To drink or not to drink around sober people

December 24th, 2018

Addiction is a three-fold illness: “Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s.” Or at least so goes the common jest among some recovering persons this time of year. This witticism, however, reflects a more serious challenge that is faced by many recovering people as the holiday season festivities heat up and drinking takes a central and increasingly popular place in the proceedings.

Between the rush of holiday parties and family get-togethers, an unsettling question often arises among family members and friends too as they wonder what they should do about their own drinking, when around a recovering friend or family member.

Should everyone abstain from alcohol to support the friend or family member? Or, is it the responsibility of the individual in recovery to cope with the realities of such inevitable occasions?

This question gets commonly played out in real life, and in increasing ways, as more individuals decide to disclose their recovery identities more openly. In many cases, it can create awkward situations where a sensitive host may anxiously rush to stash away any visible alcohol and corresponding paraphernalia, while other guests assume a library whisper or begin a text message chain to decide amongst themselves whether they too should refrain from drinking.

In treatment settings, we attempt to teach our patients who suffer from an alcohol use disorder to cope with the realities of an alcohol-infused world. Just like any other illness from which people can suffer, it is ultimately the responsibility of the individual themselves to learn about how to manage the illness and keep it in remission. Having said that, we also know clearly that certain environments, occasions, and people, can help or hinder recovery. Family and friends, often having suffered greatly too from their loved-one’s drinking, may find this a worrisome time of year, wondering how their newly sober loved-one might cope. They often desperately want to do the right thing but are unsure which tack to take.

John F. Kelly, Ph.D./Psychology Today