Strategies for Staying Sober this Summer

Summer is in full swing, and most days, it’s hot outside. At your next pool party or backyard barbeque, a friend is very likely to offer you an ice-cold beer or a frozen margarita. For many people, it’s no big deal. The beverage is both refreshing and welcomed. However, for a recovering alcoholic, it can lead to an unwanted slip in sobriety.

With the temperatures rising, an alcoholic drink can appear like an ideal way to quench your thirst. However, for an individual recovering from an alcohol addiction, consuming even a single beverage is not in his/her best interest. For those in recovery the temptation to drink at summer parties is often as great as during the holidays.

Recovery is a long and difficult road with temptations often lurking at every crossroad. While you can possibly imagine yourself enjoying a beer with your hot dog as you sit behind the dugout watching your favorite baseball team, just one drink can easily toss you off your road to recovery. With all the enticements that are bound to pop up, how will you avoid the summer slip?

The numbers say it’s worth it

Numerous studies have been conducted to determine the success rate for sobriety. According to a 2007 longitudinal research endeavor, outstanding achievements can occur if an individual is able to maintain his/her sobriety for three years or more:[1]

Length of Sobriety  Percentage who maintained sobriety

  • 1 – 12 months           36%
  • 1 – 3 years                 66%
  • 3 – 5 years                 84%
  • 5+ years                    86%

However, making it through those first three years is a daunting task. The Addiction Project, a collaboration between HBO, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, reviewed the susceptibility of people to succumb to relapse. It found that:

Recovery is not “fully stabilized” until four to five years of sustained recovery.

  • More than half will consume alcohol or other drugs in the year following discharge from treatment
  • The window of greatest vulnerability for relapse after treatment is the first 30 – 90 days following discharge.
  • Between 25 – 35 percent of people who complete addiction treatment will be readmitted to treatment within one year, and 50% will be readmitted within five years.
  • Recovery is not “fully stabilized” until four to five years of sustained recovery. “Fully stabilized” was defined as the point at which future risk of future lifetime relapse drops below 15%.[2]

These findings are consistent with others that indicate that the key to sobriety is long-term maintenance.[3], [4], [5] Slips during the summer, holidays, special occasions and celebrations must be avoided.

Relapse isn’t a sudden act

Just as recovery takes a long time, relapse is not an abrupt process. For an individual suffering from alcohol use disorder, thoughts about drinks often exist even when he/she is in recovery. According to an article in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, three distinct relapse phases exist:

  • Emotional: A person is not thinking about drinking, but he/she is bottling up emotions and living in a state of denial.
  • Mental: A war is waging inside a person’s head. The lines have been drawn with the “It’s only one drink” battalion on one side and “I might not be able to stop” troop on the other.
  • Physical: An individual actually takes that drink.[6]

Alone or in combination, these phases represent the struggles that can occur during the recovery process.

Ways to maintain summer sobriety

Experts have different opinions as to how to stay sober during the summer heat. No one would suggest locking yourself away in an air-conditioned room in June and not coming out until September. Recovery should not be viewed as a punishment. However, caution needs to be taken. The following ten steps can help you maintain your sobriety:

  1. Distract yourself: Doing other things that keep you active will keep alcohol from your thoughts. The summer is a great time to get in shape, volunteer to help others or master that almost-forgotten talent.
  2. Plan ahead: If you are going to be around other people who are drinking, having an exit strategy can eliminate problems associated with the lure of alcohol.
  3. Don’t be afraid to say “no”: If you are not in a good place mentally, staying home is an acceptable option.
  4. Develop a support system: Having a friend or family member who you can talk to about what you are experiencing can often stop you from picking up that drink.
  5. Keep the celebrations real, but use fake alcohol: If you are throwing a party, mocktails (non-alcoholic versions of cocktails) are viable alternatives.  For friends just looking for something cold to drink, a non-alcoholic strawberry daiquiri is quite satisfying.
  6. Always be honest with yourself: One drink counts. Rationalizing that “it’s only one beer” or “it’s only to toast the opening celebration for the Olympics” is not facing up to the seriousness of the potential for relapse.
  7. Make sobriety a top priority: Enjoying time with family and friends is great. To continue to be the best person that you can be for your loved ones and yourself, maintaining your sobriety has to be your main concern.
  8. Avoid old friends with bad habits: People who either encourage drinking or place you in circumstances that are detrimental to your recovery should not be a part of your network.
  9. Ask for help: Going to meetings, talking to professional counselors or just speaking with a friend about any difficulties you are having with maintaining your sobriety should not be viewed as signs of failure. Seeking assistance before you take that first drink is better than seeking treatment afterwards.
  10. Improve your self-care: Taking care of yourself both physically and mentally will put you in the best position to maintain your recovery. One mechanism for improvement is exercise. Along with being an alternative to drinking, aerobic exercise has been shown to reduce depression, improve coping skills and minimize the urge to drink.[7]

Recognize your warning signs

While the summer heat can influence a person’s decision about drinking, an individual needs to recognize what may trigger his/her own destructive drinking habits. Triggers vary amongst people suffering from alcohol use disorder. For some, going back to the neighborhood bar where you had your last drink might be asking for trouble.

According to a seminar sponsored by the NIDA, National Institutes of Health and the Department of Health and Human Services, some of the factors that can impact an individual’s sobriety include:

  • Interpersonal  –  Relationships and interactions with family, friends, etc.
  • Intrapersonal  – An individual’s thoughts, feelings, emotions, etc.
  • Dismissal of the relapse warning signs
  • Inability to manage high risk/high stress situations
  • Lack of adherence to treatment[8]

Savor the summer

Summer is a great time to relax, enjoy the sunshine and reconnect with family and friends. For an individual with alcohol use disorder, this can also be a stressful period. Saying goodbye to alcohol does not have to mean saying goodbye to fun. Learning to manage your sobriety while getting the most out of life is difficult but not impossible.

The specialists at Seaside Palm Beach, a comprehensive, state-of-the-art rehabilitation facility, are experts at helping individuals get the most of life while living with addiction. For more than twenty years, we have developed treatment programs for people who want take control of their health and emotional well-being. Our programs are designed to treat the person’s mind, spirit and body. Whether you are looking to start your journey or need help staying on the road to sobriety, call us at (888) 997-3274.