How to Handle Drinking Events in Early Recovery

Whether you’re going back to work immediately after rehab, the holidays are coming up, participate in sports, or any of dozens of other social activities, chances are, you will be around alcohol shortly after getting treatment. The first time you have access to alcohol after recovery is always a major milestone, but it is one that you can move past and continue. While very early recovery sometimes involves avoidance, this isn’t sustainable over the long-term. Anyone with a healthy social life will eventually be exposed to alcohol, because 80% of Americans drink regularly. You are no longer one of them, but that doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t go to events.

It won’t be easy to be around alcohol in early recovery. You will experience cravings. You will be tempted to drink, just once more. You will likely have to ask for help. However, you can take steps to ensure that you maintain your sobriety. And, if you plan properly, you can likely have fun at events while you do so.

Engage in Some Exposure Therapy

It’s never a good idea to expose yourself to alcohol for the first time at a party or event. Consider planning some time with family or friends or even your therapist to engage in exposure therapy. Can you sit in a room with a bottle of alcohol without constantly thinking about it? Can you watch other people drinking around you? Can you resist someone offering you a drink? How do you feel throughout this? If you don’t know the answers to any of these questions before an event, you should definitely plan time to figure them out. Most people will be fairly reasonable about helping you out if they know what’s going on.

It may be a good idea to discuss your plans and your strategy with your therapist, counselor, or a combination of the two before proceeding. Your therapist may want an extra session before and after you try exposure therapy and may want to initiate this themselves.

Tip: Touch base with your therapist to see if they think you’re ready to be around alcohol. If not, why not? What can you do to change that?

Communicate with Your Peers

You won’t always be able to communicate with peers about substance abuse and your recovery. This is especially true if doing so could result in your termination at work or if it might reflect badly on your reputation. You might not want to tell a room full of sporting buddies that you’re a recovering alcoholic. You certainly don’t want to tell your mother in law that you are. But, taking the time to communicate about your disorder and its recovery can help a great deal.

“I am a recovering alcoholic” will do a lot to help people keep alcohol away from you throughout the night. However, it might affect how people treat you, how they see you, and your ability to have fun in sobriety. If you trust your group or crowd, communicate upfront and ask people not to offer you alcohol. If you don’t, make other plans.

Get Your Questions Answered Now.

Plan What to Say

Most people will eventually offer you alcohol. Whether they want you to drink and join in on the “fun”, expect you to be like everyone else, or honestly feel like you might be missing out can vary a great deal depending on the environment. In some cases, people can put a lot of pressure on you to drink, especially if they are accustomed to you doing so or if they attach emotional significance to doing so (such as toasting a win or an important family event). It’s crucial to plan what to say in response to people asking or offering.

In most cases, a simple “no thank you,” “I don’t want any”, “no but I’ll have [insert non-alcoholic beverage]”, “actually, I quit”, or “I don’t want any”, will be fine.

You can also communicate that you won’t have alcohol for a variety of reasons “I’m allergic”, “I have an upset stomach”, “I have to get up early”, “I’m taking antibiotics”, etc.

If you want to be blunt and to the point, simply, “I quit drinking and I don’t want any alcohol”.

At the same time, it’s important to take time to practice what you are going to say and how you are going to say it. Ask a friend to help, record yourself on a camera, and get comfortable with the words. The more easily you can say them, and the more confidence you say them with, the more people will listen.

Have a Sober Buddy

No matter how confident you are in your recovery, being around drunk people is hard. You will crave alcohol, you will “miss” those moments of being carefree, and you will want alcohol. Except, you don’t really. Most cravings are temporary, few last longer than 15 minutes, and no matter how strong they are, they will mess up your long-term plans. It’s important to have a system in place to ensure you have someone to call to help you through those points.

Here, your AA or NA sponsor is a good first option. If you have one, they will likely expect to be on call when you need them, will know what you’re going through, and will have some training in how to walk you through getting over a craving.

If you’re not in a 12-Step Fellowship or don’t yet have a sponsor, make sure you have a sober buddy before you go in. This person should not drink but can be at the event with you if you’d like. The idea is that you can call or talk to them when you experience cravings so you have someone to lean on when you need them.

Create Accountability

Social accountability is a powerful tool in recovery because it gives you external motivation to stay sober. It’s one of the reasons why groups like AA have a positive impact on sobriety. Accountability happens when you feel like other people are looking up to you, watching your progress, and otherwise rooting for you. Share updates with friends and family, inform your sobriety group where you will be, talk to your sober buddy about the event. The minute you have trouble sharing that you will be at an event with alcohol, you should likely consider your motivation for reluctance to share.

Find Other Ways to Have Fun

Social events often rely on alcohol for “fun”, but alcohol isn’t really fun. If you’re accustomed to just going places and getting drunk, you might end up feeling bored and lonely by yourself once there. However, you can find plenty of other ways to have fun.

  • Find other sober people at the event. Chances are, there are at least a few
  • Talk to people. You don’t need rehearsed talking points to strike up interesting discussions with strangers or people you don’t know very well
  • Involve others in games. Ask upfront if there will be any
  • If there isn’t anything to do, consider volunteering your time with planning, preparing food, or otherwise facilitating the party

In most cases, you can easily review the event and its location to decide what you can do to entertain yourself throughout.

The first few times you spend time around alcohol can be rough. This is more true when people expect you to drink with them. However, with a bit of practice, you’ll easily navigate drinking events at work, social gatherings, vacations, and with family. At the same time, it’s important to stay on your toes. Most slip ups happen later in recovery when you’re more certain of your ability to stay sober. Stay on your guard, make sure your sober buddy is ready, and always remember to plan your options before you go to a party.

If you or your loved one needs help with drug or alcohol abuse, please contact South Coast Counselling at 1-844-330-0096 and speak with one of our experienced treatment advisors today in complete confidence about our Southern California Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center.


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