Authored by Elliott Redwine, | Medically Reviewed by Dr. Elizabeth Drew, MD
Last Updated: April 17, 2021

Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the holiday season, a time for celebration and cheer. It’s also a time associated with increased alcohol use. This poses a challenge for people trying to stay sober on Thanksgiving. The holidays are usually packed with gatherings from now until New Year’s. From family to friends to coworkers, there are plenty of events to attend.

According to research, alcohol consumption soars every holiday season. Thanksgiving Eve, the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving, is one of the biggest drinking holidays of the year. Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reveals that it’s the deadliest holiday on the road. More than 800 people died in alcohol-related car accidents during the Thanksgiving holiday from 2012 to 2016. 

Thanksgiving will look a lot different this year, though. Traditional gatherings are limited due to the widespread stay at home orders still in place. Even though there are far fewer events taking place this year, the temptation to drink still remains. Isolation and loneliness are as difficult for people in recovery as the holidays are.

There are a few ways you can prepare yourself for the Thanksgiving holiday. Whether you’re attending a small gathering or not, you don’t have to take a drink. The following 10 tips to stay sober on Thanksgiving will help you decide how best to protect your recovery this week.

family thanksgiving dinner sober

1. Come up with a plan to stay sober on Thanksgiving ahead of time

The temptation to drink usually arises when you feel anxious, depressed, or overwhelmed. Chaos and unpredictability are a breeding ground for triggers and the holiday season is full of both. Although you can’t eliminate every unexpected possibility, you can prepare yourself for them. 

The best way to stay sober on Thanksgiving is to come up with a plan before the day arrives. What are you going to do on Thanksgiving? Where will you go? Who will you spend it with? Don’t wait until Wednesday night or Thursday morning to decide what you’re going to do!

2. Host your own Thanksgiving gathering

Hosting your own Thanksgiving gathering is one way to keep your day alcohol-free. Invite only a few people you know won’t mind having a sober Thanksgiving gathering. Maybe it’s your immediate family members or a few of your friends. You could even host a Thanksgiving gathering for a couple of your friends in recovery.

If you’re the host, you get to set the pace for the day and ensure you stay sober on Thanksgiving. You choose who gets to come and how the afternoon goes. This is a great way to keep your gathering small and limit the stress that comes with the unknown or unexpected.

sober thanksgiving drinks

3. Let people know ahead of time that you aren’t drinking

If you do attend a Thanksgiving gathering, let people know ahead of time that you aren’t drinking. You don’t need to inform everyone there if you aren’t open about your recovery. Keeping a few people in the loop will limit the external pressure to have a drink yourself. Those who know can also hold you accountable for your sobriety.

4. BYOB (Bring your own beverage)

Bringing your own beverage is a great way to stay sober on Thanksgiving. You don’t have to worry about what the host has to drink if you bring something yourself. Having a drink in your hand throughout the day also keeps people from asking if they can get you something to drink.

To keep yourself from feeling left out, you can bring something that reminds you of a drink you used to enjoy. If you preferred canned beers, take a few cans of soda or sparkling water with you. If mixed drinks were more your thing, bring the ingredients to make a mocktail or two while you’re there.

sober friends

5. Invite a friend to go with you

If you’re able to, bring a sober friend to the gathering with you. This ensures you’ll have at least one other person there who isn’t drinking. They can be a friend who’s in recovery or even just a friend who doesn’t want to drink that day. It’s easier to stay sober on Thanksgiving when you aren’t the only person who isn’t drinking. It helps to have some friendly backup there to support you and your recovery.

6. Have your recovery support system on call

Make sure the people in your recovery support system are ready to pick up the phone if you need them. People in your support system should already understand the difficulties that come with staying sober during the holiday season. Remind them that you might need some extra support during the next few days so you can stay sober on Thanksgiving.

7. Don’t forget your coping skills

Have your coping skills firmly in place and ready to use when Thanksgiving day comes around. Maybe you need to start out with a meditation practice to set the pace for your day. If exercise is a big part of your recovery, go for a run before you head out to the gathering you’re going to attend. When you arrive at the event, find a place you can escape to if you need some quiet time while you’re there.

8. Plan your exit before you arrive

Come up with an exit plan before you even arrive. Planning your exit before you get there relieves the inevitable pressure of people asking you to stay longer than you’re comfortable with. Drive yourself there so you aren’t reliant upon anyone to get you home. Decide how long you want to stay. You can even make plans for after the gathering to give yourself a real reason to leave by a certain time.

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9. Go to a meeting (or two)

Many recovery support groups meet on Thanksgiving because they know how difficult the holidays are. Some places hold marathon meetings where a group meets every hour for a certain time during the day. If you’re worried about staying away from alcohol this Thursday, find a recovery support meeting you can go to. Attend a meeting or two to remind yourself why it’s important that you stay sober on Thanksgiving.

10. It’s okay to say no

Another thing to remember is that it’s okay to say no. You don’t have to attend any gatherings that make you feel nervous or uncomfortable. Protecting your recovery is the most important thing you can do during the holiday season. If you think that going to an event will make it harder to stay sober on Thanksgiving, politely decline the invitation. Staying home on Thanksgiving with a few supportive friends is better than surrounding yourself with temptations to drink.

Seeking Additional Support This Thanksgiving

Are you having a difficult time staying alcohol-free as you head into the holiday season? Do you need additional support to help you stay sober on Thanksgiving? Attending alcohol rehab can provide the structure and stability you need to start the holiday season on the right foot.

Peace Valley Recovery provides premier alcohol and drug addiction treatment in Pennsylvania. If you or a loved one cannot stay sober on your own, we are here to help. We build an individualized approach to recovery based on your experiences and your needs. Please reach out to us if you’re struggling to stop drinking. Our admissions specialists are available around the clock and ready to connect you with the help you need today!

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