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Thanksgiving Is Tempting: How To Stay Sober

Christie Craft

Close-up of a wooden table, on top of which sits pumpkin pie, pinecones, cinnamon sticks, a lit candle, and a hand holding a mug of coffee.

Nov 17, 2022

In This Article

Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the holiday season, which for many is a time of warmth, togetherness — and lots of drinking. It’s no surprise that alcohol consumption soars during this time of year, with Thanksgiving Eve noted as one of the biggest drinking events of the season (1).  

The holidays can stir a mix of emotions for those in recovery or living a sober lifestyle, especially as pandemic restrictions ease and traditional celebrations pick back up. You might feel anxious, annoyed, or even bored by the idea of attending another round of booze-filled festivities. Worst of all, you may be worried about temptations that will risk your sobriety. 

But Thanksgiving can also be a time of gratitude, intention, great support, and community. By creating new traditions and knowing yourself and your limits, you can forge a newfound fondness for Thanksgiving dinners and holiday parties. 

Whether you’re newly sober, sober curious, or in your 17th year of alcohol abstinence, here are 10 simple tips for a stress-free, booze-free season.  

10 tips for a sober Thanksgiving

1. Make a plan 

Mapping out your holiday plans ahead of time can make all the difference in staying sober. Staying home? That’s easy. But if you do attend a Thanksgiving dinner or get-together, it’s important to know whether alcohol will be served so you can be prepared. 

Will the main event be drinking (and eating, likely), or will there be other festivities to keep you occupied? Consider who might be there. Will you be surrounded by teetotalers or hobnobbing with your former drinking pals? 

Making a plan for how long you’ll stay and how you'll get home can be key to having a good time, instead of feeling drained. Give yourself permission and grace to change your plans if you do become uncomfortable. With a little strategy and forethought, you can avoid stress, overwhelm, and potential triggers for drinking. 

2. Let people know 

Clueing in your family, friends, and loved ones to your sobriety can set the stage for support and accountability. You don’t need to let everyone in on your personal business, only a few trusted people. Even if you’ve been openly sober for years, it’s important to check in with your support system and let them know your plans for the holiday. 

If you’re attending a Thanksgiving dinner, consider talking to the host or trustworthy guests about your decision to abstain from drinking. You can ask them if non-alcoholic beverages will be served or if you can bring your own. More often than not, a gracious host will make the right accommodations for you to have fun and feel included in the festivities. 

Speak up if you encounter any triggers or start feeling the urge to drink. Leaning on a friend or relative for support can be an enormous help in pushing past uncomfortable feelings and sticking to your commitment to sobriety. 

3. Invite a date or a friend 

If you don’t feel confident that your family and loved ones can provide support this Thanksgiving, consider bringing along a sober friend or date. Staying sober and avoiding holiday triggers is more manageable when you’re not the only one who's not drinking. 

Bring someone who is in recovery, is sober curious, doesn’t want to drink during the holidays, or is a particularly supportive and trustworthy friend. That way, you can be sure there will be at least one person who is guaranteed to relate to and understand your choices. 

4. Bring your own beverages 

Not sure if there will be decent non-alcoholic options at Thanksgiving? Bring your own tasty beverages to ensure you don’t feel left out. Having a drink in your hand can also thwart awkward conversations when others offer you alcohol.  

Mixing up a non-alcoholic version of a drink you used to enjoy can help you feel included in Thanksgiving festivities. Former beer drinkers can easily find non-alcoholic ales and lagers, while those who used to indulge in wine can switch to sparkling cider or a rich pomegranate juice with a little bite. You can also try your hand at holiday mocktails, like a festive Gløgg or classic Old Fashioned. The options are virtually limitless. 

5. Know your triggers 

When you’re in recovery, triggers can be anything that might make you want to pick up a drink again. A stressful or tense situation could drive you over the edge. But it could also be something as simple as a person, place, food, or smell that reminds you of your drinking days. 

Understanding yourself in sobriety often means knowing what might trigger alcohol cravings or urges. It's okay if you don't know exactly what might trigger you, especially if you have newly embarked on your recovery journey. Consider taking some time to sit with yourself and think about potentially triggering situations this Thanksgiving. Try journaling to figure out what they may be, and brainstorming strategies to manage or avoid these triggers. 

Again, it can be helpful to let trusted loved ones know about your triggers so they can help you stay on track and feel comfortable this Thanksgiving. 

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6. Hang out at the kids’ table 

Sometimes, the best route to staying sober is sticking with folks you know will remain alcohol-free. Hanging out at the kids’ table — a space you can be confident will be booze-free — can make it easy to avoid temptation and triggers. Plus, children can be more fun and entertaining than adults during the holidays. Lean into the wonder of being young and fresh in the world during the season of gratitude. You, too, may be young and fresh when it comes to the sobriety world. 

7. Hit a meeting (or two) 

Meetings held by recovery support groups like SMART or AA often become very popular during holidays like Thanksgiving. Why? Because these special dates can be stressful, lonely, or triggering for those on a sobriety journey. In fact, some groups hold “marathon meetings” on Thanksgiving, meeting every hour or so for a certain time. 

If you’re concerned about keeping your sobriety on track this Thanksgiving, consider going to a meeting — or a few of them, if you’d like. Recovery meetings are often places of wisdom, friendship, and empathy in the face of radical vulnerability. Here, you can lean on a community of others who know what you’re going through. 

8. Help out 

Being of loving service to others is a key tenet of the Thanksgiving holiday. And one of the best ways to avoid drinking on Thanksgiving is to help out around the kitchen, house, and banquet table. Cooking, baking, decorating, dishing out food, and cleaning up are all excellent distractions from alcohol and the fact that you’re not imbibing this year. 

Pitching in with family and loved ones can also be a great way to bond with them. Maybe you haven’t seen your Aunt Martha in years and know she has some juicy gossip to dish. Or perhaps your past behaviors when you were still drinking caused a rift in your relationships. Use this time as an opportunity to connect with others while keeping your hands and mind in busy, loving service. 

9. Make new traditions 

Remember that it’s okay to say no to the past. If there’s simply no way you can attend Thanksgiving celebrations without feeling uncomfortable or tempted to drink, then don't go! Focus on creating your own personal joy this season. Honoring and protecting your choice to live a sober lifestyle is more important than the possibility of disappointing others. 

There’s no limit to the new Thanksgiving traditions you can create. You can host your own sober Thanksgiving dinner — or a “Friendsgiving” where you only invite non-relatives. Order takeout instead of cooking for a fresh twist on the holiday banquet. Go for a walk in the woods and take in the late fall foliage and atmosphere. You could visit a pumpkin patch, go apple picking, or go to the movies (and treat yourself to popcorn!). 

10. Center gratitude 

Giving thanks for all you have achieved and experienced means so much more than a calendar date telling you to “be thankful” and a long holiday weekend off of work or school. Centering gratitude means living with an attitude of appreciation and wonder as a foundational tenant of your daily life. Gratitude is the practice of training your mind to look at the glass as half full, and noticing where the light shines in dark places. And for many people in recovery, success in sober living comes down to gratitude and accountability. 

Take time this Thanksgiving to meditate on your journey in sobriety and how far you’ve already come. Quitting alcohol often means facing many dark, personal demons and putting them in your past, which is no small feat. Celebrate yourself for all you’ve experienced and triumphed from in strength. Write out your story, taking note of all you’re grateful for now. Make art inspired by a feeling of gratitude for your achievements in sobriety. Then, you can look to the future and what you’d like to accomplish in the coming months and years with a grateful heart. 

About The Author

Christie Craft is a writer focusing on psychology and mental health. When she’s not writing, you can find her reading voraciously and gardening at home with her young son in the Pacific Northwest

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