What Not To Say To Someone Who Doesn't Drink

If you have someone in your life who has just gotten out of treatment for alcohol dependency, it can be hard to know what to do or say.

"People who aren't stable yet, because they're in early recovery, have to avoid certain people, places and things, just like anyone recovering from any chronic condition would," explains Jack Feinberg, vice president and clinical director at Phoenix House Texas, a nonprofit drug and alcohol rehabilitation organization. "For example, somebody who just got out of the hospital because [of diabetes], they are certainly not going to be visiting a donut shop" immediately afterward.

To that end, there are some things that we can say to a newly sober person that can be unhelpful, hurtful or destructive -- without us even realizing it. We asked Feinberg to share some of the most unproductive things a newly sober person can hear, and why:

"Why can't you have one or two and just stop?"
Because they may not be able to stop at just one. "That's exactly it -- most people can stop at one, or two, or whatever's in their comfort zone, and not have any problems with that," Feinberg explains. "But people with alcohol dependency, by the nature of meeting that diagnosis -- while they may be able to stop at one tonight or tomorrow, eventually there can be an issue."

"You can control yourself, can't you?"
Even if a newly sober person can control him or herself in one situation, it's important to remember that he or she is still vulnerable to triggers that could build into a lapse over time. A lapse may not occur right in the moment, explains Feinberg, but if someone in recovery steps outside the framework of a proper after-care plan, it can lead to trouble down the road.

"That [one drink] may start working in their head, and that's when the wheels start spinning," says Feinberg. That's because that thinking can lead to physical cravings. "And once you're in a physical craving, then it's very dangerous territory," he adds.

"Don't you want to celebrate with me?"
Maybe you're celebrating a wedding, or a graduation, or even a divorce. You may want your newly sober friend to toast with you for the purest of reasons, but making comments like this will just make your friend feel bad -- and cause unnecessary temptation.

"I didn't invite you because I know you don't drink."
There's no need to make things more awkward by making comments like this. If you want to go to happy hour after work and want your newly sober coworker to also join but are unsure of what he or she can or cannot do, "I wouldn't just [exclude] him from the invite," Feinberg says. "I'd walk over and talk to him, and say something like, 'I didn't want to not invite you, but I was concerned it wouldn't be appropriate for right now.'" Make it clear to the coworker that you do desire his or her presence, so he or she doesn't feel purposely excluded. "Make it so it's open communication so it's not awkward," he advises.

And if you really want to ensure your newly sober friend or coworker is able to join the gathering, select a venue that's not a bar.

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