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Staying Sober: Dealing With Temptations

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Staying Sober: Dealing With TemptationsMany patients over the years have asked me the same question: "I know I shouldn't drink but how can I avoid it when I'm out in social situations?"

There are variations to the question, such as, "I have a job as a sales representative and, when companies take me out to dinner, I am expected to drink. What can I do?"

Another question is, "When I go out with friends, all of us go to bars and everyone is expected to drink. They're all having fun, what can I do?"

Another variation on the same theme is, "I am invited to a party with lots of old friends. I know there will be lots of drinking but I really want to go."

It is important to emphasize that, in most of these cases, the people I am referring to have a drinking problem including the fact that a father, mother or both, were addicted to alcohol. Consequently, in all cases, the patients knew that alcohol represented a very serious problem for them, including running the very real risk of becoming alcoholic. Very often, there was a history of alcohol addiction and death, running back through many generations.

In addition, there are people who are compelled to stop drinking due to very serious health problems. Among these are, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and heart conditions.

Following are some suggestions on how to deal with drinking when in social situations. Many of these ideas come from an article found on WebMD, "Holiday Drinking and How to Say No":

1. "Be prepared for feeling awkward," says Donna Cornett, founder and director of the Drink-Link Moderate Drinking Program in Santa Rosa, California. She states that being prepared, "kind of takes the edge off of the anxiety and temptation."

2. "Over time, some people get so comfortable with the situation, they don't even think about it anymore," says Mark Willenbring, MD, former director of the division of treatment and recovery research at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. "They order a club soda with lime, and it doesn't bother them."

3. If you are going to a party, picture yourself arriving there, getting a non-alcoholic beverage, eating appetizers, and staying away from the bar area. Focus on conversations and catching up with friends. Decide how long to stay before you even step in the door. It's all right to plan to leave before everyone gets "buzzed."

4. Hold a glass of soda and keep it refreshed. That way, no one at the party has to offer to get you a drink.

5. Learn how to say "NO."  Practice turning down a drink beforehand so you'll sound confident at the event, Dr. Willenbring says. "Look them in the eye, say it very firmly, and try not to leave an opening for argument or discussion," he says. "Some people wonder, 'Should I tell them I'm an alcoholic?' But just say, 'No thanks, I'm laying off it tonight,' and if they press, simply say, 'I feel like getting healthier.'"

6. Develop your own personal style for refusing a drink. I know one person who tells everyone in every social situation he is in that, "I am allergic to alcohol and cannot drink," if he is asked. Another individual tells people that he cannot drink because, "I suffer from terrible headaches. Thank you, but, no drink." If pressed he responds, "What, you want me to suffer a headache?"

7. Yet another tactic is to appoint yourself the "designated driver." Most people today are keenly aware of the dangers of driving while intoxicated due to the risk of arrest and getting a DUI. Many people are more than happy to have a designated driver.

8. One of the very best ways of preventing the temptation to drink is to avoid cues or situations that can greatly increase that temptation. This can call for some radical behavioral changes that most of us are unwilling or unable to do, such as, selecting new and non drinking friends, avoiding the bar scene completely, avoiding all parties, refusing to watch the Super Bowl with friends, etc. The problem with this approach is that it can make you feel resentful and end in your having a drink.

9.  Whatever the strategies used, one way to prevent yourself from feeling resentful about not drinking is to
stay focused on the reasons for not drinking. Part of this strategy is to think in positive rather than negative terms.  Consider the benefits for not drinking.  One of the people I know is now able to enjoy the benefits of being free from a hangover the next morning and of feeling good the entire next day.

If all else fails, there are now medications that block the desire to drink. This can be discussed with your primary care physician or with your psychiatrist if you are seeing one.

Finally, psychotherapy is an excellent choice to help deal with the entire problem of the addictions whether an individual uses medication or not, attends AA or not.

Your comments, questions and experiences are welcome and encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD