Social gatherings are one of a recovering addict’s biggest hurdles. Not only do a lot of social events revolve around alcohol, but these get-togethers are often where addicts did some of their heaviest using. That said, it is possible to have a social life without risking your sobriety. But to do it successfully, addicts must be aware of the challenges and have a plan for overcoming them.
Whether it’s a party with friends or a holiday get-together with family, social events can be addiction triggers. Alcohol is often present at such gatherings, and if you’re meeting up with friends from your active addiction days, you could be tempted to fall into old patterns of behavior. Even without drugs and alcohol present to tempt you, social events can lead to stress or loneliness, which in turn induces cravings.
Holidays are a prime example of a triggering social situation. While many addicts choose to leave unsupportive friends behind when they commit to recovery, family isn’t so easily replaced. When relatives fail to understand your addiction or you’re not on good terms with family members, what ought to be a pleasant get-together can quickly turn sour. On top of interpersonal tensions, it’s not uncommon for addicts to have unhappy memories about past holidays that creep in each time the date rolls around.
This may paint a bleak picture, but socializing in recovery is actually very important for addicts. Maintaining sobriety is easier when you’re connected to a supportive community and have positive social outlets. Given the challenges presented by social situations, how can addicts maintain a social life without compromising their sobriety?
Perhaps the most important way you can protect your sobriety is to inform people of your recovery ahead of time. A family gathering or party isn’t the place to out yourself, especially since you can’t control how others might react. Instead, disclose your sobriety in advance to the people who need to know. In particular, you should advise the host, so she doesn’t offer you alcohol and can prepare non-alcoholic drinks instead.
Don’t feel like you need to tell every last acquaintance about your sobriety; it’s perfectly fine to politely decline drinks without giving an explanation. That said, you should have a plan for how you’ll turn down drinks and prepare yourself for questions. However you choose to respond, do so with confidence and most people won’t pry.
If you’re going to a social situation that may be tense or uncomfortable, like a holiday gathering with estranged family members or a party where you know few people, don’t be afraid to bring an in-the-know friend along for support. With a sober companion, you know someone has your back if your resolve starts to falter.
And a friend isn’t the only source of support that recovering addicts can use. A mental health service dog can be incredibly valuable when coping with stress and anxiety during the recovery process. A service dog keeps you present and calm so destructive thoughts can’t take hold and spiral out of control. Your companion can be both a social buffer and a source of comfort during parties, and trained to behave during social situations. (Just don’t forget to give your host a heads-up that you’re working with a service dog.)
Finally, always have an exit strategy when heading to a social event. It’s better to leave early if you’re feeling triggered than to stay and risk your sobriety. Drive yourself so you can leave when you need to rather than waiting for a ride.
Attending your first social events as a newly sober person is one of the scariest moments in the recovery journey, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy yourself. When you head into social situations with this advice in your pocket, you can have fun knowing that your sobriety is safe.
Adam Cook started AddictionHub.org after losing a friend to substance abuse and suicide. His mission is to provide people struggling with substance abuse with resources to help them recover.