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Avoiding the Social Pressure to Drink

Upcoming holidays like Mardi Gras and St. Patrick’s Day, that are often associated with alcohol, can pose a challenge to people in recovery, as well as to those who are avoiding alcohol for a variety of reasons (i.e., diabetes, depression, pregnancy, taking medication.)  With alcohol and tobacco use being the two most common substance use and addictive disorders, it is important to recognize that events celebrated with alcohol can potentially affect health and well-being.  

For some people in recovery, environmental triggers – such as being around people who they would typically drink with, or being in a place where they used to drink or other people are drinking – can be quite a challenge.

Both direct pressure (someone offering you a drink) and indirect pressure (just being around other people who are drinking) can contribute to the tension of celebrating these famous holidays. Thoughts of ‘having just one’ or, ‘a drink will ease my anxiety’ are not uncommon thoughts, and if not managed, impulsive behavior can lead to excessive drinking, and a lapse in sobriety or avoidance of alcohol.

Here are some ways to manage events such as Mardi Gras and St. Patrick’s Day often associated with alcohol:

  • Avoid it. In some situations, particularly these upcoming holidays where events are often centered around drinking, your best strategy may be to avoid these festivities entirely and look for alternatives, such as Sober St. Patrick’s Day. It’s okay to say ‘no’ to activities and events if this brings about more anxiety and worry—you can find another time to connect with people and places.
  • Think through your plan of action (know how to say “no.”) When you want to join the festivities, make sure you’re prepared to say “no thanks” when offered a drink. Sound clear and firm, and avoid vague excuses. For some people, having a script prepared helps- for example, “no thanks. I’m cutting back to try to get healthier”, or “no thanks, I’m fine right now”. You may want to have a non-alcoholic drink in your hand. Holding a cup of something else can distract others from the fact that you’re not drinking alcohol.
  •  It’s okay to not drink at events associated with alcohol. Many people in recovery, or people who prefer not to drink alcohol, are comfortable with saying, “no thanks, I don’t drink.”
  • Be prepared to leave the event. Even with preparation, the social situation and presence of alcohol may become too great to conquer. Be ready to leave the event whenever this happens and plan your transportation home/to another location ahead of time. You can be direct and simply state that you are leaving, or, can state that you have another engagement to get to, to help ease your ‘escape’.

Refraining from drinking can leave you feeling excluded or like you’re missing out, but remember, celebrations such as Mardi Gras and St. Patrick’s are just one day. Why sacrifice your health and well- being over one passing event?  Battle those feelings and stay connected with friends, or your support system if you are in recovery, and find activities or events that don’t involve drinking. Remind yourself of all the good reasons why avoiding alcohol or maintaining your sobriety is the right decision, and seek professional help if needed. 

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