Alcohol has become a staple of neighborhood, friend, and family gatherings in our society. Need to relax? It’s time for a drink. Want to celebrate? Must be time for a drink. Want to hang out with friends? Yep, grab another drink.
This is all good, until you have a friend who chooses not to drink, or a friend who goes through substance abuse treatment and quits drinking. How do you plan a party that will make both your drinking and non-drinking friends feel comfortable?
The first thing you need to know, according to Patti Senn, Clinical Director of First Step Recovery at The Village Family Service Center in Fargo, is that “you are the host, so you get to decide the kind of party you’re going to have. Then, it’s the responsibility of your guests to decide if it’s a gathering they are comfortable attending.”
That said, you still want to make all of your friends feel included. Here are some ways to plan a recovery-friendly party.
- Provide plenty of non-alcoholic alternatives like soda and water.
- Make it a kid-friendly event. Inviting kids to the party changes the tone and most people won’t drink excessively. Senn says, “Having an ‘adults only’ party sometimes gives people permission to misbehave.”
- Plan a theme party. Have a “Decade of the 60s” party—ask everyone to dress up as their favorite TV character from the 60s and play 60s music. Or host a “Game Night”—set board games up around the house and encourage people to play them. Anything you can do where drinking isn’t the main theme will change the tone of the party.
- Have a morning or afternoon party. Inviting everyone over for breakfast or lunch sets a different tone.
- Ask your guests to bring their own beverages. This makes it OK for a person in recovery to bring their own non-alcoholic drinks.
- Don’t make a big deal about someone who doesn’t drink. The last thing your friend wants is for you to draw everyone’s attention to the fact that they’re not drinking. If you don’t say anything, most people won’t even notice.
- If someone at the party decides to leave, don’t pester them or plead with them to stay. Let them leave without asking a lot of questions.
- Abstain from drinking yourself. It’ll be a nice gesture for your friend. It’s always easier to do something when you’re not the only one.
- Have an alcohol-free party. It might seem like an extreme step, but it’s your party so you get to make the decisions. Senn says, “If you say ‘no alcohol’ and someone isn’t comfortable with that, they can choose to stay home.”
It is important to remember the person in recovery is making daily decisions to support and protect their recovery, so if you do everything you can and your friend still chooses not to attend, don’t take it personally. Sometimes, especially early in recovery, it’s just too difficult to be around people who are drinking. Most people in recovery want the people around them to go on doing their own thing—they understand that just because alcohol is problem for them doesn’t mean it’s a problem for everyone. They’ll be grateful you included them in the invitation, and sometime down the road they may feel comfortable attending your next get-together.
Tammy Noteboom is the director of Communications for The Village Family Service Center.
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