Tips for a sober holiday season

The holiday season that comes between Thanksgiving and New Year’s can be the most difficult time of the year for people with alcohol use disorders and their families.

Parties, family events, shopping, fatigue and even poor nutrition can trigger a downward spiral into embarrassing or even dangerous behavior, and co-occurring psychiatric conditions such as depression, anxiety or social phobia make coping that much harder.

“It’s estimated that 18 million Americans have [an] existing alcohol use disorder and more than 38 million binge drink, which for men is five or more drinks in two hours and four for women,” said addiction psychiatrist Dr. Eric D. Collins, who is the physician-in-chief at Silver Hill Hospital.

Dr. Collins said the holiday season, with all of its stresses, can be “especially daunting.”

“Celebrating with alcohol is an acceptable social activity and a time-honored holiday tradition,” he said. “For a person struggling with alcohol dependency or one who may binge drink to overcome anxiety, it is a confusing message.”

While there are strategies to help stay sober, such as bringing a non-drinking friend, getting enough sleep and exercise, and reaching out to support groups, Dr. Collins offers a word of caution.

“Alcoholism is a complex disease with many social, biological and psychological components. There isn’t one strategy that will work across the board,” he said.

“Recognizing that you or a loved one has a problem and making a plan is the best first step. After that, build a program that will work for you.”

Tips for a sober season

Socialize wisely: It’s important not to isolate yourself because that can lead to depression, which might tempt you to drink. However, be selective about which holiday gatherings you attend. If you know that a certain party has the potential to get out of control by the end of the evening, it’s probably best to avoid it.

Plan ahead: It’s hard not to feel awkward if you are the only one standing around a party without a drink in hand. Come up with a favorite non-alcoholic beverage that you enjoy so you can hold it while you mingle with the crowd. You can also have a few different reasons for why you’re not drinking if people ask, such as, “I’m the designated driver tonight” or “I’m taking medication.”

Keep busy: Plan time to have fun. When you are engaged in activities that you enjoy, chances are you won’t be focusing on alcohol. Whether it’s a winter sport or volunteer work, keeping your mind engaged is key.

Care for yourself: Don’t lose sight of your normal routines during the holidays. Be sure to get enough sleep and exercise to keep the holiday blues from sneaking up on you.

Build a support system: Support is crucial for maintaining sobriety. Think about attending extra therapy sessions or group meetings during the holiday season. Silver Hill offers a number of support groups that are open to the public. People can visit the Alcoholics Anonymous website to find nearby meetings. Lean on friends and family for their support as well.

AA meetings

Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in Wilton are held at the following locations:

  • Georgetown Methodist Chapel, 33 Church Street;
  • WEPCO, 48 New Canaan Road;
  • Wilton Baptist Church, 254 Danbury Road.

There are also meetings in New Canaan, Norwalk, Weston, Westport and other area towns. Visit for more information.

Alcohol-free recipes

Silver Hill has alcohol-free recipes posted on its blog, including this one for a Poinsettia Sipper:


  • 2 cups cranberry juice cocktail
  • 2 cups apple juice
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 2 (3-inch) cinnamon sticks
  • 2 cups water
  • Orange rind curls (optional)


  • Combine first seven ingredients in a saucepan, stirring until sugar dissolves.
  • Bring to a simmer; cover and cook 30 minutes.
  • Remove cloves and cinnamon sticks from pan with a slotted spoon.
  • Serve warm or chilled. Garnish with orange rind curls, if desired.

For more alcohol-free recipes, visit