Jennifer Perry isn’t much of a drinker. Never has been. Yet she’s ready every New Year’s Eve for the inevitable attention when she’s out trying to have a good time.
“I don’t care if everyone at the table orders a drink but me. That’s fine,” said Perry, 46, a singer in Atlanta. “What I do resent is being pressured, and then being asked is it a ‘religious thing’ or if I have a ‘problem.’”
Sometimes, she relies on: “Oh, thank you, but I’m still on methadone.”
While not true, a quick apology usually ensues.
Whether in recovery or not interested for other reasons, the holidays often mean an excess of booze and drugs. Occasional drinkers fail to moderate and addiction programs around the country note upticks in patient loads soon after the new year, high season for relapsers and those seeking treatment for the first time.
“Alcohol is often center stage at holiday parties,” said Amara Durham, a spokeswoman for Caron Texas, a treatment facility in Princeton, Texas. “Many people think they need alcohol to enjoy social occasions such as holiday celebrations.”
Chapman Sledge, chief medical officer at Cumberland Heights in the Nashville, Tenn., area, said those hosting holiday dinners and parties should be sensitive to the difficulties of recovering guests.
“Stray comments like, ‘Just a sip of wine at dinner won’t hurt,’ or ‘It’s a party, have a little fun,’ even if they’re unintentional, can slow or destroy an addict’s recovery,” he said.
Gina Bestenlehner, 12 years sober and program director for the Pur Detox center in Dana Point, Calif., suggests bringing along a sobriety buddy. She also recommends volunteering as a designated driver, which “gives a person new purpose and a reason to be there sober. It also saves lives.”
Cathy Griffin, 54, of Los Angeles has been sober for five years. “I’m a free woman now and go about my business and personal life wherever there is alcohol and barely give it any thought,” she said. “But in the early days of my recovery, it was hell!”
Instead of salivating while watching other partiers drink, offer to help cut fruit and veggies or rinse glasses, “ anything to get your mind off the fact that you can’t drink,” she said.
“Look for people who are not drinking to start up a conversation. Believe it or not, there are more people who are not sloshed than you might think,” Griffin added. “Make a game or a challenge out of finding the folks who are not drinking.”
And perhaps most important of all, she said, “Prepare before the battle.”
Think about what you’re going to drink before you get there. Stay away from caffeine-laden energy drinks and go straight to the bar and ask for a nonalcoholic beverage with a smile.