After almost a year in a global pandemic, 2021 ushered in some new beginnings for many people, including those of us who found sobriety recently or are hoping to quit drinking soon.
Some of us may have been sober-curious before the pandemic hit, and the timing made sense for us. Why not give sobriety a try while bars and restaurants were closed and social events were already limited? For others, the stress of certain pandemic-related changes over the past year—masking, school, and business closures, and the switch to remote learning—significantly contributed to a need to reevaluate our relationship with alcohol. So even if you haven’t quit drinking yet, now may be the right time to stop.
According to survey studies conducted during the pandemic by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA), some people increased their alcohol consumption (typically around 20-30% of respondents) while others decreased their drinking (typically around 30-40%).
Now that the pandemic is under control and the world is ‘opening back up,’ you may find yourself wondering how to make the transition from your pandemic life to being or getting sober in a post-pandemic world. What does that look like exactly? How will you manage to be sober in a more social environment? Which activities should you avoid?
It may seem a bit overwhelming, but we’ve got you covered! With support from several experts in the field of recovery, we’ve compiled some tips that we think will help you navigate getting sober in the new, post-pandemic world.
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1. Remember Your Why
“Now that restaurants and bars are reopening, it might be tempting for some people who reduced their alcohol use or stopped drinking altogether to return to their pre-pandemic drinking patterns,” says Dr. George Koob, Director of the NIAA. “For people who would rather continue being abstinent or drinking at lower levels, remind yourself why you cut down or stopped drinking alcohol in the first place.”
He continues, “For instance, did you cut down or quit because alcohol was negatively impacting your relationships, sleep, finances, physical, or mental health? If so, ask yourself whether it’s worth the risk of experiencing more of those consequences if you return to drinking.”
“Remember that even moderate levels of alcohol consumption (i.e., up to one drink per day for women or two drinks per day for men) could pose risks of harm to long-term health. It is important to weigh such risks when deciding whether to return to drinking.”
“Even when you have committed to making a change, you still may have mixed feelings at times. Making a written ‘change plan’ can help you to solidify your goals, why you want to reach them, and how you plan to do it.”
“Having a plan for how to say no to a drink in social settings if one is offered also can be helpful. If you cut down or stopped drinking during the pandemic but have not yet identified healthier ways to cope with stress, consider testing out healthier, non-alcohol-related options. These options might include exercise, meditation, spending time with friends and loved ones, and other strategies that are both healthy and sustainable.”
2. Plan to Protect Your Sobriety
“Proceed with caution. Go back to the basics of what kept you sober in the beginning,” says Michelle Smith, author and founder of Recovery is the New Black, a digital community developed for moms in recovery. As a certified addiction and mental health counselor, Michelle provides services to other moms who are seeking supportive alternatives to a boozy culture that tells us alcohol is an accessory to motherhood.
She continues, “If you fail to plan, plan to fail. Have an idea of what you’re putting yourself into. If you’re nervous about doing something or going somewhere, you should do some more research to see if it’s a good choice for you.”
“If you’re going into uncharted territory, let someone know what you’re doing. You’re branching out into your sobriety and the more accountability and support you have is so important. It’s always good to let someone else know. Have your sober friends on-call or be just a text away.”
“If you feel uneasy or uncertain then don’t do it and just say no. Don’t put yourself in a situation that is at all compromising. Do things with caution. Doing things with your sober support or recovery group that don’t normally have to do with alcohol. Hiking, for example.”
“What activities did you enjoy doing, or stopped doing because your alcohol consumption took over? Visiting the art museum, a library, a garden center, hiking, taking photos, farmers markets—find out what that fire is for you and go and do it. That’s what’s important when you’re getting sober.”
“What activities did you find enjoyment in? Take leadership in what you do. Just because you’re not drinking doesn’t mean you can’t have fun!”
3. Establish a Sober-Support System
“Have a buddy on a trip or during an outing so you can have a code word or a signal so you have an out if you need one. Have a sober companion or a buddy system for extra support,” says Katia Callan, LCSW-C, owner and psychotherapist of Insight Wellness of Maryland & Adjunct Professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore School of Social Work.
She continues, “Do some grounding, calming, and emotional regulation ahead of time. Do the internal work beforehand so if you are triggered, you can rely on that.”
“Doing a gratitude journal or being reflective at the end of an event or a trip may also help. Also, write up ways to say no, or set affirmations to have on hand. It takes time and practice to develop these skills.”
“Sharing your sobriety with others who are not sober can sometimes create a mirror. It brings up a lot of emotions and it can be a reflective situation that has others addressing something they may not have been able to address before. Communicate these things before an upcoming trip. That may ease some of the tensions on the trip.”
“Mocktails with a friend may be a fun alternative for some. But, for others, enjoying a mocktail too early in sobriety can be a recipe for disaster. It really depends on the individual and their level of comfort.”
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Easing back into ‘the new normal’ after the pandemic can be a challenge for anyone, particularly for someone who has recently gotten sober or is hoping to quit alcohol post-pandemic. Realizing what’s most important to us—our health (which includes our sobriety!), our relationships with family and friends, having gratitude for the simple things in life—are all things that will help us navigate the post-pandemic world and forge a better version of ourselves.