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My first sober Christmas: Tips to help you say no

Illustration of a person turning down an alcoholic drink
felicities | Freepik

Tips & tricks by Eleanor Fatharly

Whether due to a history of dependence on it, or a personal choice not to consume it, Christmas can be a difficult time for anyone who doesn't want to drink alcohol. Eleanor Fatharly gives her tips on how to ensure your Christmas is alcohol-free.

At Christmas, the presence of alcohol feels inevitable. With festive adverts of champagne flowing and wine gifts from secret Santas, alcohol can be hard to avoid. The booze-filled season can be triggering for some of us. According to the UK charity Drinkaware, almost two-thirds of drinkers over-indulge with alcohol over the festive season. The expectation of alcohol at Christmas and being surrounded by drinking can make others feel pressured to join in, or even trigger people with alcohol dependency or addictions to relapse. In this article, I will explain how I managed to have a sober Christmas whilst recovering from alcohol dependency.

My first sober Christmas

Christmas of 2021 was the first sober Christmas in my adult life. Two months prior, I realised I struggled with a strong dependency on alcohol, and it had ruled my life for far too long. Alcohol had become a way for me to keep my anxiety and OCD at bay but the more I relied on it, the more I found myself drinking until I was becoming reckless and a danger to myself.

I sought out help through the charity With You and joined one of their alcohol support groups to finally get some control back. By talking about my drinking habits and calculating how much I was actually drinking, I was able to make a plan of action to stop. You can calculate how much you drink here.

However, last Christmas truly tested me to put all the sober techniques I had learnt into practice.

Drink alternatives

For me, drinking at Christmas felt like part of the celebration and a way to join in with everyone around me. Something about the bubbles and the clinking of glasses made the occasion feel extra special and merry.

However, a sober alternative does not have to be boring or less fun. I found that many brands now create alcohol-free alternatives such as Gordon’s, Tanqueray and even Nozeco (alcohol-free Prosecco).

Making a non-alcoholic drink in a wine glass or the pop of Nozeco still made the occasion feel special and I could join in with family members without actually having alcohol. The taste wasn’t exactly the same but the feeling of celebrating was still there.

There are also plenty of alcohol-free mulled wines and festive cocktail recipes to be found online to keep you in the spirit. Thanks to these, I was fully present for the whole of Christmas day. In previous years, the alcohol would start to make my vision of Christmas day foggy, and I would wake up hungover and exhausted. This time, I felt every part of Christmas and enjoyed Boxing Day too.


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Be kind to yourself

Christmas can be stressful and overwhelming, and drinking is sometimes used to relieve some of that. From family arguments to anxiety-inducing work parties, a drink can be a tool to take the edge off. However, I was learning to stop doing that and replace alcohol with new tools instead.

I decided that I needed to be extra kind towards myself. Just as you wouldn’t force someone with a wounded leg to walk fast, I needed to look at my recovery with compassion and patience. Part of my recovery was to learn to sit with the discomfort instead of going straight to drinking. I needed to learn that the discomfort would pass, drink or no drink. At Christmas, sometimes this meant removing myself from the celebrations for a moment to calm myself before returning, or even distracting myself by helping with Christmas dinner. No matter what, the stress passed, and I did not need a drink to make that happen.

Some people may be challenging

Unfortunately, declining a drink can cause people to ask questions such as ‘why?’ or even insist on you having a drink. In these situations, you are completely allowed to say, ‘I just do not want a drink’. However, I understand how hard it is to defend your decision sometimes, especially to your friends and family. Luckily, I had a very supportive network but around Christmas, I did encounter people that insisted on me having ‘just one glass’.

At times, I didn’t want to get into my reasons for not drinking so I had some phrases ready to reply with. For example, ‘I’m cutting down on my drinking’, ‘I’m on medication’, or even just a simple ‘I don’t feel like drinking’. All reasons are valid. It’s also helpful to remind yourself why you aren’t drinking at times like this. It is harder to turn away from alcohol when someone is offering it, so it is up to you to decide why you are wanting to stop or cut back. You may be recovering from a dependency like I was, or you may not like the effects of drinking. Whatever your reason, if you have a solid idea of why you don’t want to drink, it will become easier to push back against peer pressure.

Don't forget the bigger picture of what Christmas is truly about

Although alcohol is hard to avoid around Christmas, you don’t need it to have a great Christmas. There are so many other elements of Christmas that you can look forward to that don’t require a drink. Whether it’s opening presents, Christmas dinner waiting on the table or having the time off work to spend time with family – there is something for everyone to look forward to.


If you, or someone you know is struggling with alcohol, below are some resources that can be a great place to start:


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