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How to Cope with Family Holiday Events... Without Alcohol!

Can I cope with family holiday events...without alcohol?

The holidays are quickly approaching, and this may be both a blessing and curse in terms of family dynamics. While it may be possible to avoid uncomfortable family interactions throughout the year, holiday celebrations bring family members together. For those in recovery from alcoholism/addictions, this may also be a challenging time emotionally and in terms of staying sober. Even those without alcohol problems may find that they are drinking more than they have the rest of the year. But why?

People drink alcohol for a variety of reasons. For a "normal" drinker, they may drink in order to feel relaxed, they enjoy the taste, and the social aspect as well. The holidays are a time of family gatherings, work holiday parties and celebration. Some people are not necessarily drinking in order to "cope" with the holidays, they may choose to use these many celebrations as an excuse to drink more than usual. Others tend to drink in order to cope with the holidays and family tension. Alcohol is a central nervouse system depressant and therefore has a calming effect. It is also a legal drug that is often part of holiday family gatherings, and is readily available and socially acceptable. Additionally, the holidays are a time that can feel lonely and isolative for some people who may start to reflect on the past year or compare their current life to those in their family, friends or colleagues. For those with family issues, this time of year can intensify conflicts or lead to interactions with family members who were able to avoided the rest of the year. If alcohol is available, it may help to be a "social lubricant" in these situations. Those in recovery from alcohol problems need to take extra precautions in terms of planning ahead for relapse prevention purposes.

It is certainly possible to cope with family holiday events and throughout the year in ways that do not involve drinking alcohol. However, this will involve having the strength to make changes, set consistent limits and adhere to boundaries.

1. Set limits in terms of the amount of time spent in stressful family situations
2. Bring along a friend or other loved one to a family function for additional support
3. Attend therapy in order to address family issues and learn effective coping strategies
4. Attend Al-Anon mutual-help meetings for support in coping with other alcoholic family members. Meetings can be found through the following Website:
5. Choose not to attend stressful holiday family events
6. Leave the event early
7. Be sure to have transportation options that will allow you to leave the event early if necessary
8. Have a friend who you can call for support during the event and take a "time out"
9. Focus on spending time with a family member at the event who you have the healthiest relationship to and avoid the "toxic" relationships
10. Keep an open mind and allow yourself to have a new and possibly better experience this year with family over the holidays
11. Practice stress reduction techniques during this time of year (ie, exercise, meditation, massage, etc.)
12. Plan a holiday event that will include your close friends and loved ones whom you would enjoy spending time with in order to offset some of the more obligatory events.
13. Be honest about your emotions
14. Avoid "people pleasing", as this involves trying to keep other people happy while neglecting your own needs
15. Let go of other's expectations and opinions-If you have a healthy relationship, then they will respect your personal choices
16. Don't forget to laugh! Find some humor in the situation.

For more information and resources on the topic of High-Functioning Alcoholics visit the Website

More from Sarah A. Benton LMHC, LPC, LCPC, AADC
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