How to Navigate the Holidays with a Substance Use Disorder

Written by Samantha Wall, LCSW
Edited by Joe DeNoon

The holidays can be a hard time for people for many reasons. This is a time where there are more engagements/parties that involve food, drinks, and pressure to engage in both activities when attending. In the previous blog, Francine discussed ways to support yourself and others who may be struggling with disordered eating. I will be discussing the other part, the alcohol. 

Throughout the year, people who struggle with Substance Use Disorder (SUD) are faced with challenges, but the holidays can be particularly triggering. Alcohol Monitoring Systems (AMS) reported that alcohol consumption goes up around 33% in between the time of Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day (Statesmen Journal). The holidays bring more get-togethers that involve alcohol, people you don’t see often asking you questions, and activities that may trigger urges. There are ways you can continue to support yourself during this time and ways to continue to receive support from your community. 

Setting boundaries is the biggest skill to lean on during this time of year, whether that means setting a boundary with someone that you will not be drinking or setting a boundary with yourself that you will not attend an event. Before going to the event or get-together, assess how triggering that environment could be for you and assess whether you feel up to managing that environment. If you have come to the conclusion that these spaces are too much to manage, consider activities that would feel good that don’t involve triggers for you. Some activities could be ice skating, a substance free holiday party, or a movie night. 

In addition to assessing your ability to manage triggering events and activities, think about how you are triggered throughout the month. Questions to ask yourself: 

  1. When do I feel the strongest urges? 
  2. What are my biggest triggers and how are they present during this time of year?
  3. How can I manage my environment, so I can maintain my own goals with substance use?  
  4. Is this helpful to my recovery?
  5. Who can I go to or what can I do if I do feel the urge to use? 

Remember, prioritize yourself and what you need. If you notice that you are experiencing feelings of guilt or you are feeling triggered, create a plan of action so you can receive support for these emotions. Support groups and therapy are beneficial at all times of the year, but especially during the holidays. 

No is a full sentence! We can prepare statements if we want to redirect the conversation, and if someone continues to push us, think about how you can walk away to prioritize your goals. 

Resources to help you or a loved one navigate the holidays with a substance use disorder:

  • National Drug Information Treatment and Referral Hotline: 800-662-HELP (4357)
    Information, support, treatment options and referrals to local rehab centers for any drug or alcohol problem. Operates 24 hours, seven days a week.
  • Debriefing the Frontlines– “A compassionate, stigma free pathway for sober nurses or those who identify as sober curious. Whether you are curious about sobriety from alcohol and drugs, already sober or wish to explore what sobriety looks like for you – all are welcome.”


If you or someone you know is in crisis, experiencing a medical emergency, or needs immediate help, please reach out to one of the crisis lines listed below or emergency services (911 in the USA and Canada, 999 in the UK, 112 in the EU, 000 in Australia).


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