How to Thrive at Holiday Parties While in Recovery

Holiday parties can provide a great time to catch up with loved ones and friends you haven’t seen in a while. However, for some, holiday parties can present an array of challenges—especially for those who struggle with addiction. Some people who are in recovery find the holidays to be a difficult time as they are surrounded by frequent social gatherings involving alcohol and anxiety-inducing situations. Here, we’ll provide steps you can to enjoy holiday parties, despite the stress that may accompany them.

Holiday Party Risks

While there can be many positives to attending holiday parties, if you have a substance use disorder, there are serious risks, as well. Counseling@Northwestern faculty member and counselor Eric Beeson, LPC, says, “The world is full of reminders of previous substance use; this is especially true in settings where alcohol consumption is the social norm, such as holiday parties and weddings. These triggers activate the brain’s reward system that reminds the person of the neurochemical and social rewards associated with previous substance use, making it very difficult to cope with this stress and enjoy these social situations.”

Since alcohol is a common component at many holiday parties, other people who are drinking and do not understand substance use disorder may provide an additional amount of pressure.

Holiday Party Safety

If addiction is a concern, there are specific steps you can take to stay safe and improve your comfort level at holiday parties. If you are focused on your recovery and have holiday parties to attend, Beeson suggests considering the following strategies:

  • Find a recovery ally you can connect with. You might be surprised how many people would respect your decision to abstain from alcohol. Whether it is another person at the party or a member of your recovery support network, be sure to connect with them before, during, and/or after the event. If the event allows a plus-one, consider bringing a recovery ally as a wing-person.
  • Keep a soft drink in your hand. One of the biggest temptations can be the well-intentioned “Can I get you a drink?” question from your peers. If you already have a beverage in your hand, then you will likely avoid this question.
  • Stay active—in body and mind. Be interested and participate in the party activities. Whether it be a gift exchange, karaoke, or some game, get involved. Visualize yourself in the way you prefer to be. If you have a game or talent, share it. You can still be the life of the party, even if you are sober—and you’re more likely to remember it the next day.
  • Respectfully take a rain check. Depending on the culture of the holiday party, it can be appropriate to decline the invitation while keeping the door open for future gatherings.

The holiday season provides an additional level of stress for everyone. For those living with the unique challenges of a substance use disorder, the stress can be higher still—especially when it comes to holiday gatherings. However, by following a few key steps and keeping some general principles in mind, you can learn to enjoy the holiday season and stay safe while you do.