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Alcohol free holidays: How to cope while you’re away

It’s a sensible move to consider how to cope while you’re on holiday when you’ve been a drinker and are now trying to remain alcohol free. 

Trips away are a time when usual constraints around alcohol are thrown out of the window, even for conservative drinkers. For many, alcohol has become linked with the entire routine and enjoyment of breaks but the good news is that alcohol free holidays are not only possible, they’re often better. 

Holidays are one of the red flag events traditionally highlighted as danger points for relapse with those who are trying to maintain abstinence.

Here are five top tips to help you face, manage and enjoy an alcohol free holiday:

Be honest with the people you’re travelling with

Depending on your current circumstances, having an honest conversation about not wanting to drink while you’re on holiday with your co-travellers may be natural or may seem like the most daunting of things.

If you’ve made lots of promises to cut down or abstain in the past and not followed through – or if your drinking has become a trigger for confrontation – you may be reluctant to raise the issue. That’s totally understandable, but by not mentioning your intent you’ll be making things harder for yourself. If your drinking has become a thorny area, remember that whoever you’re travelling with is likely to be pleased if you’re trying not to drink while you’re away.

By having a conversation about your intention to have an alcohol free holiday you’ll be setting the scene early on. It’ll be a first opportunity to tackle any resistance from your travelling partners who may egg you to ’let your hair down.’ It’ll be a chance for those travelling with you to understand you’re seeking their support to maintain abstinence. If you’ve made a decision not to drink on holiday well in advance – perhaps if you’re in recovery and know abstinence is the only option for you – you can even plan your holiday with your alcohol free status in mind. 

Prepare for an alcohol free holiday 

Booking something slightly different to the kind of package you associate with all day drinking is one way of helping you to manage and love an alcohol free trip.

Maintaining abstinence in the places and routines you associate with drinking, is one of the biggest challenges. Perhaps on previous trips, you’ve got to the airport early and headed straight to the bar to kick off the trip with a celebratory pint or some bubbles? Once on the flight it just seems natural to have another – whatever time of day it is. After that, the whole holiday suddenly becomes one big drinking session – cocktails by the pool, wine with dinner, all limits are off.

Shaking things up will help you to follow a different path and shape your holiday to be something different. Maybe consider a different type of holiday altogether. Just because you’ve always enjoyed two weeks of European sun, it doesn’t mean you might not love a winter skiing trip instead or a walking holiday in the UK. Without an imprint of memories of the days you’ve lived in the past it’ll perhaps be easier to write a different story. A yoga retreat or a spa break may be just as relaxing and are often more tailored to sobriety.

If you still need or want to go on the same type of holiday you always have, perhaps even consider not going to the exact same destination, villa or hotel. Have a plan to spend your time at the airport differently or arrive a little later and give yourself less time to fill. Similarly consider what you’ll do on the flight. Once you’re there, shake up the routine. Maybe take your trainers so you can go for an early run on the beach or hit the gym. Sign up for some trips to local sights. Do whatever your drinking stopped you from doing before.

Remember, by making different choices and doing different things you don’t have to be choosing less fun, just alternative memories and enjoyment. Imagine all those clear-headed mornings and days ahead to fill with things you genuinely love. 

Change your mindset

Attitude is everything so while it’s completely natural to be daunted, concerned, fearful or even dreading of an alcohol free holiday when drinking is usually a big part of your break, you can challenge those thoughts.

Firstly, you can do this. If you’ve already maintained sobriety in other aspects of your life where drinking used to be a part of your routine, you’ve shown yourself it can be done and you are capable. Have faith in yourself.

Secondly, remember that by not drinking you’re allowing yourself the chance of a lot of other joys. Yes, this holiday may be different, but different doesn’t have to mean bad. By not drinking, you’ll buy yourself a sense of time, a sense of feeling well and a huge sense of achievement both on your trip and your return.

Make the tough choices

However well you think things through before you go – and however well you plan – there may still be moments when not drinking on holiday will feel tough.

If a particular day trip, restaurant meal or situation is making you feel like reaching for alcohol, be prepared to walk away. Anyone you are travelling with should understand and support a decision you’re making in order to protect your own health and sanity. Therefore just as you’d tell your kids ‘just say no.’ 

Maintaining sobriety isn’t always easy and you may need to draw upon all your reserves and resources to keep it up on holiday. Turn down invitations that feel like too much of a test and do something else instead. The odd early night alone with a book won’t harm you even if the rest of your travelling party are hitting the bars. 

Consider getting some support before you go on holiday

If you’re worried about drinking on holiday it may be that you need some support before you go.

If you’re already in recovery, you’ll likely have a mentor or some other person you usually turn to for strength. Don’t be afraid to talk this through with them. It’s natural and sensible to have concerns.

If you’re just worried about your drinking generally and haven’t yet cut down, do ask yourself if it’s wise to expect your holiday to be the starting point for your sobriety. It may be that a break from the usual routine is the perfect opportunity to kick the habit. It may be that you’re putting unrealistic expectations on yourself and your holiday and setting yourself up for a disheartening failure. 

If you’re concerned about your drinking or those around you are, there is help out there. 

Only those drinking 14 units of alcohol per week spread over three or four days, or less, are considered to be at low risk of harm, by NHS standards. That doesn’t mean all other drinkers are dependent, but equally, holding down a job, only drinking certain types of drink or being able to contain your drinking within certain hours or days does not automatically mean you are not dependent.

Our information and guides section is packed with detail about alcohol awareness, addiction and denial.

About the author: Martin Preston

Martin is our Founder and Chief Executive. Martin is himself in long term recovery and started Port of Call to help families navigate treatment options. In 2020 Martin will open Delamere Health Ltd, the UK’s first purpose built addiction treatment clinic.

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