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How to Host Sober-Friendly Holiday Gatherings

Turning Point

Make Your Festivities Welcoming for Loved Ones Who Are in Recovery

The holidays are a time of togetherness and joy. For those in recovery, they may also be a source of stress. Aside from the worry of having to constantly tell friends and family about their journey to sobriety, anyone in this position may worry they’ll feel left out or give in to the pressure (and their old cravings) and drink themself into a stupor.

Holiday hosts can do a lot to ease their sober friends’ minds by making a few simple changes to their celebration plans. In fact, you may realize that you know more sober people than you thought! Offering a space that’s friendly to all shows anyone in recovery you love and support them no matter what. Amid all the alcohol-heavy celebrations of the season, you can provide a welcome repose. Here’s how:

Respect Their Boundaries

Especially for someone who is newly sober or dealing with other life difficulties, showing up to a holiday party might not be healthy or safe. If you get a “no thanks,” don’t pressure the invitee to change their RSVP. That’s tantamount to asking someone why they’re not drinking. Instead, offer a different way to socialize: Perhaps you can get coffee together, or take a trip to the ice-skating rink with mutual friends. Let them know that you care and you’d love to see them, but understand if they can’t make it this time.

Arrange Check-Ins (but Don’t Go Overboard)

No matter what goal you’re trying to meet, having someone else in your corner can be essential to your success. The same is true of anyone trying to stay sober. Reach out to loved ones in recovery before convening for celebrations to ask if there’s any way you can help them. Then, let them take the lead—they know their needs better than you do, and you don’t want to come across as out-of-touch or condescending.

Let Them Choose to Disclose Their Sobriety

Unless previously discussed, don’t let other guests know that someone won’t be drinking because they’re sober now. Addiction is a highly personal and sensitive matter, and most people who have struggled with it are not comfortable letting everyone in their life know.

In fact, one of the best things you can do to support someone’s sobriety is to normalize not drinking. All of us need a night off every now and then, not to mention those who can’t drink because of allergies, medication, or other conditions. When it becomes “no big deal” to go for a coke instead of a cocktail, guests will find it easier to make whatever choice is best for them.

Plan Ways to Decrease Stress

Sometimes family gatherings result in arguments or passive-aggressive digs, especially when contentious issues like politics or family affairs arise. If you know your family tends to get into it, try setting ground rules to prevent fights from breaking out. If everyone agrees they don’t want to argue, they’ll even help you enforce them.

Even when family members aren’t fighting, they can be a lot to handle. Setting aside a “quiet room” for introverted or stress-prone family members gives them a place to calm down and re-center. Whether it’s the spare bedroom with the coats or behind the doggie gate in the basement, let the guests who might need an escape know they have somewhere to go if they’re feeling overwhelmed.

Offer Sober & Healthy Choices for All Guests

Let’s face it: No one ever ended the holiday season thinking they didn’t eat enough sweets or drink enough wine. Even people who aren’t sober might appreciate some cleaner foods in the middle of what seems like a month-long dessert buffet. When planning your menu, put together healthy snacks to sit next to the cookies and plan one or two holiday mocktails so people can get into the holiday spirit without getting into the spirits.

Recovery isn’t just about giving up alcohol. It’s about creating healthier habits to replace drinking and other self-destructive coping mechanisms. The easier it is to make good choices, the easier one’s recovery will be.

Alcohol Isn’t a Synonym for “Fun”

Why do so many party activities for adults feature alcohol? It doesn’t matter whether you have children in attendance or not; when you’re planning your holiday fun, there are plenty of games and activities that don’t require participants to drink. From a gift swap to Christmas carol bingo to a classic board game, there’s plenty of ways to keep the mood up, no alcohol necessary.

Small Changes Can Make a Big Difference

At the beginning, recovery can be disruptive, especially in the face of a culture that glorifies drinking and using drugs. Being the only one in the room who’s not drinking may feel conspicuous and alienating. This is especially true if the only non-alcoholic option is a glass of water.

Providing healthier alternatives isn’t just good for people who are sober—it’s good for everyone. You may even find that hosting is easier with a mocktail in hand than yet another glass of spiked eggnog. It’s easy to forget that the holidays can be merry without alcohol, but the joy of the season doesn’t come from what we eat and drink. It comes from sharing good times with the ones we love.

Do you know someone who’s looking for support this holiday? Turning Point has a variety of programs that support a wide range of patient needs. Call our admissions team at (973) 380-0905 to learn more.

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