No matter why someone chooses a sober lifestyle — whether for health or religious reasons or because they are in recovery or for another reason entirely — abstaining from alcohol and drugs is a hugely personal choice. Choosing a life of sobriety can make it difficult to navigate a world seemingly obsessed with alcohol. It is so important for sober people to receive support from their family and friends, but sometimes those same friends and family members might find it difficult to figure out exactly what to say or do to back their sober loved ones.
That’s why I created a guide with suggestions of things not to say — and what to say or do instead — when speaking to someone in your life who is sober or in recovery from drugs and alcohol:
What not to say: “When will you be able to drink again?”
For most sober people, especially those in recovery, sobriety is a life-long process. Most sober people have tried moderation before landing in recovery, and it didn’t work for them so focusing on an end date to their sobriety is simply not helpful.
Instead, you could say: “That’s great!” or “Cool! What a healthy choice.”
Reminding people in recovery that they are making the right choice for them can both help encourage them and also let them know that they have your support and that you just want them to be happy and healthy.
What not to say: “Just try a sip.” or “Take a shot! It’s your birthday.”
When someone tells you that they don’t drink and establishes that boundary, it is super important that you respect it. People who are sober don’t need your opinion and they especially don’t need you pressuring them to drink. They likely get enough of that from coworkers or acquaintances. They consider close friends and family a sort of refuge, which is why they will look to you for encouragement.
Instead, you could: Offer to get them a non-alcoholic drink.
A simple way to show that you want to be supportive is offering to get them a non-alcoholic drink at the bar or party, the same way you might offer a beer to a friend who drinks.
What not to say: “You don’t drink? What do you do for fun then?”
Fun and drinking are not synonymous. Most people in sobriety and recovery still go to parties and events and have fun in other ways as well. And they usually still want to be invited to events, even if there is drinking involved. Don’t stop inviting your non-drinking friends out. When you do invite them, it makes them feel supported and wanted, even if they don’t end up going.
Instead, you could: Invite them to the party and check-in with them.
Invite your friend in recovery to your party, but it’s also nice to ask them if there is any way you can support them at the event. For example, you could check-in, especially if people start drinking heavily, to see if they need to leave or talk.
What not to say: “Are you sure you have an alcohol problem?”
Questioning or challenging whether someone in recovery has a problem is not helpful and can actually be enabling. If someone tells you they have a problem, it’s important to accept it and find ways to support them in their recovery.
Instead, you could: Offer to go to a 12-step meeting or recovery space with them.
Offering to go to a meeting with a loved one in recovery is a super meaningful way to support them, and it can also help you learn more about addiction and recovery. The byproduct is that it could also help debunk some misconceptions you might have about addiction.
Studies show that tens of millions of Americans struggle with addiction so it is likely that you know someone who is either sober or struggling with addiction. The best way to respond to a loved one telling you that they are sober or in recovery is to support them and remind them that you are there for them. Some say that the opposite of addiction is connection so helping your sober loved ones feel connected and supported is crucial.