What Your Sober Friends and Family Need From You During the Holidays

Tis the season for holiday parties. Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

Congratulations! If you’re reading this it means you’ve successfully made it through the thick of holiday season. By now, you’ve survived most of the excruciating work, including the holiday parties and events that you were forced into attending in order to maintain good standing in your office or social circles. Bravo! You did it. And maybe all it took was a fistful of beta blockers or one or two cocktails to get you through.

To the majority, annoying holiday gatherings are survived by the presence of an open bar. But for those who forego alcohol, there’s no such crutch to lean on for help through awkward events. Whether the choice to abstain has been made because of health issues, or a history of alcohol abuse, you can be sure that this lifestyle makes this time of year a little more challenging. So if you’re at a holiday event with a non-drinker, here are some ways of offering support.

If you offer someone an alcoholic beverage and they say no, don’t ask why, and do not ask them again. 

Not everyone is open about their reasons from abstaining from alcohol. Unless they choose to share their story with you, it’s none of your business. There is no need for you to know why someone is abstaining from drinking, except to satisfy your own nosiness. Never ever, ever ask: “Can’t you have just one drink?” No. A person who is abstaining from alcohol can’t have just one drink. Keep your questions to yourself, and respect his or her privacy.

Trust your sober friend’s judgement on what he or she is capable of handling.

Every situation is different. Anyone attending a social function is aware that there is going to be booze around, so your sober friend has come prepared to be in that environment. Do not act like they can’t be trusted around alcohol; don’t manage their actions at the bar or feel like you have to order for them. And for the love of god, do not say to a bartender, “My friend is an alcoholic can you please give her a can of La Croix?” This actually happened to me. Believe me, that kind of management is not necessary.

Include, do not exclude. Don’t act like someone can’t party just because they don’t drink.

When I first chose to get sober, I was met with several different reactions: surprise, suspicion, doubt and a dash of support on occasion. One evening I was dining with a group of friends. One woman kept apologizing that we were at a restaurant that served alcohol, and kept apologizing for ordering drinks. When the bill came there was much confusion as to how much I would put in, because the price of my entrée paled in comparison to the drink tab. After that awkward meal, everyone was supposedly going home. I should have known by the silence and rampant texting at the table—which did not include me—that they were actually heading onward to a bar, but they didn’t think I would want to go. Maybe I would’ve opted out, but it’s always nice to be given an invitation. Give your friend the choice to decide what they can and can’t deal with. And remember, you don’t need drinks to take part in a joke or tear up a dance floor.

Be supportive of what they choose, and what they share with you.

A person who is abstaining from drinking, for whatever reason, may want to discuss their boundaries with you before they attend an event. They’ve evaluated the situation, and chosen to attend for as long as they feel comfortable and happy. Listen to any needs they might have, and don’t push them out of their comfort zone. If they want to go, don’t pressure them to stay—they may not feel like the environment is a healthy one for them anymore. Despite what was said earlier about questions, there are some you can ask. It’s fine to ask a friend if they want you to leave with them, if they’ve decided to go. And expressing that you’re always open to talking, if they want to share, is a good way of letting them know you’re there for them, without putting the pressure on to reveal something personal.

And, of course, this applies not only to the holiday season, but all year round.

Randi Newton’s work has been featured in publications ranging from Newsweek, LA Weekly and TheFix to Good Housekeeping. Newton has appeared on The O’Reilly Factor, as a panelist on Fox’s The Strategy Room, and is a contributor on Radio Andy XM. Newton is an advocate for addiction and recovery issues and a certified recovery assistant. She enjoys long walks on the beach, streaming movies, and loves iced coffee no matter what time of year it is.

What Your Sober Friends and Family Need From You During the Holidays