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Happy Hour Without the Booze

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Happy Hour
Some people believe that once they successfully complete substance abuse treatment, the journey to continued sobriety will be smooth sailing. While the completion of a treatment program is a major accomplishment on the road to recovery, treatment is just the first step toward living a sober life.

The next steps include following through with aftercare services, such as therapy or support groups, and planning productive ways to deal with the relapse triggers that are bound to arise in your environment. These important steps will solidify your plan for living a sober life and help you to derive more happiness and pleasure in life without alcohol. For those who are recovering from alcohol addiction and have become a part of the professional world again, happy hour is one of those potential triggers that must be anticipated.

Can I Ever Go to Happy Hour Again?

No happy hour is worth the weeks, months, or years that you have spent working toward your sobriety. It is very likely that at some point in your recovery you will be faced with the invitation to join peers, co-workers, or friends for a drink at happy hour. In the past, you might have easily responded with an enthusiastic “yes!” However, in recovery, an invitation to happy hour can be a catalyst for great anxiety and tension. Making the decision to join in on happy hour festivities should be given full weight and consideration because approaching the decision impulsively or on a whim, as opposed to facing the issue proactively, could jeopardize your sobriety.

To go or not to go to happy hour can be a productive topic of conversation to initiate with the professionals who are involved in your recovery, such as your therapist, your mentor, and your support group. These people will provide you with a safe environment to explore this issue in detail, while also giving you insights you may not have previously had.

Some issues to discuss with your support system include:

  • How far along you are in recovery. If you have just finished a treatment program or are within the first 6 months of your recovery, then attending happy hour is likely inadvisable, even if you feel confident that you will not drink.
  • How frequently you think about drinking. If you find yourself still craving alcohol or thinking about it frequently, then putting yourself in a situation that could easily trigger a relapse is not best for you and your sustained recovery.
  • How many new social outlets you have found and are consistently engaged in. If you are still struggling to find new hobbies or avenues for socializing, then exposing yourself to an environment that relates to drinking could jeopardize your progress.
  • How fulfilling you find your sobriety to be at this time. If you are dealing with anxiety, depression, or a general sense of discontentment in your recovery, then happy hour is probably not where you need to be right now.

It may also be helpful to lay out the pros and the cons of joining your co-workers, peers, or friends at a happy hour. Some of the more obvious pros of attending a happy hour event include:

  • Getting to know your co-workers or peers on a more personal level.
  • Leaving the house and being sociable.
  • Avoiding a conversation about your sobriety if that is a topic you would rather keep confidential.
  • Maintaining a cordial relationship with your co-workers.

However, many people who have never struggled with an addiction to alcohol do not understand why a happy hour would be anything other than harmless fun, which brings us to the cons of joining your peers for a happy hour. Some of these negative aspects could include:

  • Feeling triggered into relapse by the environment, including the smell and sight of alcohol.
  • Feeling isolated if you are the only person not drinking alcohol.
  • Feeling uncomfortable because your abstinence could draw attention to your past problems with alcohol and current state of sobriety.

Although the list of cons may be shorter, the gravity of the cons is much heavier than the pros of attending a happy hour. Ultimately, the decision is a deeply personal one and should not be taken lightly. Some people in recovery can attend happy hour and not feel triggered, but others may not ever be able to attend a happy hour without an overwhelming urge to drink.

Knowing yourself, being patient with your individual progress, and respecting your own boundaries will help you to maintain the sobriety that you have worked so hard to achieve up to this point. No happy hour is worth the weeks, months, or years that you have spent working toward your sobriety.

If you or your loved one is struggling with an alcohol addiction, call our helpline at to learn about your treatment options.

Plan Your Happy Hour

Planning Happy Hour to avoid RelapseIf you have given happy hour your full consideration and you and your therapist, mentor, and support group believe that you are ready, then the next step is planning your approach to attending a happy hour event. You can consider this part of the process a sobriety safety plan, or a way to ensure that you are prepared to protect your sobriety. Some things that would be helpful to incorporate into your safety plan include:

  • Having a buddy system in place. Ask one of your friends or family members, who are part of your recovery support team, to attend the happy hour with you. Ideally, this person will abstain from drinking as well, which will give you the emotional support you need and help you remain committed to your sobriety goals.
  • Discussing how long you intend to remain at the happy hour and stick to that time limit. It might be a good idea to attend happy hour for just one hour the first time, to see how you feel about being in that environment. Remember, just because you set a time does not mean you have to stay if you begin to feel triggered. Leave whenever you feel like you may have a drink.
  • Deciding what you will drink for the evening. Although there are several non-alcoholic beer and wine options available, and most bars offer a virgin version of popular cocktails, these options may trigger you. Sticking to soda or water may be the wiser choice.
  • Deciding on a place in the bar where you feel comfortable sitting. It is probably best if you avoid sitting at the bar and instead choose a table that is a good distance away from it. If there are pool tables or darts, choose a spot near them since that can also be a way to keep yourself distracted from drinking and engaged in another activity.
  • Discussing your exit strategy with your buddy and make them your ally in the strategy. Some reasons for leaving that you might use include previous plans to see a movie or dinner reservations, or maybe you have a sitter for only an hour. Many reasons will work, but preparation is key.

Discussing these scenarios and coming up with a well-thought-out plan will aid you in maintaining your sobriety since it gives you the structure and support you need to actively prevent a relapse.

Happy Hour Alternatives

Alternatives to Happy Hour such as KaraokeWhile happy hour may be one of the first things that people suggest in order to socialize and build stronger bonds, it is not the only option for accomplishing those goals. If you have decided to respectfully decline a happy hour invitation but want to mitigate the risk of coming across as reclusive or anti-social, then offer some alternatives.

Some activities that you can suggest to your co-workers or peers include:

  • Potluck game night. Ask everyone to bring their favorite dish and game and join you for an evening of sober fun.
  • Dinner at a local favorite restaurant that you know most people haven’t been to. This provides the option for people to order drinks but for you to be in a setting that is not driven by drinking. It also highlights your desire to try new things.
  • Karaoke. Find a local spot that provides karaoke but is not a bar setting. Some karaoke places actually provide separate rooms for your party; this would be a better option than karaoke at a bar.
  • Laser tag or paintball. Invite your co-workers to suit up and shoot it out!
  • Go-karts. Many larger towns have go-kart tracks that cater to an adult audience. Find one and invite everyone along for the ride.
  • Painting class. Many studios now provide a painting class with drinks. This is a way for your co-workers to have drinks while you remain focused on painting your Rembrandt.
  • Group exercise class. Invite everyone to join you in taking a group class doing yoga, tai chi, karate, meditation, Zumba, or anything else that gets you moving.
  • Dinner and a movie. Invite the crew to vote on a restaurant and a movie and plan an evening together.
  • Sporting event. Invite your team to join you in supporting your state’s team. Again this environment caters to both those who want to drink and those who wish to remain sober.
  • Outdoor activities. Come up with an activity that most people in your area enjoy and invite the team along for a weekend outdoor adventure. The possibilities are limitless but can include hiking, cycling, canoeing, camping, and skiing.
  • Amusement park. If you live near a theme park or an amusement park, see if they offer group discounts and ask the team to join you in being a big kid for the day.

This is not meant to be a comprehensive list, but the suggestions should get your creative wheels turning. Try to remain open to all the possibilities and don’t limit yourself to things that you have done before. Part of being sober is discovering new activities, including what life is like without the alcohol.

Remember that going to happy hour is an important personal decision that does not need to be made or embarked upon alone. By checking in with your personal progress and remaining true to what you need along the way, you open yourself up to more possibilities without risking your hard-earned sobriety. And this may well result in you and your support team deciding that happy hour is simply off the table for you as a rule—a choice many in recovery do make.

Either way, try to keep a childlike enthusiasm and sense of discovery about you, and you will continue to find the joy in living a sober life. Who knows? This enthusiasm may even rub off on your peers!

You do not have to go through alcohol abuse and addiction alone. Call to speak with a treatment placement specialist today to get started on your road to recovery.

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Scot Thomas
Medical Reviewer
Dr. Thomas received his medical degree from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine. During his medical studies, Dr. Thomas saw firsthand the multitude of lives impacted by struggles with substance abuse and addiction, motivating him to seek a clinical psychiatry preceptorship at the San Diego VA Hospital’s Inpatient Alcohol and Drug Treatment Program. In his post-graduate clinical work, Dr. Thomas later applied the tenets he learned to help guide his therapeutic approach with many patients in need of substance treatment. In his current capacity as Senior Medical Editor for American Addiction Centers, Dr. Thomas, works to provide accurate, authoritative information to those seeking help for substance abuse and behavioral health issues.
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