A Guide to Navigating the Holidays When You’re Not Drinking

Choosing not to drink during the holidays can be difficult. We provide tips on how to enjoy the holidays without drinking and how to communicate your boundaries.

While holidays are a time of joy, peace, and celebration, they also present a dizzying array of stressors — cooking meals, shopping, entertaining, and everything in between. Whether you choose not to drink alcohol around the holidays for personal and health reasons or are on the path to sobriety, the holiday season brings additional pressures that can make it a challenging and isolating time. Family gatherings and social events have what seems like an endless flow of holiday-inspired cocktails and many opportunities to take the edge off with a mug of mulled wine.

This article provides recommendations for managing sobriety, including communicating your decision not to drink, avoiding uncomfortable situations, mocktail suggestions, putting yourself first, and more. 

5 Ways to Enjoy the Holidays Without Drinking 

Staying sober during the holidays can be difficult, but it can be overcome with some preparation and self-reflection. Whether you’re celebrating your first holiday sober, navigating the stress of the holidays, or dealing with complicated family dynamics, these five tips will help you stay on track. 

1. Set your boundaries beforehand

It is important to set boundaries before attending any holiday events and to get excited about those rules. Take pride in your restraint, put yourself first and visualize how proud of yourself you will be when you can be fully present while others are inebriated.

If you are particularly worried, try using some external motivation to keep you on track. Consider taking your own vehicle to holiday parties, bringing your own mocktails, or taking a sober companion to holiday events as a way to control your own destiny. If you are in recovery from alcohol or drug abuse, you can also increase the support you have during this time by scheduling a phone call with someone in recovery or attending 12-step meetings more often. 

2. Know your triggers and plan ahead 

Knowledge is power. Take some time to reflect on what your triggers are and plan ahead to prepare yourself for them. Investing in a sobriety toolkit with certain calming activities to help soothe anxiety can be very helpful. For example, if you are attending holiday festivities away from home and feeling tired is one of your triggers, plan to bring items that will help you sleep better —– think earplugs, an eye mask, headphones and your favourite sleep meditation, to ensure you are getting a full night's rest. Consider bringing aromatherapy scents like lavender or peppermint, your favourite calming herbal tea, or having a breathwork routine ready. Customize your toolkit with other items that help you destress and recenter yourself. 

3. Lean on people who support your choices 

Spending more time with people who will support your decision not to drink is a great way to stay on track. Alternatively, spending time with the children of the family can be a great escape from the pressure to drink. Spend time putting together gifts, playing games, and watching movies with the little ones this holiday season. Their parents will be grateful for the help and children have a way of reminding us of the magic of the holidays. 

4. Don’t be afraid to say no

Celebrating with family during the holidays is one thing, but this season brings holiday party invites from many unexpected places. Before you know it, every weekend is packed with social events, and you have no time for yourself. 

While saying “no” is never easy, honour your needs and turn down events when you feel like you have too much going on. Saying no can bring up difficult feelings of shame and guilt, but learning to sit with that discomfort is important. Over time, saying no will get easier as it becomes less new to you. 

Try to ensure you are calm and direct when communicating your boundaries. Use I-statements, such as “I have a lot going on, unfortunately, and cannot make your event” to honour your decisions. Tools like this can help you stick to your original goal, honouring and communicating your needs, rather than lashing out emotionally in the moment. Remember that other people’s reactions are out of your control. You may not get the responses you hope for, but learning the art of saying ‘no’ will support you in all aspects of your life. Consider also scheduling lazy nights to prioritize your well-being during this time. 

5. Do something just for you

Speaking of prioritizing self-care, having rewards for yourself after attending holiday parties sober can be a great way to bring fun into your decision. Reinforce the good you are doing by giving yourself something to look forward to. Do an activity you love, buy something you have been eyeing at the store or indulge in your favourite dessert. Decide what those rewards will be, and schedule them into your calendar. 

Communicating your choice not to drink during the holidays (and beyond)

Try not to make excuses about your decision not to drink, and be direct if people question you about it. It can be helpful to plan your responses ahead of time and prepare to politely refuse drinks. Keep it simple and own your decision when people offer you a glass by saying “I am not drinking tonight”. Remember that being sober is a choice you have made. You don’t need to justify it or engage in discussion on that choice. 

Get in the holiday spirit with these mocktails

Sometimes just having something in your hand can help calm anxiety at social events and help avoid unwanted questions. Preparing your own mocktail can be a creative way to have fun with your sobriety. While not every party will have a mocktail option, you may consider bringing your own supplies or pre-made mixture to share with other like-minded folks. Check out this list of 10 easy mocktail recipes

While sobriety and the holidays can be complicated, it is possible to celebrate and have just as much fun without drinking. Stay present, listen to your intuition and trust yourself to make the right decisions for you.

Sanskriti Ravi

Content Writer at Inkblot Therapy