Ending Addiction for Good

Tips to Keep Substance Abuse from Ruining Your Holidays

Seven tips to make your holiday celebrations more enjoyable.

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The holidays—from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day—can be a difficult time for those who struggle with substance abuse. Even those without a substance abuse problem can overindulge and get into trouble. This is a time of year when families come together and do their best – not always successfully—to sweep differences under the rug or employers require attendance at festivities where alcohol can loosen lips that should be kept shut. It is also a time of year when DUIs are at a high and too many tragically die on our roads. To avoid these hardships, here are a few tips to help you stay in control over the holidays:

  1. Be a Designated Driver – Whether you have a substance abuse problem or not, being a group’s designated driver is an easy way out of being asked to drink. No reasonable friend, employer, or family member is going to pressure you into “making a toast” when you say that you’re responsible for getting others home alive.
  2. Eat Before You Drink – If you do not have a substance abuse problem and can drink responsibly, have a little nibble before you go to a party or before taking a drink at the party. Low blood sugar or hunger can confuse the body and it will ask for calories any way it can get them—from alcohol or healthy food—it doesn’t matter. If you’re not starving when you get to a party, you’re much less likely to overdo it on alcohol or hors de vours.
  3. Don’t “Save Your Calories” for Drinking – Drinking on an empty stomach to “save calories” only makes you drunk and foolish. If you can’t “afford” the calories, you can’t afford the drink.
  4. Keep a Bottle of Water in Your Hand – If you’re not drinking for whatever reason, keep a bottle of water in your hand. It will make you feel more socially at ease and keep others from pressing an alcoholic beverage into your hand. If you do not have a substance abuse problem, pace your drinking by drinking a glass or bottle of water between alcoholic beverages. Your liver and kidneys will thank you.
  5. Sleep well – We make poor decisions when we are tired. Lack of sleep can make us irritable or cranky and more susceptible to getting into disagreements. A good sleep the night before an event, or even a nap just prior, can help your inner balance and make the party more fun all the way around.
  6. Take a Sober Friend with You – If you have a substance abuse problem, try to avoid going to any gatherings where alcohol/drugs are present and you’ll be uncomfortable. If that is not possible, ask a sober friend to go with you. Having support that reminds you of your commitment to your recovery is important. Can’t get someone to go with you? “Bookend” the party by going to a 12 step meeting before and after or make arrangements to call someone if you feel like you might slip.
  7. Know When to Say Goodbye – If you’re not enjoying yourself, think you might relapse, find yourself getting into an argument, are getting more inebriated than you planned to or are just plain tired—leave. You’re under no obligation to stay if it’s not the right place for you to be.

Constance Scharff, Ph.D. is the Senior Addiction Research Fellow and Director of Addiction Research at Cliffside Malibu Treatment Center.

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