Are your friends undermining your recovery? Here are five reasons they might be doing that.
The decision to change our drinking usually comes after a lot of red flags and soul searching, and often after some very uncomfortable wake-up calls. So when we’ve gone through all of this worry and fear—maybe we’ve even taken quizzes, talked to a doctor, or attended meetings—we end to assume others in our lives will support our new resolve. And often they do! But sometimes, instead of encouraging us in our recovery, friends do the opposite.
If your friends push you to drink the way you used to, it can be painful and demoralizing, and can put your recovery at risk. We like to think we become immune to peer pressure as adults, but it can have a major impact at any age. So why do they do that? Why do your friends push you to drink? People are complicated, but here are a few of the common reasons this might be happening:
They feel judged for their own drinking
There is often a kind of group norm around how we drink. Maybe your friends are “beers while watching sports” people, or maybe they’re “margarita happy hour” drinkers or “three bottles of wine at book club” people. Or maybe they’re “we all drink until we’re blacked out” folks. Whatever the norm is in your group, it’s probably pretty established. Most of the people who hang out together feel like the way they all drink together is fine. It may even feel like part of the group identity. When you start drinking less (or not drinking at all), friends can feel like your message isn’t, “I need to drink less for my own well-being,” so much as, “The way the group still drinks is wrong.” When people feel judged, they very often feel defensive and either lash out or try to get you to go back to drinking like them. This is especially true when their own drinking really is problematic.
Strategy: Plan out what you’ll say if your friends offer you a drink or criticize your new pattern. Rehearse your responses out loud. Check out our blog post “9 Easy Ways to Say ‘No’ to Alcohol” for some suggestions on turning down alcohol. Resist telling anyone else how they should handle their own drinking. If you’re matter-of-fact about your responses and your decision, it will be harder for others to take it personally.
They don’t really understand why you quit drinking
While many, many people have alcohol use disorder or drink in unhealthy ways, there are also a whole lot of people out there who don’t. If your friends like to drink but are able to stop when they want, it can be hard for them to comprehend that drinking is truly a real problem for you. When this is the case, sometimes they will accuse you of making a big deal over nothing.
Strategy: Get really clear on the reasons why you’re cutting back on your drinking or quitting, and keep it at the forefront of your mind. Keeping your resolve strong is important when people you care about are questioning you. It can also be helpful to connect with other people who are in recovery. That way, even if your old friends don’t understand, you’ll have access to new friends who do.
They think you’re going to be a buzzkill
Often people who decrease their drinking or get sober worry that they’re never going to have fun again, so it can make sense that their friends have the same worries. And if your friends especially enjoy the lowered inhibitions of drinking, they could feel like your sobriety will place limits on them to be more responsible and less carefree.
Strategy: It might be a good idea to steer clear of the drinking-heavy gatherings and hang out with friends when the entertainment doesn’t come in a bottle. You can have so much fun, joy, and laughter sober while doing activities, playing sports, watching movies, playing video games, telling jokes, cooking together … the list is endless. If your group doesn’t usually have gatherings without alcohol, try planning one yourself.
They hate change
A lot of folks are uncomfortable with change—even change for the better. If your friends are like that, they may be resistant to you changing your drinking just because it’s something new and unexpected.
Strategy: Is there a member of your friend group that might be supportive of your decision to change your drinking? Consider talking to them one-on-one ahead of time to tell them how and why you’re changing your drinking and ask them to support you. Having an ally to back you up and support your healthy change can really help when you’re feeling pressured by other friends.
They think you’ll stop liking them if you stop drinking
Sometimes friends can feel like if you stop drinking, you’re going to stop liking them … so the way to preserve your friendship is to push you to resume drinking. The hard part is, the first half of this assumption may be true. Sometimes when we change the way we drink, it opens our eyes to negative behaviors and patterns that we had been taking for granted. Or we may realize that in order to protect our recovery, we need to distance ourselves from certain people who are triggering for us. But the solution is not to stay willfully blind and to put our well-being at risk.
Strategy: Remember that leaving is always an option. You can leave the conversation, the situation, the party, the venue. And if you reflect on the kind of friends they are and discover that they’re not good for you, you can also choose to leave the relationship. But that’s your call.