How to Support Your Sober Loved Ones During the Holidays

There are a few things that are synonymous with the holidays – mainly friends, family, food, and drink. ‘Drink’ typically implies alcohol – glasses of wine being served at Christmas dinner, martinis at cocktail hour at your holiday work party, and, of course, champagne at midnight on New Year’s Eve. It’s easy to forget that not everyone wants to drink alcohol, and with sober curiosity increasing (a 2022 survey showed that 22 percent of consumers are cutting back on consuming alcohol and drinking less) there’s a high chance that you have a friend who is sober during the holidays.

Being a source of support for your sober friend could go a long way, especially during this time of year when it seems everyone has an alcoholic drink in hand.

“The holidays are very stressful and a time when we often feel the weight of other people’s expectations,” Brad Sorte, President and CEO of Caron Treatment Centers, tells SheKnows. “This can cause anxiety about being with other people and in difficult situations. Whether it is going to a family function full of tense relationships or going out with friends to an event centered around drinking, these situations can be difficult to manage without alcohol or substances if you’re not used to it.”

If you have a friend who’s recovering from addiction or is sober curious, there are a number of ways to support them during the holidays. Here’s what you need to know.

Don’t ask why someone isn’t drinking

If you notice your friend isn’t drinking or has simply told you they aren’t drinking alcohol, Sorte advises against asking them why. “There are many reasons why someone may choose not to drink at a party,” he says. “If someone chooses a non-alcoholic option at a party, don’t ask them why they aren’t drinking. This increases the focus on the alcohol and can create pressure when what you want to do is be supportive of someone’s choice.”

Include them in your plans

According to Joni Ogle, LCSW, CSAT of The Heights Treatment, one of the best things you can do for your sober friend is to include them in your plans and invite them to any holiday gatherings you’re attending. “This way, they won’t feel left out and will have something to look forward to,” she says. “If you’re attending a party or gathering where there will be alcohol served, let your friend know in advance so they can decide if they’re comfortable attending. If they feel like they can’t handle being around alcohol, it’s okay to support their decision to stay home. You can stay with them or check in on them periodically to make sure they’re doing okay.”

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Ask them how you can support them

“There are a lot of misperceptions about Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD).AUD, and everyone’s recovery journey is different,” Sorte says. “Rather than guess what a friend might need, ask them what you can do to help. For example, some people may not want to be around alcohol. If that’s the case, then by all means, don’t have alcohol around them. For others in recovery, that might not be an issue.”

Pour on the compassion

Maybe what’s most important is to be understanding and patient with your friend during this time. “The holidays can be tough for everyone, so don’t expect them to be perfect and don’t pressure them to do more than they’re comfortable with,” Ogle says. “If they do have a slip-up, don’t judge them or make them feel guilty, but instead, offer your support and help them get back on track. If anything happens that causes them to relapse, such as a fight with a family member or stress at work, talk to them about it and help them come up with a plan to avoid similar situations in the future.”

Don’t drink alcohol when you are around them.

This can be helpful for your friend, but as Sorte points out, do it for yourself, not just for your friend. “This may be a chance to rethink your own relationship with alcohol,” he says. “Do you find yourself binging at parties, having three or four drinks in rapid order? When you arrive late to a party, do you drink quickly to ‘catch up’ with your friends? You may want to try being more mindful about the role of alcohol in your life.”

Create a list of sober activities to enjoy together

Hanging out with your friend needn’t include alcohol. Ogle suggests creating a list of sober activities that you can do together during the holidays, including going for walks, watching holiday movies, cooking, playing games, etc.

“Having a plan ahead of time will make it easier to stay focused on sobriety and avoid any potential triggers,” she says. “You can use this time to bond with your friend too and help them develop healthy coping mechanisms that they can use long after the holidays are over.”

Accept their boundaries

It is equally important to listen when your friend says they don’t want to do something. “Healthy boundaries can be a place they don’t want to go, a person they don’t want to see, a topic they don’t want to discuss, a time they need leave by or an activity they don’t want to do,” Sorte explains. “If your friend says they don’t want to go somewhere or do something, don’t pressure them.”

Be there for them

Finally, simply being there for your friend if they need to talk can be the perfect gift to your sober friend this holiday season. “While the holidays may be a happy time for some, they can also be difficult and lonely for others,” Ogle says. “Just being there to listen and offer your support can make a big difference. Let them know that you’re always available to talk, and if they need professional help, encourage them to seek it out.”

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