Updated on 10/26/23

Content reviewed by Christian Losch, LCSW, LCADC

While Thanksgiving can be a great holiday to express what you are thankful for and bond with friends and family, this time can also be particularly triggering. Perhaps past Thanksgiving events included alcoholic beverages as a norm for all adults in the room. Making a change from this harmful tradition while trying to maintain sobriety can be especially tricky during this holiday.

Despite the hardships you may face, it is possible to have a fun, safe and sober Thanksgiving this season. There are many ways you can ensure your safety while also celebrating and having fun with your loved ones.

Know Your Thanksgiving Triggers While in Recovery

Before Thanksgiving day, it will be beneficial to be aware of your triggers to avoid any experiences that might jeopardize your sobriety. Doing so can help ensure that your time will be spent connecting with others and sharing a lovely meal with those you love. It will be very reassuring knowing that you can relax in these social settings.

In order to identify potential triggers, think of situations, things or topics that you know will be triggering. Maybe hearing people talk about drinking or using makes you feel compelled to engage in those behaviors. Perhaps seeing others drink alcohol triggers your desire to drink as well. Even seeing wine glasses or beer mugs could cause you to experience an array of unwanted feelings.

Enforcing a “Dry” Gathering on Thanksgiving

Regardless of your triggers, acknowledging them ahead of time can help you plan to ensure your safety and well-being. Once you have identified the things or situations that could trigger you, it is essential to discover ways to avoid them or manage your impulses.

Below is a list of ways you can make sure that this event is safe and fun.

  • Ask guests to bring side dishes, specifically. By being specific about what you want your guests to bring, you reduce the risk of guests bringing alcohol as a contribution. You can ask various guests to bring mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, green beans or anything else to complete your Thanksgiving feast. If necessary, you can even ask that they specifically do not bring alcohol if you feel comfortable doing so.
  • Provide a plethora of fun non-alcoholic drink options. By giving people fun drink options, odds are they will not feel compelled to drink alcohol because they are so enthralled with the drinks you have provided. Some drinks that you can make include Thanksgiving punch “mocktails,” salted caramel apple punch, butterbeer (from the famous Harry Potter books/movies), pumpkin banana smoothies, chai tea lattes or some old fashioned hot chocolate. Feel free to garnish them in a fun, aesthetically pleasing way to impress your guests.
  • Create a fun conversation game. On a piece of paper, write down different topics of discussion that could be fun and easy to discuss. Some examples could include naming everyone’s favorite superheroes and why, describing everyone’s ideal home if money were not an issue or even sharing one thing or accomplishment they are proud of doing. In doing this, you can take control of most of the conversation that ensues. Even if people begin talking about substances, you can defer the situation by volunteering yourself or someone else to pick a topic out of the jar or bowl.
  • When in doubt, be transparent and honest. If you feel comfortable doing so, reach out to your loved ones ahead of time to let them know a bit more about your situation. The good news is that you can share as much or as little as you would like. You can share your expectations for the event and leave it there, or you can share more about your recovery journey. You are in control of what you want people to know or not know about you.

If Thanksgiving is incredibly triggering for you and you find yourself needing some extra help to get through this particular holiday, reaching out to trained mental health professionals can be a beneficial option for you to utilize. They can help you not only process challenging emotions but also help you plan in such a way that allows you to have a wonderful Thanksgiving this year. Through modalities such as dialectic behavioral therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, 12 Steps and more, trained professionals are available to help you learn more about yourself and enjoy life. Reaching out to these individuals prior to the holiday could be a wonderful way to help ensure you enjoy this holiday with your loved ones while maintaining your sobriety.

Thanksgiving can be a triggering holiday if you are trying to remain sober. If you need extra help during this time, please reach out to us at Pinelands Recovery Center of Medford. We want to help ensure that you are able to enjoy this holiday with the ones you love. Call us today at (877) 557-5372.