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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
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Staying Sober: Dealing With Temptations

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Dec 27th 2009

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

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

What I've experienced and learned - Danny - Jul 5th 2013

For me, dealing with temptations is best handled when I 'replay the tape' of what REALLY would happen when I pick up that 1st drink. I have to play the tape to the VERY END (being honest with myself). To the average person, 1 or 2 and they are fine and go about their business. Me? My alcoholism will tell me I can 'have just one or two'. Then the insanity begins...I have those 1 or 2 and I could just stop (and begin to obsess about when the next drink will be) OR do what I most likely do is continue into drunkedness never intending to get drunk. Then the blackouts...getting nothing done...lost time...doing things I never intended to do like not knowing who I've talked to and what I said, left a message about, emailed or texted about. CRAZY, huh? That's the life of an alcoholic.

This is only one small part of my program I work daily (1st Step-the powerlessness over alcohol and the unmanageability of my life when I'm NOT living the 12 Steps daily.)

Honestly, (for me) I can NOT stay sober without AA, my Higher Power (God) and living the 12 Steps of the program. . .

Just my experience with dealing with temptation.

RECOVERY - NANCY - Sep 12th 2010

As a mom in recovery to an 8 year old and a nine month old . I face alot of challenges. My husband just came in to the program  and dealing with his new awakenings and emotions is tough on me. Sobriety is a challenge and it takes alot of awareness of my triggers on my part. I have had to surrender alot of my preconceived notions of what it means to be sober, how i thought once my husband got sober our problems would end. There is such a thing as  having emotional sobriety, I just feel it becomes much more of a challenge when i not only have to take care of myself but also of others. I always keep the awareness that a drink, or any other form of self destructive escape is not going to solve my problems, just add to them. Thats why for me meetings are essential because I easily forget and my alcoholism manifest itself in many diferent ways. I am practicing that first step, on a daily basis and trusting that my higher power will restore me to sanity although my life at times seems insane. I have learned not to act on my Impulses. 

love the suggestions - - Jan 5th 2010

Excellent! I love the suggestions and have used the 'I'm the designated driver' myself several times or the glass always full of mineral water. I am always delited when the barman even offer free refills of soda pretty much all night, solely on that premise. Well, I always leave a tip regardless so the barman is always on my side - another little trick I developed.

But the most difficult for me is when I am down and lonely - which mostly, for me is very much of the time at the moment since I have shrunk my circle of friend to avoid addicted people... but My thoughts automatically go to: "I could use a drink right about now"... and a cigarette. The is the most difficult. Sometimes I succomb to the cigarette. ughr.

Hope I figure it out soon.

thank you for this article.

Alcohol is everywhere - Beth - Dec 30th 2009

My husband has had a drinking problem in the past, but has been sober for 4 years now. It is very difficult to be completely removed from temptation when alcohol is literally everywhere. I still feel nauseous when television advertisements display a screen size shot (in HD, no less) of someone slowly pouring a beer and it looks so real you can almost smell and taste it. As far as going out socially, we didn't really do it for years because of this. He would always say no to friends. I don't think he trusted himself back then. Recently he seems more at ease with being around alcohol at social events. But I'm still a bit queasy. I like these suggestions. Maybe there are some for the non-alcohol addicted spouses? Obviously, I can't control his behavior, but it's still difficult to not feel anxious around the stuff.

Nondrinkers in a drinking world. - Mona Lisa - Dec 27th 2009

That's an excellent list of suggestions.  For people who are new to the experience of being a nondrinker in a drinking world, it can feel quite daunting to be in social situations where others are drinking and where drinks are offered.

It does get easier with time, though.  My first holiday season without a drink was tough.  I felt like all eyes were upon me, imagined that tongues were wagging and that people were gossiping about me because I wasn't drinking.  (Strangely enough, in my drinking days, I had no great concern that people would gossip about me when I drank too much and made a fool of myself!)

Over the many years I've been abstinent, however, I've learned that no one cares whether or not I drink alcohol.  I can walk into any party or gathering, no matter how large or small, order or pour myself a soft drink and socialize through the night without a single question being asked.  On the extremely rare occasions that someone wants me to drink an alcoholic beverage, I feel no need to explain myself or to make up white lies about allergies; I just say something like "I'd really prefer a coke, thanks".  Works like a charm.

Regarding interventions that are or may be helpful with addictions, Dr. Schwartz, I note that once again you are pushing psychotherapy, which is understandable since you're a psychotherapist.  I also found psychotherapy helpful when I was putting my own addiction behind me. Regarding AA, I wish to note that there are several other recovery support groups available in addition to AA, including SMART Recovery, Secular Organizations for Sobriety, LifeRing Recovery, Women for Sobriety and, for those who wish to moderate their drinking rather than abstain entirely, Moderation Management and the HAMS Harm Reduction Group.  One size does not fit all.

I'm being truthful - really - Dec 27th 2009

I'm being truthful "I'm taking medication." And that makes them leave me alone and they don't even ask me what kind.

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