For those of you who are trying to live a sober lifestyle, it can be especially difficult at the beginning of a new year. If 2017 was a difficult year, or if you didn’t quite succeed at all of your resolutions for 2017, there’s a risk that you’ll decide to give up on your healthy habits, too. Living sober has countless benefits, and it’s one of the healthiest habits you can stick to. Benefits of an alcohol-free lifestyle include a better mood, more energy, better skin, higher productivity, improved mental clarity and more. However, it’s tough to stay sober during winter holidays, especially with friends and family in town for their new year celebrations, all persuading you to come out to the local bar to “have some beers and catch up” while they’re still in town. It’s not just holiday celebrations that can hinder your ability to stay sober, either. The holidays were likely either stressful or exhausting, and coming down from the chaos of Christmas and New Year’s can tempt you to take a break and let loose. Plus, cold weather puts limits on the amount of healthy outdoor activities available, while indoor hangouts at bars are the popular choice among your friend group. If you’re stressed out from the holidays, or you feel 2017 didn’t quite go your way, don’t let that cause you to fall off the wagon.

I spoke to leading addiction rehabilitation expert, Michael Castanon, of Luminance Recovery and he shared some extremely helpful tips to help you continue your sober journey through 2018:

Remember that you’re not alone in your struggles. Remember that there are plenty of people who struggle with staying sober during the winter holiday season, and plenty of people who have addictions that are triggered during the holidays. You’re not the only one who has to find the self-discipline to say no during the holidays when temptations and triggers are everywhere. There are plenty of food addicts, for example, who find it very difficult to refrain from overeating at holiday dinners and holiday parties. There are also plenty of people who get depressed during the winter time (known as Seasonal Affective Disorder or the ‘winter blues’) and during the winter season, they’re more likely to be tempted to break their alcohol abstinence patterns. You can find comfort knowing that you’re not alone in this.

Keep your goal in mind and remember why staying sober is important to you. If you feel as though a relapse is possible, remember what your goal is and remind yourself of how much hard work has gone into your sober journey. A relapse can set back all the work you have done, and that’s why it’s important to stay on track, even if a friend is asking you to make an exception because it’s a special occasion since they’re in town, or because it’s a special event because there’s an annual winter festival. Just say no. Write down reminders of why living a sober lifestyle is important for you.

Address your sobriety and make your intentions known.Tell your friends and family that you’ve decided to live a sober lifestyle, and that you’re very serious about your decision. Explain how your addiction to alcohol negatively impacted your life, and how much better things have been since you initiated a change. Ask them not to temp you, manipulate you, or disrespect your decision. Ask them to be supportive and explain why you’ve made this decision to help them understand. Great friends will come up with fun sober activities for you to do together and they won’t attempt to sway you.

Don’t feel bad about turning someone down or changing a plan. Even though you may want to be polite, turn down any and all invites that you feel would risk your sobriety. You shouldn’t feel bad about turning down an invite that could trigger you. You could also change a plan, and ask to meet a friend elsewhere rather than at the bar. Don’t be afraid to express your vulnerability if you think being open and honest about your situation will help a friend understand the change of plans.

Try suggesting fun, alternative activities to your friends that don’t involve alcohol. Speaking of changing the plan, you could benefit from coming up with fun, sober activities that your friends could get excited about. If you’re going to a bar because your friends claim there’s nothing else to do on a cold winter’s night, why not try making some other suggestions? Perhaps your friends are too lazy to think of a different idea, and that’s why they keep suggesting hangouts at bars or pubs. However, if you get creative and come up with a fun alternative idea (such as indoor lazer tag or a gaming convention) you may just find that the plan will change in your favor.

Have an escape plan and leave when you feel you need to. Don’t stay at a winter bash if you are feeling uncomfortable. If the individuals care about you, they will understand your reason for leaving and they won’t hold anything against you. Your health is the first priority. If you make an appearance at a party, but you have to leave early because of the environment being too heavily focused on drinking, don’t feel bad about leaving – because at least you bothered to show up at all. Make sure you have an escape plan, by pre-arranging transportation, driving yourself to the party, and telling the host that you may have to leave early. Always make sure you have an easy way out, in case you need to leave.

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