There's no graceful way out: Your best friend's getting married. Your boss
says the holiday party is mandatory. Your mom expects you to play Santa on
Christmas, like always. But now that you're sober, you're nervous about social
functions where everyone will be drinking and expecting you to follow suit.
"You should be prepared for those feelings," says Donna Cornett, founder and
director of the Drink/Link Moderate Drinking Program in Santa Rosa, Calif.
"Before you get there, say, 'I am going to feel awkward.' That kind of
takes the edge off of the anxiety and temptation."
By Gretchen Voss
"What about me?" I spat at my mother as she sat frail and broken in a
wheelchair, her legs too wasted to carry her emaciated body.
It was Christmas of 1999, and my father, two brothers, and I were at a
family-counseling session during my mother's second — though not her last —
stint in rehab in Florida. My father had found her a few weeks earlier, lying
half-dead on the couch, her once-pristine condo looking like a homeless
person's final filthy squat, splattered with puke...
Although it may seem intimidating to face a familiar social situation
without the comforting familiarity of a cocktail in your hand, you can
"Over time, some people get so comfortable with the situation, they don't
even think about it anymore," says Mark Willenbring, MD, former director of the
division of treatment and recovery research at the National Institute on
Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. "They order a club soda with lime, and it doesn't
Try these tactics to get through those touchy situations with minimal
worry and no alcohol.
"Most people go into drinking situations cold, which leads to problems,"
Cornett says. Picture yourself arriving at the party, getting a non-alcoholic
beverage, eating appetizers, and steering clear of the bar area. Focus on
conversations and catching up with friends, not your desire to drink. Have the
phone number of a supportive, sober friend to call if you feel tempted. And
decide how long to stay before you even step in the door; you may want to leave
before everyone gets buzzed.
"I hold a glass of soda and keep it refreshed, so no one else has to offer
to get me a refill," says Laura of Chicago, a recovering alcoholic who asked
that her full name not be used. "And if it's a 'party hearty' crowd, after a
little bit, they won't even notice if I quietly leave."
Know How to Say No
Practice turning down a drink beforehand so you'll sound confident at the
event, Willenbring says. "Look them in the eye, say it very firmly, and
try not to leave an opening for argument or discussion," he says. "Some people
wonder, 'Should I tell them I'm an alcoholic?' But just say, 'No thanks, I'm
laying off it tonight,' and if they press, simply say, 'I feel like getting
The word "tonight" can be powerful when turning down a beer. Some people may
pry if you say that you never drink. Maybe tonight you are the
designated driver, have to wake up early tomorrow, or are taking cold medicine
- keep them guessing.
Maybe you always downed a six-pack while watching football with the guys, so
it's challenging to get through a Super Bowl party sober. Or you always drank
when you smoked socially, so being offered a cigarette at a party might make
you crave liquor. Any activity that you've closely paired with alcohol in the
past may trigger the desire to drink, Willenbring says. Turning down a
cigarette, an invitation to a Super Bowl party, or another problem activity can
help you avoid high-risk situations.