How To Maintain Your Sobriety Over the Holidays

Inkblot shares tips on how to maintain sobriety over the holidays if you are struggling with excessive substance use.

It’s no surprise that the holidays can pose challenges to maintaining one’s sobriety: in an ordinary year, this festive season can bring an increased focus around alcohol at gatherings, invite stressful family dynamics and cause heightened feelings of loneliness. All of this can be enough to trigger relapse if you don’t have a plan in place. But this year – with more uncertainty around how the holidays will look than ever before and more Canadians escaping their emotional challenges through alcohol – the risk of relapse could be even higher. 

According to the latest in a set of six surveys from CAMH about the state of Canadians’ mental health during the pandemic, one in four Canadians are experiencing high levels of anxiety due to COVID-19 and turning to binge drinking to cope. In a survey of 1,003 adults, conducted between November 27 and December 1, 2020, 25.7% of people reported engaging in heavy episodic drinking, up from 19% before the pandemic. 

The trend could have dangerous implications for the long-term health and wellness of Canadians. As noted by CAMH Psychiatrist Dr. David Gratzer, alcohol is a highly addictive substance and high levels of drinking could create bad habits that stick. “The longer people engage in this unfortunate coping strategy,” he says, “The harder it will be to change, I suspect.”

We spoke with Lisa Koole, a Registered Psychotherapist and Certified Addiction Counsellor on the Inkblot platform, about how to maintain sobriety over the holidays if you are struggling with excessive substance use. 

  1. Keep up your self-care. Part of maintaining your ability to set boundaries around alcohol consumption or other substance use is maintaining your own sense of wellness. It’s harder to avoid poor coping mechanisms when you’re feeling unwell. Koole suggests sticking to your “non-negotiable activities” during this elevated time of stress: “A lot of my clients discover in recovery things that are so important to maintaining their mental health and to feeling okay. It’s simple things like are you getting enough sleep? Are you drinking enough water? Are you eating properly? Are you connecting with other people or people in the recovery community? All of those things are so important to maintain during the holidays, especially when life gets busy.” 
  2. Remember to ask for support. If you’re seeing your family or friends at a small social gathering this holiday, be sure to get everyone on the same page about what you’ll need to be successful in your recovery. Koole notes that family and friends are often happy to support you in your sobriety, but don’t know how exactly to help. “Communication is really important,” she says. “Be really specific about what help looks like for you. Does it mean that no one drinks or uses drugs at a party? Do you have a friend or a partner you can leave with if you get triggered? You don’t have to do it alone.” 
  3. Plan Ahead. If you’re going to be at a small holiday gathering this year be sure to go into it with a plan. Bring non-alcoholic drinks that you could enjoy in case the host has not provided and have a clear exit strategy if you feel overwhelmed or triggered. “Even thinking of things like where you’re parked in the driveway can be helpful,” Koole says. “Be very specific. Have an excuse as to why you need to leave early off the bat.” 

    Most importantly, Koole says you should create a fun Plan B.  “It’s not going to be fun to leave a gathering to go home and sit by yourself,” she says. Instead, plan to meet a friend for a distanced walk or to watch a movie together online. “Choosing something you could enjoy a bit more is going to make it easier to stick to your plan.”

  4. Know your limits and watch your expectations. With COVID-19, it’s really important to know that this holiday season is going to look different than others and to watch your expectations around family members. Many Canadians are feeling stressed this year and tensions amongst family could be a little higher. Before attending a party in person or on Zoom, Koole suggests doing an emotional check-in. “Evaluate how you’re feeling emotionally before going into situations. On a good day, you might be able to handle a party and not have a relapse. If you’re not having a good day, your resiliency is not going to be the same. Don’t be afraid to pull out in order for you to maintain your recovery and keep in line with your own goals.” 
  5. Create new, healthy traditions. With the pandemic changing the way we celebrate the holidays this year, Koole notes it’s a perfect opportunity to create new healthier traditions for yourself. Instead of gathering in large groups around alcohol, connect online with your sober community or commit to acts of service: “Do whatever you need to change things up and make the holidays enjoyable for you..” 

If you’re looking for more support in how to maintain sobriety over the holidays or feel triggered to drink in excess due to pandemic stress, schedule a therapy session with one of our qualified experts on the Inkblot platform. A healthy holiday and healthier coping strategies are in your future.


Lisa Koole

Lisa Koole is a Registered Psychotherapist and Certified Addiction Counsellor with over 8 years of experience. She believes everyone deserves to find wellness, peace, meaning and purpose in their lives. She offers individual counselling to adolescents and adults in the areas of anxiety, depression, managing emotions and communication. Counselling is also provided for individuals looking to make positive changes with their tobacco and substance use. Lisa’s Inkblot direct referral code is: 9dAjpJIi