plan, Plan, Plan

The Change Plan Worksheet is an excellent tool to use when preparing for any holiday events or family gatherings that you will be attending over the next few weeks.

Motivation and Commitment

Updating and/or reviewing your personal Cost-Benefit Analysis (CBA) Worksheet and your personal Hierarchy of Values (HOV) Worksheet can serve to remind you of why this plan is important and what you’re trying to accomplish.

For more guidance on these tools, check out these helpful videos:

Urge Coping

The holidays are prime-time for urges. This is a good time to re-familiarize yourself with your favorite urge-busting tools. Check your handbook or the online toolbox and begin actively practicing these tools before you need them, to strengthen your urge-busting muscles. Include the tools that work best for you in your plan for dealing with those tempting holiday events if you choose not to avoid them.

Here’s another helpful video on the ABCs of coping with urges:

To Go or Not To Go…..that is the question

But how do you decide? SMART volunteers have compiled a list of questions and suggestions to help you make well-informed, responsible choices:

BE PREPARED: Attending parties and holiday events as a non-drinker

Things to ask:

  • What is the event really all about?
  • Is it appropriate for my stage of recovery?
  • What are my motives for attending?

Things to do:

  • Take a sober friend with you if possible
  • Ask what the alternative drinks will be; do you need to bring your own beverage?
  • Go in with an inward attitude of pride in not drinking (not outwardly obnoxious)
  • Have an exit strategy if you get too uncomfortable (e.g., fake emergency or engagement)
  • Make sure your car is not parked in a spot where it  is blocked in by other cars
  • Don’t volunteer to be the designated driver as that requires that you stay until the end of the event
  • Have your own transportation or means of getting away
  • Observe the people pounding the drinks down; ask yourself if they are really witty, popular, etc. or just incoherent and not very interesting?
  • Remind yourself of the actual purpose of the gathering
  • Personalize this list by adding your own ideas


Being prepared for the holiday events this month can bolster your sense of self-efficacy during the recovery process and help you begin the process of re-learning to trust yourself.

For more ideas on dealing with difficult situations in recovery, check out a meeting near you or online.

We wish you all a happy, safe and healthy holiday season.

Source: Henry Steinberger, Ph.D., and numerous other generous and creative SMART Recovery volunteers

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