Tips for staying sober

Manage your recovery with these self-help tips for sobriety.

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Even with the support of family and friends, staying sober is never easy. Recovery from alcohol or drug addiction is a lifelong process with many challenges along the way. Sometimes, it might seem like riding out the tough moments is impossible, especially during major events like Christmas or a friend’s birthday. Thankfully, there are strategies you can put in place to help you manage your sobriety.

Our addiction treatment team at Priory Hospital Woking have put together practical tips to help make staying sober easier. If you find yourself drawn to temptation, remember, it is possible to enjoy yourself while embracing a life of recovery.

Adopt some of these tips and celebrate your life of sobriety – it’s something to be proud of.

How to stay sober

There is no one-size fits all solution to staying sober. What works for some will not work for others. The more strategies you have in place to recognise addiction symptoms or potential triggers and deal with them, the more equipped you’ll be to enjoy your life of sobriety and avoid a relapse.

Perspectives: Staying sober (or cutting down) over winter

Join our expert panel on Perspectives, a series from Priory that delves into the biggest issues in mental health and addictions. In this episode, we discus staying sober or cutting down over winter.

Be realistic

It’s important to have a realistic attitude about the potential for anxiety or conflict.  It’s inevitable that you will have difficult periods and increased stress levels that can lead to greater temptation. What’s important is planning the support need and strategies you’ll adopt to come out of the other side stronger.

Recognise your triggers

Whether your triggers are stress, frustration, fear, anxiety or depression, or are environmental, like being around certain people and places, stay mindful. Check in with yourself emotionally and prioritise your self-care.

Use your support network

Your family, friends and fellowship peers all want you to get through any difficulties and stay clean, safe and sober - so let them help you. Stay in touch with people, either over the phone, over a video chat or face-to-face. Make a list of ten people you can call, including your sponsor; keep your list with you at all times and try to chat with at least one person a day.

Say no

Be selective of whom you accept invitations from - you’ll know which social groups are appropriate and which ones are not. If you have said ‘yes’ to something but then don’t feel up to it, it’s okay to say you can’t attend. Now you’re sober and are connecting with your gut instincts again, check in with yourself and your peers, and go with that feeling.

Know your limits

Especially around busy periods like Christmas, your ‘to-do list’ can become even longer and people seem to ask more of you, whether it’s shopping, decorating or cooking. Set realistic expectations for yourself and other people. Don’t be afraid to set healthy boundaries and again, say no if it’s for the best for your wellbeing.

If you do begin to feel overwhelmed, break the day into manageable sizes; an afternoon, an hour, or even five minutes. Whatever it takes to help you distress and remain in control.

Write out a daily gratitude list

A quick tip to help sooth a stressful day - put things into perspective; count your blessings and be grateful for what you have. Express thanks or simply hand out a compliment to someone you know. It all has a way of lifting others’ spirits, and your own in the process.

Avoid H.A.L.T (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired)

If you’re hungry, get something to eat. If you’re angry, irritable or frustrated, reach out and talk to someone about it. If you’re lonely, attend a meeting or call a peer. If you’re tired, get a good night’s sleep.

Any of the four pillars of H.A.L.T can lead to you taking actions you might later regret. If you feel any of these triggers coming on, lean on that support network and reduce your symptoms. It’ll quickly nip any issues in the bud and before you know it, you’ll be right back on track.

Stay away from social media

Take a break from social media with a digital detox. When on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, it’s easy to begin comparing your life to others, which can quickly lead to depression and resentment.

Keep a dry house

Empty your house of alcohol and harmful substances. When you’re around friends and family for social occasions, it can sometimes feel like alcohol is everywhere, which is why it’s more important than ever to have a safe, substance-free place that you can retreat to.

Attend 12-Step fellowship meetings 

Many groups have special meetings during the holidays to share their experience, strength and hope. Check when meetings are running and make it a priority to head down. It’s amazing how much better you’ll feel after meeting likeminded people who know exactly what you’re going through. Remember, you are not alone.

Plan Each and Every Day

Make a regular plan to get you through each week or month. Organise your days and plan to spend time with friends and family who are supportive of your recovery.

Create new traditions and replace old patterns

If you’re newly sober, discover new activities that are enjoyable to participate in without having to consume addictive substances or use addictive behaviours. Buy a new board game, start playing a new sport, try a new restaurant, start enjoying nature, or start a completely new tradition with your friends or family.

Have an exit plan at social events

If you are attending social gatherings, plan ahead and take your own non-alcoholic beverages. Have an exit plan in case you start to feel uncomfortable, especially if there are triggers present. Drive your car if you can, have taxi numbers if you can’t, and let people know that you may have to leave early.

Remember, your wellbeing and safety is paramount. Don’t consider any social pressures that might exist in the air. You do not have to stay in a place if you don’t feel comfortable.

Live one day at a time and enjoy your sobriety

Above all else - stay in the moment and live one day at a time. Don’t worry about what has happened or what could happen. Be proud of your achievements, enjoy today and celebrate your sobriety.

tips for staying sober

Staying sober at Christmas

The month of December is likely your most challenging period. Staying sober is especially hard over Christmas, as indulgence is encouraged in wider society and stress levels increase from all that shopping, cold weather and socialising. Many of the tips above apply all year round, including during the festive period, but there are other things you can do to make sure you remain abstinent and look after youself at Christmas

  • Bring your own soft drinks: If you're heading to a friends house for a social event, don't leave it to chance and take your own soft drinks. If you're heading to your work Christmas party, check ahead and make sure that soft drinks will also be on the house, and if not, take some along with you
  • Suggest alcohol-free locations: Pubs and restaurants are the first place we head for a get together, but if you're in control of organising everything, suggest a house (it could even be your own) where you might be less tempted to drink
  • Schedule in extra fellowship meetings: Fellowships tend to put on extra meetings over the Christmas period, helping to support those in need. Attend an extra session or two so you can keep reaffirming those key thoughts and strategies for sobriety
  • Keep busy: For most of us, this is likely not an issue. Christmas is an incredibly busy time already, but it's a good thing. If you're spending Christmas alone, try to get out the house and keep busy. Loneliness might lead to a downturn in your mood, triggering you to drink
  • Try to avoid family rows: One of Christmas' strongest traditions, the family row, can raise stress levels and make you want a drink. Sometimes it's easier said than done, but try not to get into any arguments round the Christmas dinner table

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