4 Ways To Be More Considerate Of Sober People During The Holidays

Hosting a gathering this season? Here's how to make it more comfortable for those who don't drink or who are in recovery.
Creating an inclusive party atmosphere is key to helping people who are sober navigate the holidays.
svetikd via Getty Images
Creating an inclusive party atmosphere is key to helping people who are sober navigate the holidays.

It’s that time of year again: the season of “why aren’t you drinking?” or “don’t you just want one?”

For me, a self-proclaimed alcoholic, the answer to the second question addresses the first: Yes, I’d love to have just one, but I cannot — which is why I’m not drinking. For others who are at different stages of their recovery, or simply private people, this type of directness might not be the right choice. And really, it’s no one’s business.

But there’s no doubt the holidays are tricky. “Working with people in addiction, every holiday you go through, ‘What’s your plan? What are you going to do?’” said Chris Kazachkova, a therapist who sees clients in Pennsylvania and Florida. “This is a hard time. It’s actually really big for relapses.”

And it’s not always people who have trouble with alcohol, specifically, who feel the holiday party pressures.

“One thing tends to lead to another to another, like a domino effect,” said Matt Glowiak, an Illinois-based licensed counselor who specializes in substance use. “Even if the client didn’t necessarily have an issue with alcohol, at the family party, they would go, get drunk and take it to the nines, and then start using other drugs.”

While this isn’t the case in every situation, it is important to remember that everyone can play a role. Nearly always, the burden of sobriety falls solely to the person who isn’t drinking. While personal responsibility is paramount for anyone, it’s easier to get by with a little help from a support system.

What does this all mean for you, a person who may (or may not) have a healthy relationship with alcohol, looking to “let loose”? Well, if you have friends, acquaintances or family members with substance issues, then you may want to help them not imbibe the spirits of the season.

Here are some tips to be more considerate of your sober loved ones when hosting holiday gatherings:

Treat them like a person.

This may seem obvious, but it’s easy to lump all people with addictions into a monolith. How your family member handled substance misuse won’t be the same as how your friend or co-worker is dealing with it.

“With everybody, I’m always adapting to the individual,” Glowiak said. “I’m always adapting to what the individual needs.”

For people close to you, have a conversation and ask them what those needs are. “You can make decisions based on that,” Kazachkova said. “And you can also ask some additional questions. Some folks do not want to replace their drinks with a fake cocktail, but someone might actually enjoy it. Other people might be triggered by that.”

If you’re not close to a person, or if you’re unaware they have a substance use disorder, this might not be an option. But don’t worry, there are other measures you can take to make your gathering more sober-friendly (more on that in a second).

Let them bring a plus-one.

If you know someone is sober, particularly if you know they live with an addiction, offer to let them bring someone with them.

“A lot of adolescents that I work with in recovery, or younger adults who are 19, 20, 21, or so will have their friends coming back from university,” Glowiak said. “They just want to save face and resume normalcy.”

The desire to return to “normalcy” or “belong” is a big theme of the holiday season and triggering for many in recovery. Letting people bring a plus-one to any event you organize gives them that belonging and support. It also provides accountability.

“Having a support person lets you, A, not feel so awkward, and B, they can be like, ‘You’re not really supposed to drink,’” Kazachkova said. It also empowers a person with a substance use disorder to be active in their own recovery without adding extra stigmatization.

Letting someone bring a plus one to a holiday gathering can help them feel more supported.
hobo_018 via Getty Images
Letting someone bring a plus one to a holiday gathering can help them feel more supported.

If you’re having a party, be mindful of your guests’ needs.

“As a host, you are able to decide which kind of people are at your party,” Kazachkova said. “Maybe your person is OK with somebody having a few drinks but not if half the group is taking shots.”

At the end of the day, you’re the host of your party. You have control over the type of party you plan to have, whether it be a rager or a kick-back with some wine. Being conscious of your party’s vibe and your guest list goes a long way.

“Part of this is really being mindful of your audience,” Glowiak said. “When you’re throwing a party, in general, it’s not to call out people. It’s to make it as comfortable as possible.”

And to make it as comfortable as possible for nondrinkers, as a host, try to:

  • Offer non-crappy nonalcoholic beverages like soda or flavored seltzers.
  • Ditch the communal watering holes like the proverbial spiked punch bowl.
  • Plan activities that don’t center drinking like cornhole or a white elephant trade with a “no alcohol” rule.

“The other side of that, too, is being a good communicator,” Kazachkova added. “Allow your people to share as they want, and read the room a little bit.”

Host a dry gathering.

If it’s looking like someone close to you just can’t be around booze or you’re getting an influx of intel suggesting nonalcoholic options be available, maybe you should consider a dry function altogether.

“You can also not have alcohol at your party,” Kazachkova stressed. “That’s always an option.”

If you take this route, make sure guests are informed well ahead of time. This way, anyone bent on getting bent will know not to show up and any nondrinkers won’t feel as if you’re pandering, or worse — at fault.

“Don’t have it be a big surprise, it’s all dry out of nowhere and everybody just comes over and is upset over no alcohol,” Glowiak said. “For that one person struggling, it’s really isolating.”

Remember, as a host, it’s your party and you can imbibe if you want to, but others may not have the luxury. A little consideration goes a long way to making your event, and the holidays in general, more inclusive and enjoyable for everyone.

Need help with substance use disorder or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.