How to Overcome the Urge To Drink During the Holidays 

By: Ruby Mehta, LSCW, Clinical Operations Lead at Tempest

Learning to identify 3 common triggers and how to safely overcome the urge to drink.

A trigger is something that causes us to have an emotional response—it could be anything we see, hear, smell, taste or feel. In the context of alcohol use, a trigger is something that makes us want to drink—it’s a “cue” that it’s time to have a glass of your beverage of choice— otherwise known as a craving.

The holidays are particularly filled with triggers, especially for folks in recovery. This time of year can be challenging whether you’re trying not to drink, newly sober, or have been living alcohol-free for years.

The good news is that alcohol cravings can be managed much better when we’re aware of them. By identifying the things that trigger a strong emotional response, and/or make us want to drink, we can use other ways to cope instead of relying on alcohol. 

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Here is a short list of some of the most common triggers folks face during the holidays, and some suggestions for how to deal with them:

1. Holiday Traditions

The holidays are all about traditions: food, decorations, movies, music, etc. And for a lot of us, alcohol, in its many forms, is a big part of the holiday ritual. The key is to identify the boozy traditions you don’t want to partake in and stick to healthier rituals— or create your own. You can also switch out alcohol when appropriate, like toasting with sparkling cider in lieu of champagne. 

2. Gatherings (or lack thereof) 

Social gatherings of friends/family/coworkers are often a big trigger because of the pressure to drink from those around us. This year, in-person gatherings may not be happening, and spending the holidays alone can also, understandably, trigger alcohol cravings. Whether you plan on spending time with other people, or by yourself, be aware of how you’re feeling. Be sure to set up time with your support network (understanding friends, your therapist, your Tempest community) where you can be social and connect with other folks in a safe space. 

3. Difficult emotions

It's important to note that this time of year can bring up a lot of hard feelings, which may cause the urge to drink. Aside from the reasons mentioned above (plus COVID) the holidays can surface painful memories, difficult emotions, and issues like Seasonal Affective Disorder. Moreover, there can be an expectation that the holidays are supposed to be fun and exciting, which can actually add more pressure. These can all trigger us to want to drink, which is a normal response! It’s up to us to acknowledge these triggering feelings, and then use our support network and Sobriety Toolbox to help us cope in healthy ways.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the things that may trigger alcohol cravings—it varies from person to person. However, identifying the things that set off a powerful emotional response can help us acknowledge, and then safely deal, with the urge to drink.

Cravings can be the most difficult part of early sobriety— but they are completely normal, and with the right tools you can deal with them. In Tempest Complete, you'll be automatically enrolled in our membership add-on, Overcoming the Urge to Drink, where you'll learn how to prepare for alcohol cravings before they happen, as well as healthy ways you can deal with them when they arise— especially over the holidays. 

Additional Resources

About Tempest

Tempest is a holistic, evidence-based digital recovery program that helps you stop drinking and feel better. Our yearly membership program offers three plans, designed to help you create your own personal Recovery Roadmap. Through support, community, and a dedicated staff, we’ll teach you how to make small, realistic changes to build a foundation for the kind of life you want.

In a study done in partnership with the University of Buffalo and Syracuse University, Tempest members reported a 50% reduction in their symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder (problematic drinking) and a 25% reduction in the severity of anxiety and depression symptoms.