Sobriety, Boundaries, and Stress During the Holidays

Interview with substance use disorder expert Amanda White, LPC

Amanda White, LPC

When clients want to embrace the holiday spirit without the spirits, but our culture doesn’t create an environment where we can question our relationships with alcohol, they need simple but effective guidance to set boundaries and destress. In fact, alcohol culture has become so prominent in our everyday lives that people are shocked when someone says they’re not drinking and quickly assume the person is an alcoholic and can never drink again.

So how do clinicians best address these issues in a way that is helpful and tactical? Amanda White, LPC, shares her most frequently asked questions for sobriety and boundaries during the holidays as well as advice on how to stay sober this holiday season. Plus, a few strategies to help your clients (or yourself!) navigate difficult conversations, manage stress, and enjoy the holidays without alcohol.

Can you share ideas on how to turn down repeated drink offers?

This is such a common question. It’s interesting and kind of sad how when someone says they’re not drinking, or they turn down a drink, the first question people often ask is why and people are afraid of that question.

One of my best tips to start with is not to lie when someone asks you why you’re not drinking. While the excuse can feel like a nice, easier thing to say (like saying “I’m the designated driver”), the hard thing is that if you give an excuse, people will try to solve the problem. You’re not owning that you’re not drinking, so people will try to solve that problem. Instead, keep your answer generic. If you don’t want to say you’re newly sober, you can just say “I’m just not drinking tonight.” And consider that you might have to say it multiple times, but you don’t need to come up with a new response. Simply repeat the same answer you’ve already given them because that’s all you owe them.

I’m looking for extra sober support outside of AA. Any recommendations?

There are a lot of great programs and communities that have formed on social media, like The Tempest and The Luckiest Club. There’s also a program called Smart Recovery with online and in-person meetings. I also recommend finding one person who also doesn’t drink so you can get support from them.

What are the perks of sobriety? I’m sober curious.

I love that there’s a sober curious movement going on. One of the hard things with AA and other abstinence-only programs, it cuts a lot of exploring whether your life would be better if you take a break from drinking without saying “I’m sober.”

One of my favorite perks is how it positively impacts mental health. We know alcohol is a depressant and when you take a depressant, your brain produces hormones that are connected with anxiety to try to balance you out. There’s even a term called “hang-xiety,” which is when someone feels more anxious the next day or while they’re hungover. Sobriety allows you to feel less anxious and more connected with ourselves.

The other thing is that so many of us have used alcohol to deal with stress and awkward situations. Another great perk of sobriety is that if you take a break from drinking, you learn how to live without being dependent on alcohol to deal with emotions and better take care of yourself -- and socialize without needing a drink! This creates more confidence in yourself and can form more authentic connections with people.

What are your recommendations for de-stressing during the holidays?

The holidays are a very stressful times for a lot of us. And usually, if someone does something that annoys you or frustrates you, our solution is to take care of ourselves after it happens.

One of the best things to do during the holidays is to be proactive and setting boundaries. This can look like not spending as much time at someone’s house or going to a party but only staying for an hour. Regardless, as much as you can, the important thing is being proactive.

Some other ways to de-stress during the holidays can be to simply change your environment. Get out of the house and go for a walk or turn off your phone and disconnect.

What are the top things I can do to protect my sobriety during the holidays?

If you are concerned that you’re going to drink at an event, the best thing you can do is leave. Your sobriety is not worth being at risk, even if someone is frustrated with you or upset with you. You must put yourself first. Think of what your triggers are and do what you can to protect yourself. If you know a certain day is more triggering, be mindful of what you can do to take care of yourself and be in communication with at least one person who can support you and assist you as needed.
Not Drinking Tonight
Not Drinking Tonight: The Workbook: A Clinician’s Guide to Helping Clients Examine Their Relationship with Alcohol
Help clients pivot away from the question “Am I an alcoholic?” and consider instead “Would my life be better without alcohol?”

Amanda White, mental health clinician, creator of the popular Instagram account @therapyforwomen, and author of the best-selling book Not Drinking Tonight, is back with this must-have resource for her professional peers: Not Drinking Tonight: The Workbook. Having been sober for 8+ years herself, Amanda tackles therapists’ most pressing question: How can I help clients whose alcohol use has become problematic but who don’t identify as “alcoholics” or have no interest in traditional abstinence-based methods that involve going to rehab or attending 12-step groups?

Using a harm reduction approach, each chapter contains worksheets and exercises that will help clients examine why they drink and allow them to change their relationship with alcohol.

Meet the Expert:

Amanda E. White, LPC, is a licensed therapist specializing in substance use disorders and the creator of the popular Instagram account @therapyforwomen. She is the founder and owner of the Therapy for Women Center, a group therapy practice based in Philadelphia serving clients across the country. She is the author of the book Not Drinking Tonight: A Guide to Creating a Sober Life You Love and has been featured in notable publications such as Forbes, The Washington Post, Shape, Women’s Health magazine, and more.

Learn more about her educational products, including upcoming live seminars, by clicking here.

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