10 Practical Ways to Set Holiday Boundaries With Family

Lianna Bass


Nov 02, 2023

An out-of-focus close-up of a woman with her hands covering her face.

For lots of festive folks, the holidays are *sings* the most wonderful time of the year. However, the holidays can also be triggering for those who are sober or in recovery. Things can get even more overwhelming when you throw family into the mix. The good news? You don’t have to go through it alone.

Here are 10 ways to help you stay sober and set boundaries with your family during the holidays. 

1. Be clear with your boundaries

Being honest can be hard, especially with people you've known your whole life. However, setting clear boundaries upfront can help you avoid uncomfortable situations later on. 

Let your family know that you're sober and that you don't want to feel pressured to drink or use. You can also suggest some things they can do to help support you in your recovery.

By the way… you don't have to discuss every detail of your recovery if you don’t want to. But it is important to be as direct as possible about your limits.

2. Distance yourself from unsupportive people

If there’s someone in your life who makes you question your self-worth (or your sobriety), you have every right to cut the cord. Of course, this can get complicated when you’re related to someone. 

Sometimes, running into a triggering family member is unavoidable. In these situations, it’s good to have a game plan. Do your best to put a physical distance between you. But if you do get stuck talking to a toxic person, try not to let them get under your skin.

While this is easier said than done, it’s important to remember that no one has the right to make you feel bad about yourself. You deserve to be treated with respect and understanding.

3. Start a new tradition

The holidays are a great time to gather with old friends or family you don’t see often. Lots of people like to catch up over drinks or with substances. Instead of meeting up at a bar, start a new tradition.

Ask everyone to gather at a sober-friendly location. Opt for a cafe, bookshop, restaurant, gallery — the list goes on and on. This can help you avoid triggers. Plus, meeting in a relaxed space might make it easier to have a more meaningful reunion. 


BYOB doesn’t have to be a bottle of wine or a six-pack of beer. You can bring a nice bottle of sparkling apple cider instead. Or, if you really want to feel festive, make some holiday-themed mocktails

Pro tip: Having a sober-friendly drink in your hand might make you feel more comfortable, especially if people are drinking around you.

5. Make a merry mocktail

There are lots of merry mocktails that can help you celebrate the season. Many cocktails can be made non-alcoholic by replacing the alcohol with zero-proof spirits. Here’s a list of 13 non-alcoholic holiday drinks:

- Pumpkin pie punch

- Candy cane mocktail

- Spiced Christmas coffee

- Mimosa mocktail

- Non-alcoholic sangria

- Non-alcoholic mulled wine

- Christmas pudding mocktail

- Hot mulled spiced apple cider 

- Non-alcoholic Christmas punch

- Old-fashioned homemade eggnog 

- Orange cranberry holiday mocktail

- Non-alcoholic cranberry Moscow mule

- Slow cooker peppermint hot chocolate

6. Host a holiday party

You might feel more at ease at a party if you’re the one holding the sleigh’s reins. Establish direct rules before the party takes place. If you aren’t comfortable having substances or alcohol in your house, let everyone know ahead of time. Once you do that, you can focus on the fun!

Need some sober holiday party inspo? Here are some fun festivities for the whole family:

- Gift wrapping party

- Wreath making party

- Holiday movie marathon

- Christmas cookie contest

- DIY Christmas ornaments

- Sober holiday brunch party

- White elephant gift exchange 

- Make-your-own-hot-cocoa station

- Holiday scavenger hunt (psst, this one is great for kids!)

7. Prepare to speak up

Even if you’ve shared your thoughts, feelings, or concerns with your family, you still might be asked to do something you’re not comfortable with. Maybe it’s picking up some booze at the store or letting people bring alcohol into your home. In these situations, it’s OK to say “no!” 

You don’t have to feel bad about letting people down. Your boundaries should always come first. And if a family member can’t respect your limits, that’s on them. Not you.

8. Remove yourself from triggering situations

If you find yourself in a situation that makes you uncomfortable, leave! There’s no shame in feeling overwhelmed at a family party, with or without alcohol. You can use an excuse like “I’m not feeling well,” or you can tell them the truth. It all depends on your unique family situation and personal comfort level. 

9. Go to a recovery or support meeting

It's totally normal to feel the urge to drink or use during the holidays. In these moments, you may want to log into an online recovery meeting. You can find Zoom meetings all over the world, 24/7. 

If you’re more of the in-person type, search for support meetings in your area. Chances are a lot of people are feeling the same way you are. And remember, you’re not alone.

FYI: Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) isn’t the only recovery meeting on the block. Learn about other options by reading our guide with 10 alternatives to AA.

Qualify For Treatment

10. Meditate on your sobriety 

Alcoholic drinks are par for the Christmas course. There’s a good chance you’re going to be around wine, beer, or spirits at work or family gatherings. Temptations can run high, and you might question your sobriety. If you find yourself feeling unsure, try to meditate on your sobriety.

Write a list of the reasons why you got sober in the first place. You can also consider the consequences of drinking or using again. 

Bottom line

Staying sober or substance-free during the holidays can be overwhelming. Family can make it even harder. However, setting solid boundaries with your loved ones ahead of the holidays can make things a lot easier. That way, you can actually enjoy your festive gatherings without worrying about triggers.

About The Author

Lianna Bass is a copywriter, editor, and journalist. She holds a BA in English from Monmouth University and an MA in Global Communications from the American University of Paris. When not working, Lianna enjoys traveling, making ravioli, and grunge music.

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