Family and friends are often uncomfortable when alcohol is served around a recovering family member. We don’t want to trigger a relapse, but living in an alcohol-free, trigger-free world isn’t possible either. How do we handle a holiday party, large family gatherings or wedding receptions? Are we are responsible for the person in recovery, especially if they decide to drink? Here are some things we can do to be supportive.

Before The Party

Talk to the recovering person regarding alcohol being served. See what the person needs in the way of support, and allow a free pass to skip the event. She may need to bring someone to help her stay sober. Or he may need an escape plan, so he can leave if he is triggered to drink. She may make this plan with you or with her sponsor. This includes transportation plans. Let the recovering person know what you will do if there is relapse. (This might involve some boundaries work on your part.)

At The Party

Treat her the same way you treat everyone else at the event, with compassion, acceptance, and fun. It’s important to offer trust and support without being intrusive. If you are very close to this person, you may check-in with her to see how she’s doing, but this must be done in a compassionate manner. Trying to control or accuse may trigger a power struggle or worse.

What you don’t do is also critical. First, don’t try to monitor them throughout the event in an attempt to control them and their decisions.

What they do, how they handle the pressure, and what they drink is their decision.

Second, don’t gossip about the recovering person with others’ at the event. Their struggle with addiction is THEIR story. They decide whether to talk about the substance use disorder and recovery.

If You’re Hosting

If you are hosting, you get to choose what you serve. The first step is to examine your motives. Why would you like to serve alcohol? Conversely, why would you not serve alcohol? You may decide to skip the booze, but but this must come from our own choice. Focus on what is best for you. Not serving because you are trying to save the person from relapsing is fraught with expectations and can lead to resentment. You cannot control other’s behaviors. If the person is going to drink, it will happen. Trying to control may trigger old habits of hiding, lying, and rebelling.

If you decide to offer alcohol, also make sure there are a variety of non-alcohol drinks. Sometimes the recovering person may want to put the non-alcohol substance in a beer stein or wine glass so not to have to explain to everyone why he/she/they isn’t drinking.

If There Is A Relapse

If this person relapses, make sure they are safe to leave the party alone. This is something you would do for anyone at the event who may be drinking too much. Further, this may entail taking away the car keys and driving the person home. Treating your loved one the same as you would treat anyone else helps keep your boundaries in check.

Most importantly, we do not beat ourselves up if there is a relapse. It is up to the recovering person to make healthy choices. A relapse doesn’t automatically mean a chronic slip back into the life of full addiction. Sometimes a relapse helps solidify why the person’s commitment to recovery.  If there is a relapse, we continue to offer our support and ask the person how we can help them. This help may or may not be accepted.

Remember, this is their recovery, not yours. Offer support, be a good friend or family member, and help if asked. Otherwise, trust that the recovering person will do what is needed to stay sober.


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Carol Anderson
Carol Anderson, D.Min., ACSW, LMSW, is a licensed clinical social worker with over 25 years of experience in the fields of mental health, addictions, and co-occurring disorders. Her other specialties include grief and trauma, women’s issues, chronic pain management, holistic healing, GLBTQ concerns, and spirituality and transpersonal psychology. Dr. Anderson has been educated and trained in the fields of education, social work, and spirituality, and she holds a Doctor of Ministry degree (non-denominational/interfaith) specializing in spirituality.

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