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Managing the Holidays without Drinking (11 December 2020)


Eat, drink and be merry – this is the festive season's slogan and while that's all well and good for those of us who can be moderate in our intake of food and alcohol, for many people who have a history of alcohol use or abuse, or are recovering from alcoholism, the Christmas holidays can be the most difficult time of the year.

The holiday season is usually synonymous with family gatherings, office parties, social events, and many opportunities for drinking, and often more than usual. However, these situations can be triggering and very stressful to someone who is trying to avoid drinking over the festive season or trying to prevent from relapsing which could have serious consequences to their recovery but also physical health.

Many people use alcohol as a way to cope with stress or escape their problems, and 2020 has provided many reasons for so many people to turn to alcohol as a way to self-medicate. 2020 has been an incredibly difficult year for so many people, with increased uncertainty, anxiety, depression, stress, family problems, financial stress, unemployment, loss, grief and trauma – drinking seems like a “quick fix” or an easy way out.

However, relapsing or drinking excessively has serious consequences on relationships, work, finances and physical health. A relapse could result in someone feeling depressed, guilty, ashamed and even suicidal. Especially since alcohol is a depressant, increased drinking or excessive drinking could lead to a deeper depression and lower your overall mood.

Clinical Psychologist, Reabetsoe Buys says “While drinking over the holidays may seem like a good way to unwind and celebrate the end of an incredibly stressful year, consuming alcohol has been shown to exacerbate symptoms of depression, anxiety and aggression. While the short term effects of drinking alcohol may be experienced as pleasant, the long term effects tend to be more negative and longer lasting.”

Tips to avoid drinking over the holidays

1. Support - Know you’re not alone. Everyone goes through lonely periods in life, and it can take time to build a new life and relationships away from alcohol – chances are things will be better after a while but accept support from your friends and loved one’s.
2. Say No - Be assertive with your decision to not drink and come prepared to talk about why you have chosen not to. Some people are genuinely interested, and who knows, it may even inspire them to think about their own relationship with alcohol. You could even point them to our free Daybreak app and supportive community if they express any interest in quitting, cutting back, or maintaining the amount of alcohol they drink.
3. Aware of triggers - Avoid temptation and make sure you are aware of your triggers and ensure that you don’t have a supply of alcohol, in case you feel like giving in.
4. Make Realistic plans - Take up a new hobby or go back to something you enjoyed in the past. Ensure that when you make plans that you are comfortable and have a plan to leave when you feel triggered or uncomfortable.
5. Stick to a routine – One of the best ways to begin to balance your daily responsibilities, the maintenance of your sobriety, and self-care activities is to create a daily routine. When you have a daily routine established, you do not have to stress over what your next activity should be. Make sure to get enough sleep and wake up every morning at the same time and set a routine of waking up, getting ready and eating breakfast to start the day. Set a list of things to do each day
6. Keep busy - plan what you will do at different times or look for an opportunity to volunteer with a charity over Christmas - Feeling needed and useful can boost your self-esteem and give you a new focus.
7. Reach out for help – If you are feeling, lonely, overwhelmed, triggered or unable to manage in any tough situation call 0800 12 13 14 or sms 31393 and a counsellor will call you back. You are not alone – There is always help and there is always hope.

If you are worried about how you are going to cope over the festive season, or often turn to alcohol as a way to cope, or perhaps you are worried about a loved one or friend who needs help - please call SADAG and Department of Social Development 24 hour Substance Abuse Helpline 0800 12 13 14. You can also sms 32312 and a counsellor will call back to help. The helpline provides free telephone counselling, information and referrals to resources around the country. SADAG is open 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year – there is always help and there is always hope.

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