Drinking Around Sober Alcoholics: Yay or Nay?

If you’re wondering whether it’s “safe” to take a drink in front of someone in recovery, you’re showing you care. Someone in your life has struggled with alcohol addiction and fought to become sober. You want to be supportive. Thanks for that!

Let’s examine some key considerations to help you navigate this situation, together with the sober alcoholics in your life.

Can Drinking in Front of Sober Alcoholics ‘Make’ Them Relapse?

Addiction is a complex disease, and alcohol use disorder is no exception. Addiction is often chronic,  progressive, and frequently characterized by periods of remission (sobriety) and relapse. Just like the addiction sets in over time, the road to relapse is often gradual and multifactorial.

The early stage of recovery — including a person’s first sober year — presents unique challenges. A supportive social network is key during this stage, and creating a sober environment can be very helpful. Every day matters, and every day someone in recovery isn’t presented with temptation is a success.

As people in recovery become more established in their sobriety, however, they’ll inevitably come face-to-face with alcohol in social, professional, or everyday situations. Learning to cope with being around alcohol is a crucial part of the road to recovery — and people who are solid in their sobriety learn to navigate situations where alcohol is consumed in ways that work for them.

Can drinking in front of a sober alcoholic cause them to relapse?

Remember that relapse is a gradual process that starts before someone takes a drink:

  • Poor self-care and inadequate stress coping mechanisms form the first stage.
  • Thinking about drinking, craving alcohol, associating with or thinking about people addicts used to drink with, and minimizing the consequences of the addiction represent the second step.
  • Taking a drink is the third and final stage of relapse.

Every person who has struggled with alcohol addiction must ultimately take responsibility for each of these steps and seek help when recognizing risk factors for relapse. Having said that, loved ones and acquaintances can help. Here’s what you can do.

Discuss Upcoming Events Where Alcohol Will Be Served

As the saying goes, forewarned is forearmed. Give the sober people in your life a chance to prepare themselves, and always let them know if you intend to drink and serve drinks at an event.

Please don’t pressure the sober alcoholics in your life to attend events where alcohol will be served. Instead, give them a gracious “out.” This approach lets people in recovery decide whether they can handle being around alcohol without feeling put on the spot.

Conversations about alcohol don’t have to be as awkward as you may fear.

It can be as simple as: “Hey, we’d love you to come to our upcoming anniversary party, but we’ll be serving alcohol and completely understand if you’d rather give it a miss!” (Or: “A couple of us going out for drinks after work, but we’re also going bowling on Sunday. Want to come to that?”)

If you want to be extra accommodating, try keeping your events alcohol-free earlier in the day or evening and announcing that alcohol will be served after a certain time. This gives the sober alcoholics in your life a chance to be part of important events without being exposed to drink.

Organize Sober Events Regularly

Whether the sober alcoholic you’re concerned about is a relative, friend, or colleague, you have an important question to ask if all your social events involve alcohol. Is that really necessary? Is it healthy for you?

Sober office parties, alcohol-free barbecues, community hikes, or sober games nights can’t just be fun — alcohol-free events can often help groups avoid a lot of drama. They may benefit people in recovery trying their best to stay as far away from alcohol as possible, but these events can also help everyone else.

Ask yourself this — if your get-togethers aren’t fun or meaningful without alcohol, why are you having them at all? Then, turn a new corner and commit to organizing regular sober events.

Also, A recommended read new hobbies for sober people

It is especially important to consider the holiday period. Holidays offer a deep sense of community that is important to most people’s sense of self and belonging. It would be tragic if an alcoholic loved one feels the need to stay home because the rest of the family (or friend group, or workplace) fully intends to get drunk.

Don’t Offer Drinks to People in Recovery

While people who have stopped drinking will inevitably be exposed to others’ alcohol consumption, please don’t make the situation more difficult than it needs to be. If you know that someone is sober (even if they never struggled with addiction), don’t offer them a drink — and never, ever repeatedly invite someone who has already turned down a drink to “go on and have one.”

We’ve already taken a brief look at the stages of relapse. The first two stages, sometimes called emotional and mental relapse, lie squarely within the danger zone. However, people in recovery can still turn back. They haven’t taken a drink.

Sober addicts do have to learn to stay firm in their sobriety when other people drink — that’s their personal responsibility, and it gets easier with time. Repeatedly offering people in recovery drinks is always a bad idea, however. You never know if someone is already in a challenging situation, vulnerable to physical relapse (taking that drink), and you can be supportive by not going there.

So, Should You Drink Around Sober Alcoholics?

While every person in recovery must learn to cope with being around alcohol, it’s always commendable to refrain from imbibing if you know you’ll be in the company of one or more sober alcoholics.

Should you not be able or willing to commit to hosting alcohol-free events, giving people in recovery ample warning that drinks will be served is a courteous approach that gives them a chance to opt out of attending if they feel the need to.

Martijn van Eijk
Martijn is a passionate creator and the driving force behind StopDrinking.com. He created this website to assist individuals and their families in conquering alcohol addiction and finding a joyful, fulfilling life after alcohol. With a deep understanding of the challenges they face, he empowers readers with valuable insights and practical guidance on their journey towards recovery. Author of the Stop Shaking Book.