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April 20, 2019

The Recovering Alcoholic’s Guide to Dealing With Social Drinkers 

Whether you’re at an office happy hour or a family Christmas party, it can be a trying experience to have an alcohol use disorder and be surrounded by cheerful cocktail-sippers. Especially when others, never having experienced problems with uncontrollable drinking themselves, don’t understand how your problem could be all that bad.  

Sometimes, the best solution is to avoid alcohol-serving parties altogether. But that’s not always a feasible or permanent solution, nor one that will guarantee immunity from all exposure to “social drinkers.” So here are a few tips for when you meet people who consider alcohol just part of normal life. 

KNOW YOUR PERSONAL TRIGGERS 

What seriously pushes your “Come on, you deserve one drink” buttons? It may be: 

  • The smell of an alcoholic beverage 
  • Beer displays in convenience stores 
  • Tiring days  
  • The stress of repeated interruptions 
  • TGIF exhilaration after a busy work week 
  • Any place or person you associate with drinking 

Besides avoiding these potential relapse triggers whenever possible, keep a mental list of subject-changers and alternate suggestions for when conversation turns toward a trigger.  

LET THOSE CLOSEST TO YOU KNOW ABOUT YOUR PROBLEM 

Hopefully, your immediate family is actively involved in your recovery and understands the best ways to support you, including not drinking in your presence. As for others: you don’t necessarily have to broadcast “My name is Tammy and I’m an alcoholic” to everyone on your social network, but it’s a good idea to share the basic details with those in your closest spheres: 

  • Any extended-family members you have contact with 
  • Your closest friends 
  • Your job supervisor(s), especially if your office has parties or happy hours 
  • Leadership and close connections in any social, business or religious group you belong to, if they hold functions that serve alcohol  

That way, those with the most influence over you and your peers will know not to offer you alcohol, and to back you up if someone else does. 

And if these people fail to understand? Or if past experience with them hints that your professional future, reputation or even sobriety would be at risk if they knew? 

  • Get a second opinion, from a therapist or wise mutual acquaintance, rather than just assuming so-and-so would never understand. 
  • Simply tell the other party you can’t drink anymore. If they’re worth staying close to, they’ll respect your request without demanding further explanation. If they do ask, tell them it’s “doctor’s orders” or “for reasons of health.” 
  • If anyone continues to pester you about drinking, tell them firmly (but not angrily) that you don’t want to discuss the details and could they please not bring the subject up again. If that doesn’t work, enlist a mutually respected third party to help you drive the point home. 
  • If none of the above has any effect, it may be necessary to reduce or terminate your connection with the other party. Do get the advice of a trained counselor before making drastic decisions.      

With more casual acquaintances: 

JUST SAY NO 

A simple “No, thanks” is sufficient to turn aside most offers of a drink. You don’t have to go into details about your problem, or even say, “I don’t drink.” If you’re in a situation (such as a dinner party) where offers seem likely to be repeated, turn your wine glass upside down, ask for it to be removed or fill it with water. 

Occasionally, you may run up against someone who stubbornly keeps urging you to “have just a little.” Stating your original “No thanks” in a decisive tone may help head off that danger. Otherwise, you’ll have to get firmer and more creative. While many teetotalers who have never drunk rely on a repeated “I really don’t care for any” to wear down pests, trying to outlast the other party is risky when you have alcohol use disorder. Try one of these approaches instead: 

  • “I’d rather have a glass of water/ginger ale/cola, please.” Better yet, ask for your preferred alternative in advance and sip it slowly. Drink-pushers rarely bother someone who already has a glass, regardless of what’s in it. 
  • Tell them you’re a designated driver (or are keeping yourself available as a designated driver) and aren’t having anything alcoholic this evening. 
  • Get the other party talking about something else that interests them. 
  • Call over someone else to join the conversation and take the focus off you. This works even better if the third party belongs to your sobriety support network. 
  • Excuse yourself to the bathroom. 
  • If all else fails, leave the party and go home.

Finally: 

BELIEVE IN YOURSELF AND YOUR SOBRIETY JOURNEY 

Having alcoholism disorder doesn’t make the whole “you weaker or more stupid than anyone else. Including those who take a drink every day and never develop problems. Seeing them as your superiors will only make it easier for you to be swayed into doing as they do. Guard your self-respect, and you’ll find it easier guarding your sobriety! 

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