How To Tell Your Family You’re Not Drinking During a Holiday

Making the choice to change your drinking is an incredibly meaningful step, and one to be proud of. Perhaps because of family dynamics or our culture surrounding alcohol, you may feel hesitant to share your decision with your loved ones. Taking a step back to think about how we all have different relationships with alcohol may help you start the  conversation. With time and authentic communication, you will be able to share, and even celebrate, your path with your loved ones. Remember, your decision to change your drinking is your own, and regardless of anyone’s perception of your choice, there are always resources and a supportive community to turn to. We’re here for you.

Reflect On Where You Are  

Connecting with family and friends through holiday rituals is often a treasured experience. However, the combination of increased temptation to drink, and the potential of facing questions about your drinking can naturally begin to attach anxiety to these events. Assess where you are with yourself, and if you’re ready to put your goals into practice in a holiday setting. Our resources ‘How Much Holiday Drinking Is Too Much’? and My Family Gets Drunk During The Holidays, Now What?’ may help you in your reflection. Taking space away could be the best way to maintain your goals and nurture your mental health. There is nothing wrong with putting your wellbeing first. The holidays may also present a special opportunity to share how you’re cultivating a new relationship with alcohol with those close to you. Fostering a mutual understanding may take time and vulnerability, but choosing to open up is one of the greatest gifts you can give to yourself and others. 

Understand We All Have Different Relationships With Alcohol 

Drinking alcoholic beverages is a habit. And humans like their habits. Consider what your habits and routines bring to your life. Often a sense of comfort and security accompany our closely held routines and this increases the importance of them. How alcohol shows up as a habit is different for everybody. Some people can naturally develop a healthy relationship with alcohol, and may not initially understand reasons for abstaining or purposefully moderating. Other people, especially those who have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol themselves, may respond negatively to the notion of cutting back. Perhaps you too have felt this way in the past. It might be worthwhile to reflect on why they might react that way. Understanding another’s perspective can help create distance from the possibility of criticism. Others’ reactions often have more to do with themselves than with you. 

Managing your drinking through quarantine

Managing your drinking can be especially challenging during times of heightened stress and isolation. Join the discussion about how to moderate your drinking or stay sober through quarantine.
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You’re on a mission to change your life, and it likely means a lot to you that others will support and grasp the significance of the change. The more we let others in, the better they will understand why we’ve made the choices that we have. That process may take time, but you don’t have to navigate it alone. Join one of our therapist-moderated alcohol support groups to connect with others who can relate to your experience. There are lots of questions about drinking less this holiday, and our community can provide first-hand answers. 

holiday dinner table

Prepare For The Conversation 

Think about what you want to say ahead of time. You’ll feel more prepared and confident. Starting  the conversation might sound like this: “I’ve decided to change my drinking behavior. I’m doing this for my health and also because I want to rebuild my self confidence and learn to fully love myself again. I’m asking for your support, not necessarily your approval, but if you want to offer that that would mean a lot to me. I know you must have lots of questions and I will answer them the best way I know how. I’ll join you in holiday celebrations, but I won’t be drinking alcohol.” It doesn’t hurt to practice this on your own until you have confidence in your statement. Consider what you genuinely want them to know. Whatever words feel natural are the right ones. Find a calm time to have the conversation, before the festivities kick off. 

Then … have the talk! Here are more tactical therapist tips about how to navigate this important conversation. 

Ultimately, you have to decide for yourself what you are ready to share with your family, and if you can be around holiday drinking. The best solution however, might be honesty. Hold tight to your values about sobriety or moderation, and deflect any criticisms or debate. No matter who you share it with, changing your relationship with alcohol is a major point of pride, that is well worth taking the time to rejoice in.

Disclaimer: Our articles and resources do not constitute clinical or licensed therapy or other health care services. If you need counseling or therapy services please contact a licensed provider. If this is a medical emergency, call 911.

About the Author

Nancy AndersonNancy E. Anderson received her Master's degree in Counseling Psychology in 2005 and worked for many years in the field of Community Mental Health, as a Licensed Professional Counselor and Certified Drug and Alcohol Counselor 3. Her therapeutic approach is both straight forward and eclectic, using a combination of Motivational Interviewing, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy to help lead patients and clients to their best version of themselves. She is married and lives with her husband and dog in Northeastern Oregon. She is an author, an avid fisher-woman and loves the outdoors.