How to Have a Sober New Year’s

How to Have a Sober New Year’s
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By Ryan Greene, PhD, LPC, Lead Counselor, Pinnacle Treatment Services of Roanoke, an intensive outpatient addiction counseling program in Roanoke, Virginia

The “New Year” is an arbitrary concept. In ancient Babylonia, it kicked off the start of the harvest season. In Sri Lanka, Aluth Avurudda is at the end of harvest. The dates of the Chinese New Year and Nyepi (Balinese New Year) change from year to year based on the sun and the moon. The Gregorian calendar New Year begins January 1 and is celebrated on the eve of December 31.

Regardless of dates, the common thread through all of these celebrations is looking back on the past and forward to the future. As such, many people view December 31 as an opportunity to go overboard because the next day is a new beginning, and they can wipe the slate clean.

If you are in recovery, “clean” is what you want to stay, and that can be difficult when surrounded by drinking and other drug use. The best chance at success is to be prepared, so here are some ideas on how to have a sober New Year’s.

Joyful sober Couple Holding Bengal Lights Sparklers Celebrating New Year Outside

New Year’s Numbers

Staying sober is a tough job, particularly for those who are living with substance use disorder. During the holidays, many Americans double their drinking habits, which can make it twice as hard for someone in recovery to stay sober.

On an average day in the United States, a person dies in a drunk driving-related incident every hour. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reported that 40% of deaths over Christmas and New Year’s involve drunk drivers, which is 12% more than the rest of December.

Party Preparedness

If you are worried about upcoming New Year’s festivities, consider your concerns and devise a plan. Celebrating with sober friends is probably the best option, but if you are going to be around others who will be drinking, you can work to avoid relapse when you:

  • Offer to be the designated driver. It’s the perfect reason to stay sober, and they will love you for it.
  • Have a sobriety buddy. The two of you can help each other out and enact an emergency exit plan if things get too intense.
  • Avoid the “why aren’t you drinking” jabs by drinking something that looks like a cocktail, such as seltzer and lime, or a flute of sparkling cider.
  • Do a drop-in to be polite, but then leave early because you have other plans. (No one has to know what they are, so if it’s to go home, put on comfortable clothes, make a big bowl of popcorn, and watch “When Harry Met Sally,” that’s ok!)

Group of friend playing jenga for a sober new year's party.

Celebrating Sober

A sober New Year’s does NOT mean a boring New Year’s. It’s actually quite the opposite. Alcohol is a depressant, so as the consumption continues and increases, the emotions start running the gamut.

Not only will you remember a sober New Year’s, but you can also make it memorable with super fun and unique activities. Try some of these fun ideas with your sober friends:

  • Murder mystery party
  • Scavenger hunt
  • Escape room
  • Theme party
  • Role-playing games

Or have a mock-tail party. You can capture the elegance of the evening by making it formal, keep it business casual, or go super casual and encourage people to wear their comfortable clothes. What’s better than sitting around in your sweats and super-soft hoodie and playing board games?

You can also do a mock-tail mash-up and have each person bring their favorite non-alcoholic drink for a tasting.

“Sobriety is empowering oneself with intentionality.” Simply put, make a plan and enact that plan. Being safe in 2020 takes on a whole new meaning. Any sober new year’s plans can take on a virtual flair. Please be mindful of your state’s Covid-19 policies and be safe as you ring in 2021.

Make it fun, make it festive—and make it a sober New Year’s.