Ways to Manage the Urge to Drink During the Holidays

Family gatherings, year-end celebrations, seasonal stress: there are lots of opportunities and reasons to drink—and drink heavily —over the holidays. Yet,with a little planning, you can deal with these triggers and urges from a place of personal power. 

Consider these five helpful tips to successfully deal with urges and stay sober this holiday season. 

1. Identify Your Triggers

Triggers can be internal (positive and negative feelings, physical conditions like thirst or hunger) and external (people, places, situations). What triggers your urge to drink?  

2. Manage Your Triggers

Being aware of your triggers is important, but will only be helpful if you develop and follow a game plan for dealing with them.. 

At CheckUp & Choices, an online partner of SMART Recovery, we’ve designed a series of skill-building exercises in our online program to help you manage and work through types of triggers including family, feelings, life events, money stressors, friends, places, physical conditions, activities, and types of alcohol. At the end of each section, we provide an empowering interactive exercise called “If/Then” in which you can problem-solve and also brainstorm ways to deal with your triggers. 

For example,  If  Sarah invites me over for her family’s pre-Thanksgiving party, then I will volunteer to make a delicious non-alcoholic punch for everyone to enjoy. 

It can take time and effort to learn how to best manage your triggers. Be patient with yourself, stick to it, and learn from any mistakes. Creating a plan ahead of time can help you deal with your urges when they come up. 

3. Track Your Urges to Drink

Knowledge is power. Tracking your urges allows you to better understand them. The better you know your urges, the more control you will have over them. Just as the urge precedes the drink, the trigger precedes the urge. The CheckUp & Choices  program provides an urge tracker, which is a great way to monitor and manage your urges as they come and go over the holidays. You’ll be able to see your progress in dealing with them as they lessen over time. 

4. Deal with Your Urges

There are many ways to deal with the urge to drink. Some will work better than others, depending on your time in recovery. 

Research has shown that we can improve our ability to cope with urges by practicing.  Some beginning strategies include: 

a) Distraction: One way, especially early in recovery, is to distract yourself from urges. What can you do at a party when you get an urge to drink? Consider the following strategies: 

  • Walk away from the bar and grab some food 
  • Change the subject to sports or food 
  • Touch base with a non-drinking friend or family member at the party who supports your recovery 

b) Drink Refusal: Realize it’s your right and choice to abstain from drinking. Make eye contact. Reply in a clear firm voice, “No thanks, I’ll have a (insert drink of your choice here).” If you’re with a group at a restaurant, try to order your non-alcoholic drink first. That’ll be easier than watching everyone else order a beer or wine first. 

c) Avoiding Triggers: Ask yourself, “What’s triggering this urge?” Take a moment to identify the trigger. Certain people or places can trigger an urge to drink. The easiest way to cope with urges is to avoid the triggers if you can. Be prepared to leave events early, or choose not to attend stressful gatherings. Don’t drive by your favorite bar. Make sure your house is stocked full of refreshing, alcohol-free beverages throughout the holidays. 

5. Plan & Prepare in Advance

Take some time to reflect on how you’ll manage triggers and urges during the holidays. 

Imagine different scenarios and visualize how you can use the tips above to respond from a place of power. 

Create an action plan and put a support system in place. When you’re trying to stay sober, having support from others improves your chances of success. Consider asking family and friends for support. A simple “I’m taking a break from drinking during the holidays and would appreciate your support” will do. 

SMART Recovery meetings (in-person and online) are a great way to give yourself extra support during the holiday season, and SMART’s self-guided, online program, CheckUp & Choices, is available 24/7. 

Additional tools to help you prepare and make good choices this holiday season:

Updated from a 2018 blog by Dr. Reid K. Hester, Ph.D., founder of CheckUp & Choices

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