The summer months are filled with social activities such as barbeques, weddings and block parties. For many of these gatherings, alcohol is front and center.
According to research published in the Journals of Studies on Alcohol, “Annual seasonality in alcohol use, excluding drinking behavior in December, is highest in the summer.” The National Institute of Alcohol and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as consuming five or more drinks (for people assigned male at birth) or four or more drinks (for people assigned female at birth) in two hours or less. In fact, according to Bevspot, a cloud software company for bars and restaurants, an analysis of annual beverage sales data revealed a spike in beer sales during the months of July and August followed by a considerable drop throughout the fall season. Patterns of summer drinking, long-term binge drinking and heavy drinking can easily lead to full-blown addiction, so it’s important to know how much is too much.
For addicts, summer may pose unique risks. A large aspect of addiction is the denial that there is any sort of problem, and justification for using can go hand in hand with denial. Just like how someone may go to extreme lengths to obtain their drug of choice, they may also search high and low for any reason that doesn’t just explain their substance use but seemingly legitimizes it.
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For people already prone to addiction, environments that promote substance use, like summer gatherings, can actually be dangerous by fueling an existing problem. Participating in that type of environment can contribute to your self-justification and continued use. It doesn’t matter if your drug of choice isn’t alcohol. If everyone around you is intoxicated, they typically won’t care or notice what substance has you under the influence.
However, for someone who is in recovery from substance abuse, being surrounded by binge drinking certainly can feel like the old days of hanging out with fellow alcoholics or heavy drug users. Not only do we need more sober community events, but we also need our allies to step up and do more to welcome their friends in recovery to special events and holiday celebrations. Our culture is not friendly or accomodating to those who do not drink in general, but it is particularly challenging for those in early recovery.
Here are four steps that allies can take to support their friends and family who do not drink and/or are in recovery this summer:
• Ensure that you have a variety of nonalcoholic drinks at your event. If you’re not sure where to start, ask your loved one what they would prefer to drink and have their special drink on hand.
• Consider making your event alcohol and/or drug free.
• Be intentional about where you are inviting your loved one to spend time with you. Search for parties and events that aren’t happening at bars. Maybe a band is performing that night or the zoo is doing a themed event. A coffee shop may be offering summer drinks that don’t contain alcohol.
• If you are going to an event with them where there may be alcohol or drugs, offer to be a sober companion. When they’re not the only super person in the room, they feel less alone.
In whatever way you will celebrate the rest of the summer, we encourage you to consider your friends in recovery who may struggle at certain events with alcohol. Be there for them.
Amanda Dunlap is the clinical executive director of The Next Door. Dr. Michael Ferri is the medical director of The Next Door.