How to handle the holidays and unsupportive friends

Dr. David Sack takes on Renew reader questions

Holidays with my family mean a whole lot of drinking. It’s how we’ve always bonded. I’ve been working hard to stay sober, but I’m worried for when Christmas comes around. Any advice on how to handle my family?  - Josephine

Dr. David Sack[David Sack] You didn’t say whether your family knows that you have stopped drinking or not, but I think it would be important for them to understand that your life has changed. 

 If hard drinking comes with the holidays at your family events, you may choose to skip the big dinners and reunions and arrange to visit at other times one on one, when alcohol will be less likely to be a focus. Going to a meeting before and after attending a holiday family event helps. 

Dealing with Family during the HolidaysMy friends tell me I’m too young to give up drinking. They say it’s just what people my age do. (I’m 22.) But, I’ve found I can’t always control myself when I’m drunk — passing out, losing friends, getting into fights, making stupid sexual decisions. What’s one to do? I still want to hang out with my friends. -Katie

Have a question for Dr. Sack? Send it to

[David Sack] Not everyone who drinks alcohol has a problem with it, but you clearly do. The pattern you describe – drinking more than you intend, loss of control, behavioral problems and impulsive behaviors – are likely to mean you suffer from alcohol abuse. 

You don’t say whether you have withdrawal symptoms, intense cravings or tolerance so a diagnosis of alcohol dependency can’t be ruled out. You need to educate yourself about your problem. One way to get more information is to attend some open AA meetings. You can ask yourself, “Is this me?”

Meeting with a professional counselor or therapist can also be very helpful. Continuing with this pattern of drinking is not the answer.  

David Sack, M.D., currently serves as CEO, Promises Treatment Centers and Elements Behavioral Health. He is board certified in Psychiatry, Addiction Psychiatry and Addiction Medicine. In addition to his academic interests, Dr. Sack has designed programs for ambulatory detoxification within general medical settings, substance abuse treatment of adjudicated youth and adults, and specialized treatment programs for dually-diagnosed clients. He also blogs for Huffington Post, PsychCentral and Psychology Today.



Cooper Murphy  2388 days ago

I agree with William. I'm in healthy recovery and have not used a 12 step program. We all have choices, and in exercising our choices, we need to take responsibility for them. Look into WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Plan) to begin writing your own "owner's manual." In it, you define who you/what you're like are when you're healthy, identify triggers (i.e. family gatherings, holidays), and a plan for dealing with these triggers to maintain your status as a healthy individual. For more info, visit: I use my WRAP to stay healthy and navigate my way through crises, and have shared it with my trusted supporters. Be well & Namaste.

William Stearns  2389 days ago

Why not also recommend to Katie that she attend a SMART Recovery meeting and/or review their website where she can see that she has the power of choice. It appears in her case that she needs to make some choices as to whether the long term negative effects of her drinking are worth the short term pleasures. As to Josephine one of the most important things to do before attending the family gatherings is to have a plan of what she is going to do. Just telling herself, I am not going to drink isn't good enough. She must say to herself, I am going to drink soda.

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