Be Merry and Bright: Celebrating the Holidays With Sober Family and Friends

Make your festivities inclusive and inviting for sober loved ones! All Sober's Maeve O'Neill shares some tips on being a supportive sober ally and welcoming host

December 3, 2022
Two elves on a shelf

Holidays are a time of joy and celebration, yet they can be difficult for people choosing sobriety. There’s no denying alcohol plays a big role in the season for many; recent surveys confirm as much. According to one, 48% of respondents engaged in heavier alcohol use during family holiday gatherings than during other social occasions. Another, alarmingly, found 47% of men and 40% of women bingeing on New Year’s Eve.

And that’s just one reason the holidays can be uncomfortable for those who are trying to maintain sobriety. It’s a time that can be emotionally draining, stressful, awkward and all-around triggering to folks in recovery. That’s why we recently asked prominent voices in the recovery world for their tips on handling the holidays if you’re staying sober.

But what can you do if it’s a loved one who’s abstaining, whether in recovery or for other reasons? In the spirit of the season, you’ll want to make them feel warm, welcome and safe. So All Sober EVP of Addiction and Recovery Maeve O’Neill recently spoke with Well+Good to share some advice, dos and don’ts for family and friends as well.

Someone else’s choice not to use alcohol “can make you question your own choice to use it, which can be uncomfortable,” says Maeve O’Neill. That discomfort may then “cause you to make jokes or be unsupportive or even dismissive of their choice not to use alcohol, perhaps by encouraging them to ‘just have one drink,'” she says.

This type of language can also spring from the common assumption among people who drink that people who don’t drink are “upset with them for drinking,” says addiction psychiatrist Dr. Smita Das. “But it’s far more likely that the person who feels like they’re being judged is actually reacting to their own internal dialogue about how they feel about their drinking, rather than anything that the sober person did or said.” In that realm, it’s important to remember that someone’s choice not to drink, even if it’s at your holiday party, is not a reflection of you, how they think about you, or your own drinking preferences; it’s about them. So, it doesn’t make much sense to try to convince them otherwise.

Not to mention, suggesting that someone who isn’t drinking “just have one drink” is a particularly bad idea if they’re in recovery. “For this person, having a drink isn’t the same thing as having a serving of dessert for someone who is on a diet,” says Dr. Das. “When it comes to someone in recovery who may be counting their days or worried about that first step on a slippery slope, you don’t want them to trip on the ice with that ‘just one drink’ and fall.”

Reality check: It’s possible to have just as much fun and enjoy the holidays without alcohol, says O’Neill, “so, celebrating with people who don’t drink alcohol is not difficult or boring.”

Get more tips on celebrating (with) your sober friends this season; read the full article at Well+Good.

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