Recovering from alcoholism can be hard enough without being surrounded by temptation. Is it ok to drink around a recovering alcoholic? That’s a topic of continued contention in the recovery community. The answer is everyone’s least favorite response: It depends. Addiction recovery is a complex and deeply personal journey so what one person may be able to tolerate might be too triggering for another. Here are a few things to consider if you’re not sure about drinking around a recovering alcoholic:

How to tell if you should drink around an alcoholic

  1. Consider your relationship with them

If drinking was a common shared activity between you and the recovering alcoholic, consuming alcohol in front of them could make them feel left out or nostalgic for the social aspects of drinking. Otherwise, the person in recovery might appreciate you acting “normal” around them.

This can be a bit more challenging if your relationship was much more intimate, say a family member or a romantic partner. They may have greater expectations for you to support them, which might be acting in solidarity–a.k.a. staying sober with them. A study found that couples who shared drinking habits were happier than those who didn’t match. 

  1. Their emotional state

Alcohol can be used to celebrate joyous occasions or as a crutch to ease the sting of a bad day. In either case, you’ll want to be sensitive to their past drinking habits including their typical mindset. Did they usually want to drink when happy? If so, skip celebrating good news with a toast. Was booze their go-to when receiving bad news? If so, then steer clear of drinking around them if they’re in that current headspace. 

  1. Check your surroundings

Memory can lead to a force of habit which can be a powerful driver of behavior. Similar to how a person’s mood can influence their desire to drink and be a sneaky trigger, so too can their environment. If you and the recovered alcoholic are in a physical setting where they used to drink or are around people they used to drink with, you’ll probably want to avoid drinking around them.

Additionally, if everyone around you is drinking, abstaining from doing so yourself can be subtle–but meaningful–support. It can feel awkward being the only person in a group or a room who’s sober and intends on staying that way. This might make them feel less like the odd man out by not partaking. 

  1. Respect their stage of recovery

Perhaps the most important factor in determining if it’s okay to drink around a recovering alcoholic is to consider where they are in their recovery journey. The earlier it is, the harder it will be. The cravings and memories may still be fresh in their mind, and having their liquid temptation nearby is likely to do more harm than good. If they’re further along in their journey–they’ve completed their addiction treatment program and have been sober for years–being around alcohol might not be so triggering. 

  1. Be straightforward and ask them

If you’re privy to the knowledge that the person is in recovery (which, naturally can be a very private affair) and they know that you know what they’re going through, the best and most surefire way to know if they would be comfortable with you drinking around them is simply to ask. Asking can make them feel supported and respected, and also demonstrate that you trust their ability to make decisions for themselves.

When you ask, do so in a private place to avoid making them feel self-conscious. Don’t assume that they’re open about their recovery. Otherwise, your attempt to be considerate could end up spilling beans they didn’t want to share. 

Don’t build up the question and make a big deal out of it by treating it as a sensitive (i.e. shameful) subject. Being able to speak to it casually will help the person in recovery feel less out-of-place than they may already feel. 

Still not sure what to do? Do this.

When in doubt whether it’s okay to drink around a recovering alcoholic, it’s best to err on the side of caution. It is never the wrong decision to refrain from consuming alcohol around your recovering loved one, but choosing to drink could be the wrong one. 

If your loved one is struggling to maintain their sobriety, a drug rehab program can help them develop the coping mechanisms and other skills needed to overcome alcohol use disorder.