Addiction recovery is a process fraught with pitfalls for an addict. Beyond physical and psychological dependencies, aspects of the environment can serve as triggers for relapse.
This is especially apparent to recovering alcoholics, who are bombarded with advertisements for hard drinks and constantly navigating a minefield of social engagements and outings where alcohol is sure to be present.
Statistics show that 57% of the UK population consumes alcohol at least 1 day out of the week. It is unavoidable that those in recovery will count at least one drinker among their friends and family. Sometimes, it’s even their partner.
If you are the drinker in this equation, the introduction of substance abuse concerns into your relationship can be awkward.
Is it OK to drink around a recovering alcoholic? Can you carry on as normal, or will your drinking habits interfere with your loved one’s struggle to get well?
The safest choice is to not drink around someone in recovery. However, that’s not the same thing as saying it is never OK to do so. Determining when it maybe is a complex task, dependent on several variables, and offering no easy answers.
The Nature of Your Relationship
Addiction recovery programmes encourage participants to build a support group of non-drinkers because exposure to the actions and thought processes of like-minded peers serves as positive reinforcement.
However, the continued support and camaraderie of loved ones provide a stabilising force during the recovery process, even if those in question are not teetotallers themselves.
Satisfying both of these principles can be a difficult balancing act, but you are not a passive observer. How your choice to drink, or abstain from drinking, will impact a loved one in recovery depends partly on the nature of your relationship with them.
According to the Office of National Statistics, 9 of 10 people in the UK have a friend that they can confide in, and rely on times of difficulty.
If a friend has chosen to reveal their recovery status to you, you may fill that role in their life. So, what should you do?
First, have a candid talk. Only you know the individual dynamic you share with this person, so draw upon that when determining how to approach the subject.
Express a show of support, and ask what you can do to help. If you are a drinker, this is the time to raise the subject of drinking in their presence.
If they ask you not to drink around them, you shouldn’t. Even if they say it’s okay, consider not drinking around them as a show of solidarity.
Recovering alcoholics routinely report feelings of anxiety related to making such requests of others, because they believe it will lead to resentment towards them. By choosing to abstain voluntarily, you absolve them of that.
Yet, each person is different. If they insist that you not change your behaviour in the slightest, then don’t. Respecting their evaluation of themselves shows that you have confidence in them, which may be exactly what they need at their stage of recovery.
When a family member enters recovery from an addiction, it can alter the entire family dynamic. For distant relations, it may be similar to friendship, but if the person in question is your parent or child, it is far more complex.
If your parent is in recovery, it is possible that you suffered from their alcohol misuse as well. Feelings of guilt may cause them to be reluctant to ask you to abstain from anything. As before, voluntary abstinence on your part can be a powerful show of support.
In the course of treatment, your parent has likely learned that children of individuals suffering from alcoholism are more likely to succumb to the disease themselves. This may cause them to look at your drinking more critically, which is another reason not to drink in front of them.
If it is your child that is recovering, talk to them about your role in their addiction. If you have always been a drinker, that may have contributed to their alcohol misuse. If so, you should not drink in front of them even if they suggest it’s alright, as old patterns of behaviour can lull an addict back into unhealthy habits unwittingly.
When your partner enters recovery, it can signify a complete change in the person you fell in love with. If drinking has been a central part of your experience together, changing can deal a heavy blow to your comfort levels with one another.
A study published in The Journals of Gerontology proved that couples who share drinking habits are happier together. This suggests that, for the health of your relationship, you shouldn’t drink in front of your recovering partner.
If you choose to drink when you are apart, you should avoid meeting with them while under the influence or hungover. The reminder that you are drinking without them can be interpreted as a negative judgement of who they have become. Such negative thoughts can lead to relapse.
The Impact of Location
While your relationship should form the foundation of your approach, your choice to drink or abstain can change depending on where you are.
Places Where Alcohol Is Consumed
This broad category includes most restaurants, sports venues, and pubs. You are certain to encounter people drinking in these locations, and you might feel justified in doing so yourself even in the company of your recovering companion.
However, a drink at a nearby table, or off behind the bar, is not the same as one held within arms reach. Choosing to drink in this scenario is not automatically acceptable because other people are doing it.
If you have already made a commitment not to drink in front of someone, honour it, even in a bar surrounded by drinkers.
If having a drink while out is very important to you, discuss the situation with your loved one. It is possible that their willingness to enter a space rife with triggers signals that they are able to handle your drinking.
Conversely, they could be testing their ability to cope, and your shared abstinence could be a source of comfort as they face a difficult moment.
Living with a recovering alcoholic can require several changes around the house, especially if you typically have alcohol in the home. But, while you may be willing to drink water or soft drinks while out, restrictions in the home may feel too intrusive.
Thankfully, there are a few compromises that can diffuse this conflict.
- Designate Rooms for Drinking. This doesn’t mean said rooms become off-limits to your recovering flat-mate. Rather, it prevents them from entering unprepared into a scenario where alcohol is present while allowing you to drink without worrying you will mistakenly expose them to a trigger
- Store Alcohol Out of Sight. The old saying “out of sight, out of mind” applies here. Store the alcohol in a particular cupboard, or in a mini-fridge for items that must be chilled. Whatever spot you choose, use it only for alcohol, so teetotallers can avoid it completely
- Set a Drinking Schedule. This may seem extreme, but it is likely you tend to drink at the same times anyway — such as at supper or just after work. This is another way to allow your housemate to avoid an uncomfortable situation. If they know you have a drink between 7 and 8 p.m., for example, they can control whether they choose to interact with you during that time
Even taking precautions, there is a chance you will slip up. Rest assured, someone going through recovery will understand how hard it is to change established behaviours. Your honest effort to support your loved one will eclipse any mistakes.
However, if you are an infrequent drinker, seriously consider removing all alcohol from the home.
Handling the Holidays
Drinking is so integrated into society that it is a part of most celebrations and holidays. Britons consume more than 5.7 billion units of alcohol between Christmas Eve and New Year’s day alone. Alcohol is not only more prevalent during this time, but people are more likely to binge drink.
This is an especially difficult time for a recovering alcoholic. The pressure to join in the festivities by having a holiday drink can be enormous. Seeing so many others imbibing only makes it worse.
You can choose not to drink at holiday functions that you attend with this person, but your sacrifice alone is unlikely to save them from difficult encounters with other drinkers. If the host is also aware of your friend’s recovery status, the best choice might be to plan for a party with no alcohol.
However, always discuss your intentions with the person in question. If someone recovering from addiction assures you that they can handle a given situation, even after you have shared your concerns, you have to trust that they know their own limits.
Ultimately, the rules of recovery are set by the individual, and it is up to an addict to learn to manage their own behaviour. However, you can make it easier for them by observing this one simple rule: it is not OK to drink in front of recovering alcoholics unless they explicitly tell you otherwise.