Getting Through the Holidays Without Alcohol
Is this the “Right” Time to Quit?
Cutting back or abstaining from alcohol is difficult and for those who have recently decided they needed a change, maybe second-guessing themselves, wondering if the holiday season is the “right” time. However, there is no “wrong” time to positively change your life. Alcohol is so widely accepted in our society, that excuses and exceptions for why you can’t stop now will always persist if you continue to wait for the “right” time. After Christmas is New Year’s, then Valentine’s Day, then Easter, then May 2-4, then Canada Day and then it’s wedding season. Before you know it, Christmas will be around the corner and that is just not the “right” time to quit.
The right time is when you have decided and made the commitment to yourself that enough is enough.
Identifying Why You Drink
There are still a few weeks until Christmas, but the holiday season has already begun. It can be a stressful time for many, preparing for parties and big dinners, interacting with people you do not find interesting, worrying over Christmas gifts and finances, or feeling sad because you are missing a loved one who is no longer with you during the Holidays. Drinking alcohol to alleviate these negative emotions (stress, sadness, boredom) may have short-term benefits, but those benefits quickly dissipate, and the consequences often include hangovers, more stress/anxiety/sadness, shame or guilt from drinking too much, and saying or doing something you wish you hadn’t.
Alcohol does not make other people more interesting; it just becomes more tolerable for you, it does not bring a loved one back, it numbs your pain, and it does not take away the financial stress of not being able to afford Christmas this year, it makes you forget about the stress for a mere moment only to come back with a vengeance. These are some examples that motivate people to drink. What is your motivation to drink and are there other
ways of getting this need met that is healthier than alcohol and causes less collateral damage?
Increase Distress Tolerance and Emotion Regulation Skills
Distress tolerance is the ability to cope with negative emotions without feeling overwhelmed or acting impulsively whereas emotion regulation refers to a person’s ability to manage and respond to their emotional experiences in appropriate and adaptive ways. Strategies for increasing distress tolerance and emotion regulation involve self-awareness, mindfulness, cognitive reappraisal, and acceptance of the emotion. Depending on how intensely you feel your emotions, you may need to first activate your soothe system, lowering your physiological arousal, so that you can use the strategies noted above.
Some ways you can activate your soothing system are through deep breathing, visualization, and meditation. Deep breathing can be utilized anywhere, anytime, so I recommend this exercise first. The science behind this method is that one cannot be stressed and relaxed at the same time, thus by activating your soothe system through diaphragmatic breathing, you are taking control of your body’s arousal system. While deep breathing may not address the stress of the holidays or your urge to drink alcohol, it will help you cope with the negative feelings associated with such phenomena!
4-7-8 Breathing and Box Breathing
4-7-8 breathing is a technique in which you inhale through your nose for a count of four seconds, hold your breath for seven seconds, and exhale through your mouth for eight seconds. You will want to find a spot in which you can relax yourself, whether seated or lying down. Do this for four breaths at the start of your practice and once you become more familiar, work your way up to eight full breaths.
Box breathing is similar; however, the pattern is 4-4-4-4. Very slowly, inhale through your nose for four seconds, hold your breath for four seconds, exhale through your mouth for four seconds, and hold your breath for four seconds.
In both exercises, you will want to ensure you are breathing through your diaphragm and not your chest. You will know you are doing this correctly when your diaphragm expands with every inhale and contracts inward with every exhale.
Identifying Risks and Trouble Spots, those that are Most Difficult to Avoid
Now that you have been taught two different methods for activating your soothe system in times of stress, it is time to work on strategies for coping with unavoidable and high-risk situations during the holidays that may interfere with your goals. High-risk situations may include work parties, Christmas dinners, gift exchanges with friends, or any other event that you foresee as being the most difficult to cope without giving in to temptation.
Once these situations have been identified, you can create a plan for yourself in preparation for this event. One strategy, of course, is not to attend functions where there will be alcohol, depending on your recovery plan, however, if this is not an option, there are many other ways to get through the holidays without alcohol.
Tips and Tricks to Follow while Attending Christmas Functions and Remaining Sober/Reducing Alcohol
Here are some suggestions to consider before attending Christmas and New Year’s functions so that you
have a better chance of sticking to your goal.
1. Plan to leave early from the function before others’ drinking gets out of hand.
2. Ensure you have an ally at the event who can support you if you are struggling to say no and who is aware of your goals and is willing to be that support person. If you have no one at the event who knows what you are going through, it is okay for you not to go.
3. Come up with reasons you are unable to drink if you are not yet telling people you are trying to quit. Some possible reasons can include, “I drove here so I’d prefer to just not have any,” or “No, I have an early day tomorrow and I need a good night’s sleep,” or just say, “No, I am trying to cut back.”
4. Bring non-alcoholic beverages to the event so you still have something in your hand if you are feeling left out. These may include non-alcoholic beer, wine, and spirits, mocktails, coffee, juice, pop, or flavoured sparkling water (bubblies, AHA, sparkling ice). I have also included some non-alcoholic recommendations below.
5. If you are looking to cut back on your drinking and not give it up completely, limit the amount you bring to events and stick to that limit. If you are only bringing two beers and someone offers you a third, say “No, thank you.” If you are looking for a reason to provide someone you can also use one of the above suggestions in #3, such as, “No thank you, I’ve had two already and I have an early day tomorrow.”
6. If you are bringing wine or spirits to the event, water them down with carbonated water or pop (wine spritzer), and drink water in between alcoholic beverages.
7. Bring non-alcoholic beverages that you enjoy AS MUCH as the real thing, so you do not feel like you are missing out. This will be a trial-and-error process. If you enjoy craft beer, you might not enjoy Budweiser 0%. If you like gin and tonic, find a non-alcoholic alternative that tastes similar.
Be sure to try these out before bringing them to events so you know whether or not a similar taste is triggering for you. If it is, stick to other non-alcoholic beverages.
8. Visit restaurants and order mocktails that you think you will enjoy. If you enjoy it, take a photo of the ingredients, and try to make it at home. Be creative and have fun with the process. Giving up alcohol does not have to be mourned.
9. Don’t get discouraged by slipups. Some people slip up periodically and that is okay. Pick yourself up again and recommit to the goals that you had before.
Some Non-Alcoholic Options Below
Leitz Eins Zwei zero (found at Wine and Beyond)
Rose Carl Jung De Alcoholised Cuvee (found at London Drugs)
There are more non-alcoholic wine options at your nearest grocery store.
Athletic Brewing Company (found on Amazon, London Drugs, athleticbrewing.ca)
Run Wild IPA
Lodge Life Fireside Brew
Ripe Pursuit Lemon Radler
All Out Stout
Upside Dawn Golden
Free Wave Hazy IPA
Non-Alcohol options found at most grocery stores
3. Mocktails (Below options are all found at London Drugs)
Clever (brand) non-alcoholic gin and tonic, mojito
Atypique (brand) non-alcoholic gin and tonic, amaretto sour, mojito
Ole (brand) non-alcoholic margarita, Paloma
Sparkmouth (brand) non-alcoholic margarita, Moscow mule
4. Non-Alcoholic Spirits
Upsidedrinks.ca carries a variety of non-alcoholic beer, wine and even spirits (amaretto,
rum, gin, whiskey)
Cocktailemporium.com carries a variety of non-alcoholic beer, wine and even spirits
(amaretto, rum, gin, whiskey)
Sobrii.ca carries a variety of non-alcoholic beer, wine and even spirits (amaretto, rum,
While this list is not exhaustive, take it as a guide in your journey of sobriety and be proud of yourself for making this decision. Remind yourself of the reasons why you chose to quit or cut back. It is not uncommon for individuals to wake up hungover and wish they had not drunk the night before, but rarely do individuals wake up refreshed and wish they had drunk the night before. If you are thinking you need alcohol to have fun or enjoy yourself, maybe you need to rethink the life you have created for yourself and recreate it. If you needed alcohol to enjoy spending time with your significant other, do you think you would marry that person or would you just find another person? Build a life you don’t need to escape from.
At Incentive Counselling, we work collaboratively with clients to identify the role alcohol plays in their lives. Through mindfulness, increased self-awareness, and the development of coping strategies, clients can better understand the relationship they have with alcohol and how this has affected the relationship they have with themselves.
If you are trying to quit or reduce your alcohol intake, give us a call or book through our online booking system to arrange a time that best suits you, and let’s plan to build the life you don’t need to escape from.