Drinking around alcoholics
May 11, 2007 7:15 AM   Subscribe

In general, is it best to not drink or to drink in moderation around alcoholics?

Assuming that the primary factor in my decision of whether or not to drink at a public gathering is the assumption that someone at that gathering is likely to be alcoholic (unknown to me) and a desire to ease such anonymous alcoholics' recoveries, is it best to not drink at all, or to drink in moderation? I'm not looking for personal opinions based on a small amount of anecdotal evidence (I already have that), but rather expert opinions based on the collective experiences of a larger number of alcoholics. Everything I've found online suggests it depends on the individual, but in this context I don't know the individual. My assumption was that not drinking at all is best, but lately I've begun to question whether that's actually true.
posted by scottreynen to Food & Drink (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Your point seems moot if anyone else at the gathering is drinking doesn't it?
posted by zeoslap at 7:20 AM on May 11, 2007

As someone who treats addictions of various kinds, my perspective is that a person's recovery from addiction is their own lookout. Even if they choose to use your actions as an excuse for drinking, that's still all it is, and excuse. Someone unable to abide the use of alcohol around them should either make that explicitly clear in a request to refrain, or absent themselves from the situation.

As long as you aren't facilitating their use in some active way, this is not your problem. I don't mean to suggest that we don't owe our neighbors consideration, but that the particular responsibility of the addict is to realize that their behavior is their responsibility and not someone else's.
posted by OmieWise at 7:29 AM on May 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

I have friends who are recovering alcoholics. The policy in our group is that it's always okay to drink around them, because being able to not drink while around people who are drinking is part of their recovery. Mind you, we're not a binge-drinking bunch to begin with, and our friends are conscious of not coming out on nights that will just be hours and hours of sitting at a bar having beers. But I don't think it's rude/inconsiderate to order a drink at dinner if there's a recovering addict sitting at the table with me. Like OmieWise said, they're responsible for their own behavior; we can't manage it for them, and I think that trying to do so is somewhat condescending anyway.
posted by junkbox at 7:39 AM on May 11, 2007

If they chose to come to the party, then it its not your responsibility to act any differently around them then you would anywhere else.

If you were invited to an alcoholic's house for dinner, however, I would not bring a 6-pack.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 7:39 AM on May 11, 2007

Response by poster: I realize the impact of this decision may be minimal, but I'd like to make an informed decision nonetheless. I'm not asking anyone to share this concern; I only mentioned it as the context for my question. I'm interested in what the impact would be, not how large it would be.
posted by scottreynen at 7:39 AM on May 11, 2007

Best answer: rather expert opinions based on the collective experiences of a larger number of alcoholics.

So you decided to Ask MetaFilter :)

If you're looking for peer reviewed studies, PubMed is your friend.

Social networks and recovery: one year after inpatient treatment. Gordon, AZ & Zrull M.

Department of Health Promotion & Education, School of Public Health, University of South Carolina, Columbia 29208.

In an effort to understand the effect of social networks on outcome for treatment of alcoholism, a 1-year follow-up prospective study of 156 inpatients was undertaken. Treatment outcome was associated with diverse aspects of the social network: whether individuals were family, friends, or co-workers; the type of relationship--whether or not drinking together was part of social interaction; and the presence of social support, both perceived support and support through participation in treatment. Hierarchical path analysis using Lisrel 6 was used to analyze the data. The active support of co-workers not regularly drinking with the patient and the perceived support of co-workers without respect to their drinking were influential in recovery, exerting positive and negative effects, respectively. The indirect effect of other variables indicates that nondrinking and drinking family and friend relationships also exert positive and negative effects, respectively. The authors suggest that a major factor in recovery is the ability to elicit and receive support. Improving this ability may be a fruitful objective in treatment.

PMID: 1660079 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

Social support and outcome of alcoholism treatment: an exploratory analysis.

by Brenda M. Booth , Daniel W. Russell , Susan Soucek , Philip R. Laughlin

During the past 20 years there has been growing interest in the role of interpersonal relationships in protecting people from the negative and often physically destructive effects of stress. Stress is assumed to arise when the individual is called upon to respond to a situation for which he/she has no adequate response and the consequences of failure to respond are important (1). Another consistent view is that stress occurs when one appraises a situation as threatening and does not have an appropriate coping response (2). The term "social support" has been used to refer to the mechanisms by which interpersonal relationships presumably buffer one against a stressful environment (3). In recent years, recognition of the relationships between social support and health maintenance and disease etiology has increased, and numerous studies have shown that people with social networks (spouses, friends, family members) which provide psychological and material resources are in better health than those with deficient social networks (4).

I scanned a dozen or so other articles and the things that jump out at me are

1. a supportive community or family is one of the key things keeping alcoholics sober
2. keeping stressors low and postive reinforcement high is the same thing

So (and my apologies towards leaning towards the anecdotal here) I'd say the "it depends on the person" analysis is dead on because it's impossible to tell which situation is going to be more stressful for the person in recovery. A lot of people in recopvery jut want to drink their ginger ale and have no one else mention it or bring it up, even to say "hey way to go!" Other people in recovery would prefer that the sacrifice they are making for their health (of not drinking) be acknowledged since it's something that is hard for them. I can say that during the decade or so when I didn't drink, the biggest issues for me were

1. People giving me a hard time about not drinking. Didn't happen often but happened enough that I usually made a mental note to try to not hang aorund those people any more
2. People tiptoeing around my particular preferences and acting all weird about their own choices just make me feel better. No offense to what you're trying to do, consideration-wise (and I'm not sure I even understand the scenario you are alluding to) but if there's a get-together at a drinking establishment and the person in recovery has decided to go, they do not expect everyone else to not drink. It's often nice if everyone doesn't get shitfaced and try to drive them home, but that's true no matter what your recovery status is. The effect of an individual person in this situation doesn't matter so much as the impact of the group, unless that person is the significant other in which case the data seems to imply that not drinking might be slightly better than drinking.

The biggest thing you can do in my anecdotal experience is to make not drinking a viable option at your get together, however that needs to happen.
posted by jessamyn at 7:44 AM on May 11, 2007

This can't be answered. "what the impact" would be involves so many variables that anything we say here is meaningless. It all becomes opinion.

Your question has already recieved a number of excellent answers, primarily, this isn't your problem. YOUR problem is how you feel about drinking when someone may be an alcoholic, follow your wisdom regarding that, it's all you can do.
posted by HuronBob at 7:44 AM on May 11, 2007

I'm interested in what the impact would be, not how large it would be.

You're asking an unanswerable question. It depends not only on the particular person, but on their relationship to their addiction that hour, day, month and year. You cannot make a blanket informed decision about this, which is why I wrote what I did in my first comment.
posted by OmieWise at 7:48 AM on May 11, 2007

Response by poster: If you're looking for peer reviewed studies, PubMed is your friend.

Thanks, that's pretty much what I was looking for. I hadn't thought of it as medical research.
posted by scottreynen at 8:01 AM on May 11, 2007

Response by poster: If the primary factor in your decision to drink is the presence of alcoholics, why do you ever drink?

I don't. But lately I thought doing so might help others, contrary my previous thinking, hence my question.

You should be primarily drinking or not drinking because you like or don't like it.

I have almost no sense of smell, and thus very little taste, so I'm not generally very interested in food and drink for its own sake. I understand food and drink are more important to most people, which is why I mentioned that I have abnormal priorities prompting my question. Apparently many have read this as encouragement of others to adopt my priorities. That was not my intent.
posted by scottreynen at 8:34 AM on May 11, 2007

Well, Jessamyn has answered this best (as usual) but I guess I'll just chime in anyway. As another person who was sober for 10 years, I really prefered and still prefer events where at least half the participants are not drinking, where there are fun things to do that don't involve drinking, where there are tasty things to drink that aren't alcoholic (homemade smoothies, gourmet rootbeer, fresh squeezed juices, bubbly punches, etc) and where no one is acting like a drunk moron.

The key issue to me was that I wanted to be not the only person who could have fun without drinking. (Double negative city!) And its still is, even though now I drink some.
posted by serazin at 8:39 AM on May 11, 2007

Well I've been sober for 5 years now and I'm totally ok with other people drinking around me. I made a very deliberate decision when I got sober, that I needed to be able to be sober amongst the drinkers that were/are my friends. My current boyfriend is also a social drinker and it has never been an issue. Being an alcoholic is my issue not the guy sitting at my table's issue.
posted by yodelingisfun at 9:57 AM on May 11, 2007

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