Trusted Content

Staying Sober Over The Thanksgiving Holiday

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

February 26, 2019

Between Blackout Wednesday and the celebration mode of Thanksgiving day, a person struggling with alcohol addiction or an alcohol use disorder may face challenges anew. Being mentally prepared for these challenges can help an individual stay sober over the holidays.

In the United States, Thanksgiving is a time of celebration for many people. From feasts to family time, football to parades, and the overarching theme of gratitude, millions of Americans gather together. But Thanksgiving denotes another holiday as well. The night before Thanksgiving, which has been called Blackout Wednesday, may be “one of the biggest party nights of the year,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

How To Prepare For Blackout Wednesday

Blackout Wednesday may be particularly popular among college students home for Thanksgiving break. However, many people participate in the party night spanning across the age ranges. Authorities even prepare especially for this night. For a person seeking new sobriety, or striving to uphold long-term recovery, this can be an environment heavy with influences of alcohol and even drugs.

Keeping on track often means staying away from substance-heavy situations, and Blackout Wednesday is no exception. To avoid the societal, or perhaps familial, pressures to celebrate in a bar or at a party, consider celebrating an alternate way. Here is a list of suggestions for those struggling with alcohol or drug abuse who want to stay sober:

  1. Make your own Blackout Wednesday tradition—sobriety takes deep commitment. The night before Thanksgiving may not have the traditional excitement it used to hold for you, but you can create your own, new tradition. Maybe treat yourself to a fun new activity to celebrate your continued sobriety. You could also volunteer this day to keep yourself busy and distracted.
  2. Have your own, sobriety-friendly, party—you may not be comfortable asking family or friends to remove substances from their own parties on your behalf, so why not throw your own party and invite a few close friends? Consider making “mocktails,” full-flavored, non-alcoholic beverages that are sure to please.
  3. Volunteer as the designated driver—this may seem hard to do, so only try this if you know you can stay strong around the influence of alcohol. This gives you a job to keep you busy, and allows you to be with your friends or family to be part of the night.

Whatever you choose, remember one night is not worth compromising your future over.

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How To Avoid Stressful Triggers

When a person is new to sobriety, he or she may find that it is best to avoid stressful situations of all kinds. That is because stress often causes a person to want to seek alcohol or drugs. Staying away from even the most minor tense situations can be very important to recovery. Although this may make you feel vulnerable and perhaps frustrated at having to avoid involvement, in the end you may find it worth it.

For example, Thanksgiving can be a stressful time for families. Many people have happy, positive experiences on this day, but many also feel anxious and tense due to family pressures. From personality clashes, travel pressures, and financial issues, there are many opportunities for stress to present itself. If you do attend your family gathering, try to make sure the tension level is low, and have a backup plan. In the long run, removing yourself from a stressful environment may be better for your sobriety. Even if you choose not to leave, consider stepping outside or even taking a short work or drive to have a few moments to clear your head and refocus on your priorities.

If you are worried you may not be able to go to your family gathering, there are plenty of ways to keep yourself busy. The day before Thanksgiving may be one of the biggest drinking days of the year, but Thanksgiving day is also one of the biggest volunteer days of the year. Community kitchens, food banks, and local shelters work hard to put on hot meals for as many people as possible. This would give you a chance to be surrounded by sober people. Further, this could give you the rewarding feeling of helping people and being part of something. When you did drugs or alcohol, that may have been the only way you experienced a sense of reward. Replacing this negative pattern with positive rewards are an important part of substance abuse recovery.

How To Tell People You Are Not Drinking

Giving the news of your new sobriety may be one of the hardest things you have to do over the Thanksgiving holiday. Shame, embarrassment, or simply not knowing how to begin may keep people from having the conversation at all. But airing your struggles may help people to understand your recovery, and how important it is to you.

If you have struggled with alcohol abuse for some time, many people close to you may know about your struggles, and may even ask why you are not drinking. For some, simply saying you are taking a break from drinking, or even that you have quit altogether may be enough. Yet some people may press you. If you cannot bring yourself to open up about your struggles, try telling them kindly but firmly that it is private business and you are not comfortable discussing it. If necessary, you may need to make an exit at this point. While this may be difficult, it may be detrimental to maintaining your sobriety.

Another great way to keep on the path of sobriety and not experience the heightened difficulty is to form a support group. Find five to 10 family members who understand what you are experiencing. If you can’t identify this many, even selecting a handful can help. Create a texting conversation or an email chain, and open a conversation about it. If you are having a weak moment, feeling stressed, or experiencing cravings, send a text message or email to these people. Ask them to help you stay strong, or to help remind you of your progress thus far. Receiving support could make all the difference in adhering to your recovery plan.

Tips For Staying Sober In The Long Term

Not everyone will receive treatment for substance abuse issues, and if you have started recovery you are already one step ahead in this regard. But staying sober after you have undergone treatment can be challenging. Here are some tips for staying sober in the long term:

  1. Complete abstinence—this may seem blatantly obvious to some people, but it is easier said than achieved. It is important to focus on short-term goals when it comes to abstaining from substance abuse. Even having “only one drink,” can be dangerous and the start of a slippery slope.
  2. Focusing on one day at a time—this socially popular notion may also seem obvious, but if you have not yet applied this principle, you may benefit from it. Try not to worry about how you will survive a lifetime without alcohol, and focus solely on getting through this task, this hour, this day. Consider adopting mindfulness practices to help you with this.
  3. Attend meetings—they really work. At first, you may not be able to open up about your struggles. You may even find it a pointless task. But some time in the months and years ahead, you may find you wish someone understood your trials. People in these meetings can relate first-hand to what you are going through. Additionally, you might meet people you can integrate into future holiday gatherings where sobriety is the focus.
  4. Establish your support system—find people who know you, care about you, and support you in this journey. Call on them when you are having a hard time, when you need to be distracted, or when you just need a listening ear.

Getting Help With Sobriety Today

The holidays can be filled with joy and tension alike. Surrounding yourself with positive, substance-free situations is as important over the holidays as with every other day. Maybe you are reading this because you are concerned about yourself, or you know someone who could benefit from treatment. If this is true, contact us today at We will be the listening ear you need, provide professional support, and connect you with resources.

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