Addicts, Alcoholics and Holiday Parties: What’s A Hostess To Do?

Folks in the addiction and alcoholism treatment fields are often asked about how a host should handle holiday parties attended by recovering friends.  Social occasions that involve people in recovery, especially those in early recovery, can pose some perplexing problems for a host.

On one hand, a host who is aware of a guest’s need to avoid mood-altering substances may wish to do what is possible to keep from exposing them to temptation.  On the other hand, social drinking is a part of everyday American culture. Most social gatherings involve some drinking by some of the guests, and there is certainly nothing wrong with that. Unfortunately, for some of us, it might not be the healthiest of environments, and a host may be at a loss as to how she ought to deal with guests who are in recovery. Here are some pointers on how to handle this delicate situation while, at the same time, being fair to all.

There are some simple things to remember.In the case of alcohol, the answer is easy. Apart from making sure that there are non-alcoholic refreshments available, nothing else need be done in regard to beverages. Your alcoholic guests are responsible for their own recovery. You should certainly not offer them martinis, but beyond avoiding situations that would put them “on the spot” or embarrass them, your job is simply to make them welcome as you would any other guest.

If other drugs are often a feature of partying for some of your guests, and you believe the recovering person was a drug user, you have two choices: don’t invite the addict, or make sure that all your guests know that drugs are not welcome. This can be difficult, to be sure, but it seems the only reasonable solution. Your addict friend may be in recovery, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that her defenses are equal to entering the lavatory and getting a lungful of second-hand marijuana smoke or finding cocaine residue on the dressing table. Your drug-using friends — you know who they are — may have to take second place if you are truly concerned about the addict.

Don’t, whatever you do, commit some gaffe like passing around a pitcher of daiquiris and making some comment like, “Oh ho, none of this for you!” You may be challenging the person at a particularly weak moment. Ignore the issue, and casually skip over the person’s glass. If some other guest comments on it, let the alcoholic field the remark. It will be good practice for him to learn how to handle such situations in a safe environment.

Another solution is to have a pre-poured glass of seltzer with a twist on the tray, and simply hand it to them casually, with perhaps a wink. They can easily determine for themselves that it is safe. Nothing has to be said.

Toasts need not be a problem, either. Be sure your guest has a goblet of water available to raise when needed. Even the dumbest waiter knows what an upended champagne flute means. Let your guest deal with it.

There is one area that can be a problem, and that is when serving dishes prepared with wine or other alcoholic liquids. Don’t believe any cookbook, chef or other so-called expert who assures you that the alcohol will all “burn off” or “evaporate.” This is simply not true. A dish cooked long enough to insure that all the alcohol is out of it would not be fit to eat in most cases. Just as water does not immediately vaporize when heated, neither does alcohol. This goes double for sauces.

In this matter, let the person know and allow him to make the decision for himself. Some addicts don’t avoid dishes prepared with alcohol. Others (such as I) have been known to spit out a mouthful.

As regards “drug addicts” versus “alcoholics” in this respect, no person in recovery ought to be using any mood-altering substance. Many drugs involve the same neural pathways as alcohol, and alcohol can thus trigger cravings for other substances.

Your recovering guest may ask to bring along a friend for support (although she might not put it that way). Encourage her to do so. Recovering people are usually pretty nice folks. You will likely make a new friend.

Those of us who have been in recovery for some time have learned how to handle these situations and look out for ourselves. This may not be the case with newcomers to sobriety, especially the younger ones who may want desperately to “fit in” with a group. Your support and caution could be all that stands between a guest and a potential relapse.

Thanks for your support, and Happy Holidays!


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