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How to Support Someone Who Is Newly-Sober over the Holidays

Adults |

The holidays often bring along increased pressure to drink – sometimes in the form of holiday parties, office parties, or family functions. Some of us likely think of the extra drinking we tend to do this season as a fun way to let loose, socialize, or as lubrication for getting through tense family functions. However, for those of us with a friend, colleague, or family member who has recently decided to stop drinking permanently, what do you when you want to support them but also want to feel free to enjoy yourself?

It’s easy to feel torn between wanting to be supportive of the newly-sober person in your life, and not wanting to give up that glass of wine or a cocktail at a holiday party. So, how do we support our loved ones on their path to stay sober but make sure our friends and families (and ourselves) feel free to imbibe if they so choose? Of course, if you are willing to throw a completely non-alcoholic party, this is a great way to support those around you on their early journeys to sobriety. For those of us who aren’t quite there, here are some tips for supporting your loved ones in their recovery without feeling restricted yourself.

Embrace the art of the mocktail

No longer does a beverage need alcohol to feel sophisticated or perfect for a special occasion. More and more bars, restaurants, and brilliant home-cooks all across the world are incorporating drinks sans alcohol into their menus. One quick google search will bring up thousands of recipes to have ready at your gathering, ensuring that no one feels left out. It’s great to have a variety of non-alcoholic drinks such as soda and juice – but having that extra little something that helps your sober guests feel like they’re not missing out is way worth the small effort.

Invite other non-drinkers

Depending on where someone is in their recovery, it may be easier for them to enjoy the gathering if they are not the only ones staying sober. Invite as many non-drinkers as you can to your get-together: if your newly-sober loved one has very recently decided to avoid alcohol, having others around them who also aren’t drinking will help prevent them from feeling like the odd one out – which is never a good feeling. Having other non-drinkers to talk to will help them feel less alone in their experience and potentially allow them to have more fun (especially when in a potentially-triggering situation).

Rehearse what you’ll say

Have an idea of what you’ll say when your Aunt (who might have had one-too-many gin-and-tonics herself) starts to taunt your sober friend for choosing to abstain. Depending on where someone is at in their recovery, they might be totally comfortable jumping in and defending themselves. For those very newly-sober, however, this kind of interaction can feel jarring and embarrassing. Know what you’ll say in these situations to help your guest feel welcome, comfortable, and supported.

Relieve any pressure to stay

If your friend or loved one has very recently decided to stop drinking, it’s essential for them to have an “out” if they feel triggered in any way. You can support your friends, loved ones, and colleagues in their sobriety by letting them that they won’t be judged for making a quick exit. Let them know that there is zero pressure to stay past when they want to – and that while you enjoy their company, they can leave whenever they need to. This is particularly important if they start to feel triggered by the environment, and it is in their best interest to go.

Encourage them to bring a supportive +1

Having someone there who able to help and support them effectively is one of the best ways to help someone newly-sober navigate these tricky social situations. Encourage them to bring along someone they’re close to and who they know will help them make the right choices, such as their sponsor or partner.

At the end of the day, it is your friend, loved one, or colleague’s responsibility to maintain their recovery. However, if you want to help them succeed in these vulnerable early stages, your social support is more important than ever. Addictions and drug and alcohol abuse are incredibly complex – and often people use substances as a coping mechanism for other distressing, underlying mental health issues. It’s important to remember that not everyone who chooses to abstain from alcohol is a recovering addict. Some people simply don’t like losing the sense of control they have when they’re sober, and some have given it up because they don’t like how they behave when they’re drinking. Whatever someone’s reason is, don’t assume you know it as a bystander, friend, or family member. Always ask before assuming, and take people’s cues when they seem uncomfortable. The best thing you can do for someone going through recovery is to let them know that you support them, that you believe in them, and that you will do whatever you can to help.