Drinking is a deeply ingrained aspect of culture in Europe, the United States and many other countries around the world. However, this ages-old tradition presents a tremendous challenge for individuals who are committed to recovery and a healthier, sober lifestyle. Such occasions are difficult and can be uncomfortable enough to trigger relapse.
Addiction professionals generally advise that it’s best to stay away from such events, especially during the early weeks and months of recovery when vulnerability to cravings and temptations is high. Even after long-term recovery, it’s a good idea to keep boozy occasions at a minimum.
Although it’s possible to avoid such occasions most of the time, there are certain events that are nearly impossible to avoid, such as a family wedding or a celebratory business dinner.
While people in recovery can still have a rewarding social life, it’s important to realize that life will never be like it was before entering drug or alcohol treatment or rehab. The key is to plan ahead and be prepared for possible temptations. Make a commitment to sobriety ahead of time and stick with your decision. This is a skill that gets easier with practice.
Here are some strategies that may help you enjoy the next social event without succumbing to cravings or temptations:
- Implement the buddy system and ask a sober friend to accompany you to the event, preferably a friend who is comfortable with long-term sobriety.
- Practice saying “no” to alcohol before the event. Be prepared, as some people may be insulted or offended if you decline their offer of a drink. Ask a sober friend to help you practice various scenarios. People will get used to the idea in time and will stop pressuring you to have “just one drink.”
- Keep in mind that you don’t owe anybody an explanation and you aren’t required to offer more information than you’re comfortable with. Be friendly and firm but not confrontational. Never feel guilty for choosing not to drink.
- Leave early, before serious drinking begins and most people are intoxicated and out of control. It’s okay to use excuses if it helps. For example, explain that you have to get up early. Leave immediately if temptation is getting the best of you. It’s perfectly okay to devise an escape strategy ahead of time.
- Order a glass of juice, a ginger ale or a “mocktail” with a slice of lime so you can have a drink in hand while you’re socializing. You don’t need to tell people what’s in your glass. Bartenders are familiar with this request and tend to be very accommodating.
- Bring your own drink if you’re at a friend’s house or another event where a bartender isn’t present.
- Watch for other sober people and observe how they handle drinking situations. It may seem like everybody drinks, but many people choose not to drink at all, or they are able to drink in moderation without getting drunk. Non-drinking people are always around, but they tend to be quieter and not nearly as noticeable.
- Avoid drinking occasions if you’re struggling with sobriety, or if you’re feeling lonely or isolated.