Do Drunks and Recovering Addicts Mix?

by Bill Brenner on February 14, 2011

It can be tricky socializing with a recovering addict at a party. In some ways the guy who can’t drink or eat whatever he wants  is socially awkward. So how do you deal with someone like me?

Mood music:


It’s a fair question, and one I’ve put some thought into since a good friend sent me this feedback:

“As someone who knows several people who struggle with addiction issues I’m always hyper-sensitive to everything I say and do around them. The last thing I want to do is add pressure to someone who may be at the end of their tether…but at the same time I don’t want to bring attention to the issue or treat them differently. What, in your experience and belief, are things people like me should do/not do/worry about/not worry about so that we are helping and not hurting those around us.”

I’m glad my friend posed the question, because I’ll be honest: Sometimes I feel the same way around someone who’s drinking. I’m sensitive about coming off as the snob in the room who thinks he’s better than everyone else because everyone else is drinking or drunk.

I just want to blend in, enjoy the company I’m with and drink something without alcohol — usually tonic water with a splash of cranberry juice if I can’t find decent coffee.

That’s what I drank last night at a gathering in San Francisco, where I’m covering RSA Conference 2011 and BSidesSF.

I need to make one thing clear: I don’t mind if people around me are enjoying a few drinks. Sometimes I envy them for being able to do it and still function, and I want them to have a good time. I had a good time last night catching up with industry friends, and nobody made me feel uncomfortable. Not once.

I certainly don’t want to make them feel uncomfortable.

It’s my responsibility to keep my sobriety and abstinence intact while functioning in these surroundings. It’s also up to me to know how to behave. Some recovering addicts can’t be at a party because they’re deathly afraid of slipping. Fortunately, I’m not in that state of mind.

Occasionally someone will ask me if I want a beer or some other alcoholic beverage. Or they’ll ask if I want some of their fried and breaded appetizers. I just say no thanks and it’s no big deal. If you have no idea I can’t have these things, how could I be upset when you’re just trying to be friendly and sharing?

If you offer me something I can’t have and find out later, don’t sweat it.

If someone were to keep badgering me with the “why not” and make fun of me for not wanting to have a good time, I’d have a problem with it. But it’s rare that it happens. And the person who does that is usually the same one who can’t hold his liquor and makes a spectacle of him or herself.

Now, I’m not a mirror image of how sober people feel about this, and no two people will have the same reaction. I only know my experience. 

So far, my experience is that most people are respectful of what I do.

It comes down to this:

You let me be myself.

I’ll let you be yourself.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Kevin Riggins February 14, 2011 at 4:07 am

Well said Bill and exactly how I feel.

Nick February 14, 2011 at 7:59 am

Right on Bill!!

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