How to Cope With the Holidays in Early Recovery

While the holidays are usually associated with fun and excitement, they are often stressful, lonely, and difficult for individuals in early recovery. When juggling holiday parties, family dinners, and work events, it may feel as if alcohol is a part of the holiday season. Additionally, this time of the year is often when individuals in recovery see old friends and family members who may be associated with past substance abuse. Unfortunately, the combination of these holiday triggers may add up and increase the risk of relapse.

Whether you are in early recovery or have been sober for many years, it’s important to remain cautious about your physical and mental well-being during the holidays. Let’s take a look at how to cope with the holidays in early recovery.

Follow the H.A.L.T Coping Mechanism

HALT is an acronym that stands for hungry, angry, lonely, and tired.[1] This acronym was created to teach recovering addicts on how to avoid common triggers or overcome cravings for alcohol and drugs. In other words, this is a tool that reminds you to take care of yourself when you are stressed, making it a great holiday coping mechanism. Let’s take a look at what each facet of this acronym means.


You should make it a point to eat regular meals no matter how busy the holiday is. In doing so, you will keep your blood sugar levels stable, preventing you from feeling flustered due to hunger or thirst.


To avoid feeling angry, be sure that you’re practicing healthy stress management. You should get outside this holiday season to decrease stress and increase the levels of endorphins in the brain.


Create a list of people who support you. These people will be able to support you when you are feeling lonely or stressed. Aside from close family and friends, also consider adding your sponsor and AA/NA sober support group members.


It’s important to make sure that you are getting enough sleep at night, despite the business of the holiday season.

Create New Traditions

If you and your family have frequently spent the holiday season drinking, it may be difficult to know how to celebrate the holidays as a sober individual. To prevent yourself from falling back into old habits, create new traditions that do not involve drinking or using drugs. You could spend the holiday ice skating, decorating cookies, or watching holiday movies with your family.

Plan Your Holiday Activities Carefully

Oftentimes, people feel obligated to do things that are not good for them. However, you should never feel forced to do anything that you do not want to do. Instead, attend events where you feel comfortable and consider bringing a close friend, family member, or sober support along with you.

Create an Exit Strategy

Exit strategies are like backup plans. If you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation, you can utilize your exit strategy to gracefully leave. Also, it is recommended to practice saying “no” so that you’re more comfortable and confident in real-life situations.

Let’s take a look at exit strategies that you should use to cope with the holidays in early recovery:

  • Leave quietly. Realistically, you are not required to give anyone an explanation. Your recovery comes first, so if you feel like you need to leave, just walk out.
  • Explain your reason to leave. If you feel more comfortable saying something, explain your reasoning for needing to leave (e.g., babysitter at home, the dog needs to be walked) and say goodbye to everyone early.
  • Plan ahead. Before you get there, or upon arriving, let others know that you can only stay for a short time. This sets the stage for an early exit if you find yourself in a triggering situation.
  • Coordinate with your partner. This only works if you’re on the same page as your partner, as you don’t want them to feel like they are being used. As long as they agree, you may use them as an excuse to leave early. You could say they’re not feeling well or need to get up early for work.

Keep Attending Your Meetings

You should never stop attending your recovery meetings, especially during the holidays. Most AA/NA support groups continue holding meetings during the holidays because they know that this is a stressful time of the year for individuals in recovery. AA, or Alcoholics Anonymous, is a wonderful support group for individuals who struggle with alcoholism or substance abuse.[2] If you are feeling vulnerable in your sobriety during the holidays, it may be time to increase the number of meetings you attend. On the other hand, if you are traveling for the holidays, you can always attend new meetings locally. However you attend your support groups, you should utilize the safety and comfort of these meetings during the holiday season to help you stay sober.

Stay Connected to Friends and Family

Stay close to your support network, including your friends and family. They have seen you at your best and your worst, meaning they know how to help you when you’re feeling overwhelmed. You should invite them along to holiday parties and ask them to join in new sober, holiday celebrations. It’s easy to feel like “everyone” is out drinking and having a good time, but it’s important to recognize that you do have sober friends who support you.

Finding Treatment for Addiction

If you or a loved one have suffered from a relapse over the holidays, it’s time to consider attending addiction treatment or an ongoing aftercare program. At The Best Treatment Center, we understand that it’s difficult to cope with the holidays in early recovery. The stress and anxiety of seeing old friends and family members may become too much. In this case, you should contact a professional addiction treatment provider right away. We can help you get back on track in recovery.



Medically Reviewed: September 25, 2019

Dr Ashley

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Dr Ashley Murray obtained her MBBCh Cum Laude in 2016. She currently practices in the public domain in South Africa. She has an interest in medical writing and has a keen interest in evidence-based medicine.

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.