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Celebrating a Sober Thanksgiving

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Marking the beginning of the holiday season, Thanksgiving is often celebrated with a variety of traditions. They can include spending time with friends, attending family gatherings, and consuming alcohol. This can make the holiday challenging when you are sober, as others may want or expect you to indulge in alcohol along with them. The entire weekend—starting on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and extending through the Sunday after—is commonly a point of celebration, and often celebration means drinking alcohol and using substances. 

Thanksgiving weekend is known as a weekend with heightened drinking and impaired driving. According to the United States Department of Transportation, there is frequently a major increase in accidents during Thanksgiving weekend due to drunk driving. Between 2015 and 2019, nearly 800 people died in car crashes involving drunk drivers, and 135 drivers involved in fatal crashes were intoxicated. 

Challenges of Celebrating Sober

Each family and Thanksgiving celebration is different. However, there are some commonalities to many Thanksgiving celebrations. Many of these aspects create challenges for those who are sober, including some of the following:

  • Increase in alcohol types and amount
  • Travel stress
  • Family stressors
  • Party atmosphere
  • Anxiety about cooking or preparing a large meal
  • Worry over others’ expectations 

Thanksgiving as an event can be both fun and stressful. Research has found that on Thanksgiving, men increase alcohol consumption due to positive expectations and wanting to “have a good time.” However, women more commonly increase their drinking due to negative expectations and stress. Regardless of the reason, Thanksgiving presents unique challenges. Having a strategy and a plan can help. 

Strategies for Celebrating Sober

When facing Thanksgiving and the holiday season, it is normal to feel overwhelmed by the challenges they present. However, it is important to remember that you do not have to leave your friends to stay sober. There are multiple ways to cope with the holidays while maintaining relationships that are important to you. 

#1 Adjust Holiday Plans 

Thanksgiving can be a wonderful celebration, but certain environments can be more triggering than others. If you have a normal Thanksgiving plan, consider how you could switch it up to help yourself. Options like hosting your own Thanksgiving, participating in a sober Thanksgiving, or volunteering are all healthy options. Remember, while you may have always observed Thanksgiving the same way, there are alternatives. 

If you do not want to change your Thanksgiving as a whole, consider ways in which you could make changes to your current holiday plans. Perhaps your normal celebration tends to get rowdy after dinner; consider coming early and leaving directly after the meal. If you generally host Thanksgiving, exercise your control over the guest list and how the celebration plays out. You could connect with those who generally attend and speak with them about changes that would decrease the amount of alcohol or general stress. 

#2 Make a Plan

When you enter into a situation full of traditions, it is easy to go on autopilot. The increased presence of alcohol combined with stress can be overwhelming and potentially triggering. Sometimes you cannot change the situation, but you can come into it without blinders on and with a plan to help yourself. Things to consider may include the following:

  • Where are you celebrating Thanksgiving? 
  • If you get overwhelmed or stressed, what can you do to help yourself? 
  • Are there certain places you could stand or sit to make it easier for yourself? 
  • What time will you arrive and leave? 

Making a structured plan can help provide new options when you are in a familiar environment. This plan will be different for each person to address needs and feel prepared going into the environment. 

#3 Consider a Different Beverage 

When in a social situation, it is normal for others to offer a beverage. On Thanksgiving, this is often alcohol. Having an alternative beverage can make these situations smoother. Options like non-alcoholic cider or ginger ale can be great options. If you are attending Thanksgiving at someone else’s house, try bringing your own beverage. You can even bring some ingredients and mix non-alcoholic mocktails if that is more enjoyable for you. 

#4 Utilize Social Support

Having support in stressful situations is a powerful tool. If you are comfortable with someone who you are attending Thanksgiving with, opening up and talking about your concerns before can help. This allows your support to fully understand the situation. It also helps in case you need someone to talk to or lean on. This does not mean you need to email the entire guest list, although you can if that is helpful for you. Having even one or two people who are aware of your situation and that you trust can help immensely. 

#5 Prepare

Part of being prepared is entering into Thanksgiving feeling empowered. For some, daily meditation or exercise is calming and helpful. Looking ahead can be beneficial so that you do not end up turning up to Thanksgiving already stressed and depleted. It is a new situation, and entering with emotional and mental energy helps decrease overall stress and anxiety. 

Thanksgiving is the start of the holiday season and can produce many challenges for maintaining sobriety. It is well known that drinking alcohol and impaired or intoxicated driving increase during the entire weekend, and many traditions or Thanksgiving norms can be triggering. Entering into Thanksgiving with a plan and utilizing coping skills learned in treatment is instrumental. At Pacific Sands Recovery Center, we offer individualized treatment plans to address each client’s unique needs. We teach our clients skills they can take into their lives in order to maintain long-term sobriety, including during the holiday season. Call us today at (949) 426-7962 to learn more about what we treat and how we can help you.  


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