Sober Summer: Preventing Summer Relapse | Futures of Palm Beach
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Sober Summer: Preventing Summer Relapse

sober summer The partying atmosphere that comes along with summer can present challenges to a recovering person. After the intensive phase at an inpatient or outpatient rehab center ends, a recovering person enters aftercare, which is largely a self-directed process. An effective aftercare plan is an essential part of recovery. The summer can be a great time to draw on the support sober network that the recovering person has hopefully been building, and to prevent relapse.

Guarding Against Summer Relapse

relapse statistics

According to HBO’s documentary coverage of Addiction, more than 50 percent of recovering persons will experience an alcohol or other drug relapse in the year following treatment. The following are some fast facts on relapse:

  • A recovering person is most vulnerable to relapse in the first 30-90 days after a structured treatment program ends.
  • About 25-35 percent of individuals who finish rehab treatment will be readmitted to a rehab center within one year and 50 percent will be readmitted within five years.
  • Recovery is not usually stabilized until 4-5 five years of ongoing abstinence. Stabilization refers to a relapse rate lower than 15 percent.
  • A relapse after a sustained period of recovery can be lethal and even fatal. Relapses after sustained abstinence can result in overdose, AIDS, suicide, cancer, liver disease, and cardiovascular disease.

Source: HBO

An aftercare program should be designed to help in situations, such as encountering people drinking or doing drugs at a party or other summer gathering. Aftercare is composed of both structured elements, such as extended participation in an outpatient program or residence in a sober living home, and self-directed efforts. In terms of things that a recovering person can do for herself, the following are some recommended activities:

  • Join group recovery meetings like NA.
  •  Continue group psychotherapy
  • Get an NA or other group recovery sponsor.
  • Continue drug counseling and drug testing.
  • Continue individual psychotherapy.
  • Read literature about recovery.[1]

Participating in a 12-step program or any other type of drug recovery group not only provides membership in a group, but also presents the opportunity to get a sober sponsor. The summer may present drug trigger cues, such as being exposed to drugs or seeing people from one’s drug-using past. Those recovering persons with a sober sponsor could call on the sponsor for support in such an event. Sponsorship is one of the cornerstones of both Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). The spirit of sponsorship is open and nonjudgmental. According to AA literature, a sponsor will be supportive but follows established guidance on how to sponsor others, including:

  • A sponsor will not encourage the sponsored person to wallow in any misery about her recovery.
  • A sponsor will help to support the sponsored person to grow as a person and become more productive.
  • A sponsor will not pretend that he is a savior; a sponsor cannot take away a sponsored person’s pain, but he can help to make that person more independent, self-loving, and self-empowered.
  • A sponsor does not guarantee to stand by and watch a person destroy himself but agrees to help whenever the sponsored person sincerely requests such assistance.[2]

In addition to a sponsor, a recovering person who experiences a drug use trigger can call on any sober, supportive person in their network, including loved ones, drug counselors, psychotherapists, and members of the recovery group. Calling on others for support is often a reactive position, but there are a host of preventative measures a recovering person can take to lessen the likelihood of exposure to drug use triggers over the summer. Preventative strategies include letting people know about the recovery well in advance of any party or gathering and having a zero-tolerance policy for situations that threaten recovery. This doesn’t mean that relationships need to be broken off permanently, but that the recovering person respects himself and his recovery enough to step away from a potentially threatening situation. It is important for recovering persons to make their recovery a priority, and to understand that any person who does not make your recovery a priority is not acting in your best interest. Therapy in drug rehab teaches recovering person’s to build self-esteem. Having high self-esteem means that one will not allow others to discredit or disregard his recovery process, not at a party or anywhere else.

Tips to Stay Sober at Parties

tips to stay sober at parties

The Recovery Book provides quality advice to recovering persons on how to stay sober during parties.[3] There are seven tips that can help anyone in recovery in just about any situation. These tips include: make a plan, serve yourself, bring a friend, invoke any thought examination strategies learned in psychotherapy, manage any resentment that surfaces, be ready to leave as necessary, and take inventory the next day. In advance of attending the summer gathering, it is important for a recovering person to make a promise to herself that she will not let the event break her hard-won abstinence. According to The Recovery Book, one strategy is to repeatedly rehearse a response to an invitation to drink or use drugs.[4] A recovering person can also determine in advance whom she would call in the event that she needs to speak to a supportive person. Planning ahead can help to prevent a summer relapse.
It is important to note that those who are recovering from substance abuse that did not include alcohol are still advised to abstain from alcohol consumption. Any intoxication qualifies as a relapse. The Recovery Book advises recovering individuals to bring their own non-alcoholic beverage to a party so as to avoid having to go near the bar or drink table. Also, people are less likely to offer a drink if they see the recovering person already has a beverage. For this same reason, it is recommended to keep a non-alcoholic drink in one’s hand throughout the party. To avoid any drink contamination after putting down a beverage to dance or use the bathroom, it is always best to get a fresh drink.[5] For this reason, it is advisable to bring more than one beverage to a party in case the hosts run out of non-alcoholic beverages.

Most parties will allow a plus-one. One idea is to invite someone from one’s sober support network. Another idea is to find a trusted sober person at the party, such as a designated driver, and ask that person to help out in a bodyguard sort of way. There are many people out there who are more than pleased to help out in this way, and they just need to be asked. Another option is to work out a plan with someone outside of the party who you will call or text at designated times to check in. Being accountable to someone can help to avoid a summer relapse.[6]Therapy approaches, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) are used in many drug treatment programs specifically because they strategize around summer relapse scenarios. During CBT, DBT, or other psycho-behavioral therapy sessions, therapists work with clients to develop skills and tools to utilize when in such a scenario. A good practice is to call on any such skills, including being mindful of one’s impulse to drink or do drugs as a way of slowing down any automatic reaction to alcohol or other drugs in the environment.
A recovering person will invariably come across people who politely ask, “Do you mind if I have a drink?” Although social etiquette directs a person to say he does not mind if others drink, the recovering person may feel resentful that he cannot party with alcohol or other drugs. Such resentment can be a red flag that a relapse trigger is building. At this point, one can make a call or text a sober sponsor, sober buddy, or other trusted person. Another option is to leave the party and head to a live recovery meeting or an online one. For recovering persons who own a smartphone, it is good practice to download a recovery app that can give you information on a local meeting in a last-minute case like this.[7] Part of the decision to attend a party or gathering should include a strategy to leave in the event that alcohol or other drug use cues are triggered. It is important to hold onto your car keys or have sufficient taxi fare.[8] Another option is to make a plan in advance to have someone on call who could pick you up immediately. In the face of temptation, the best recommendation is to leave the party right away. If someone is on the way to pick you up, leave right away and meet that person in a safe place away from the party.

Recovery Reading List

recovery reading listRecovery-themed books can be true assets to the recovery process. The following are some easy to find reads with good reviews:

  • The Recovery Book by Al J. Mooney, MD
  • Now That You’re Sober by Earnie Larsen & Carol Larsen Hegarty
  • 12 Smart Things to Do When the Booze and Drugs Are Gone by Allen Berger, PhD
  • First Year Sobriety by Guy Kettelhack
  • Stage II Recovery: Life Beyond Addiction by Earnie Larsen
  • Being Sober: A Step-by-Step Guide to Getting To, Getting Through, and Living in Recovery by Harry Haroutunian

Source: Amazon>>

The next day is a good time to take inventory of what happened at the social gathering. If there are any feelings of self-pity or regret over not being able to party with drugs and alcohol then it is advisable to immediately plug back into your recovery program. Be honest about these feelings and take action, like reach out to a sponsor, go to an extra meeting, and/or review some recovery literature.[9] This may be a vulnerable time, but you can build your strength and get through it sober.

Sober Vacation

For many, vacation is like an extended party. For a recovering person, however, whatever the destination, all vacations may seem like a trip to temptation island. Recovery requires a balance between enjoying life and avoiding a summer relapse. A vacation definitely satisfies the need to enjoy life and take a break from the daily stress of the familiar home, work, or school environment, but it should never come at the expense of recovery.

As Psychology Today discusses, it is always possible to have a sober vacation with the right planning and good strategies in place once on vacation.[10] Three strategies to maintain abstinence while on vacation are: be smart about the destination, take a support network along, and plan sober activities in advance. These strategies are essentially strategic prevention and reaction tools that are easy to take on vacation.

abstinence on vacation

As a rule of thumb, to minimize exposure to alcohol or other drug cues, it is best not to go on a cruise, or a spring break destination, Germany in October, or a wine tour of Napa Valley. Fortunately, today the planning need not be all on the recovering person’s shoulders. There are now sober tours throughout the tourism industry, including sober Club Med. In the alternative, a recovering person could get to a destination and find a local sober concierge to help organize sober recreational activities.[11]

Most Americans do not go on holiday alone. For a recovering person, it is most advisable to travel with a sober, supportive individual. But that one person may not be enough, and it can feel destabilizing to be disconnected from one’s network of supportive individuals. While on vacation, it is possible to stay in contact with one’s network over the Internet (such as through Skype), via smartphones (over Skype, FaceTime, and other apps), and through recovery apps that can link recovering persons to online group recovery meetings.[12] If a recovering person has access to the Internet or a phone then her support network is never too far away.

After treatment, it is important for recovering persons to have structure in their lives, even when on vacation. Although every detail need not be planned out, it is advisable to have an itinerary of activities in place to lend daily structure to the trip.[13] Some activities inherently exclude alcohol or other drug consumption, such as diving (for those who are certified), hiking or trekking with a tour, or taking a city or museum tour.[14] Incorporating such activities into one’s travel plans in advance of arrival is not only a good summer relapse prevention strategy but can also make the vacation more enjoyable because there is less time needed for planning and more time for enjoyment.

How Loved Ones Can Help

The recovering person is the captain of the recovery process but should never be the only person on board. Loved ones and associates, such as work colleagues or fellow students, are important stakeholders and players in the recovery process. As addiction is a family disease, it should come as no surprise that recovery needs to be a family-wide effort. Family members and loved ones, however, often need guidance on how best to help the recovering person.

Families that have taken the time to learn about the substance abuse, either on their own or through working with a drug rehab center or therapist, are in a good position to offer sound support to the recovering person to prevent a summer relapse. There are numerous strategies available to support abstinence, such as:

  • Learn specifics about the recovering person’s aftercare program and encourage him to continue to engage each service.
  • Encourage abstinence from alcohol and other drugs, especially during family summer events like BBQs, birthday parties, and 4th of July shindigs.
  • Help the recovering person to locate and engage sober non-party summer activities, such as taking yoga classes, events for raw food enthusiasts, and wellness fairs. Alcohol will likely not be present at any of these activities because it conflicts with the hosting group’s core philosophy.
  • Actively listen to the recovering person’s needs in the face of any family, social, work, or school-related stress and work on ways to resolve problems in a healthy manner.
  • Attend Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, or Co-Dependents Anonymous group meetings.[15]

A strong, supportive family network is one of the qualities that help recovering individuals to avoid a summer relapse. As families are a common source of stress, family efforts to reduce such stress, and understand that it can be a drug use trigger, are necessary. It may not be an obvious way to help stay sober over the summer, but when a recovering person has a strong bond of trust with family, and vice versa, there is greater disincentive to avoid alcohol or other drugs at social gatherings. Everyone is entitled to enjoy summer, but it’s important to keep in mind that not everyone has to drink or do drugs to find enjoyment. For example, musician Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead developed a great love for scuba diving. In an interview published in People Magazine, Garcia shared that “diving takes up a lot of the space that drugs used to.”[16] Garcia’s personal experience is a testament to how recovering persons can find enjoyable sober summer activities.


[1] Girtz, B. (June 5, 2013). “What is Aftercare?” Addiction Blog. Accessed June 24, 2015. [2]What Does a Sponsor Do?” (N.A.). 12 Steps Recovery. Accessed June 24, 2015. [3] Mooney, A. et al. (Dec. 13, 2013). “Going to a Party? 7 Tips for Staying Sober.” The Recovery Book. Accessed June 24, 2015. [4] Ibid. [5] Ibid. [6] Ibid. [7] Ibid. [8] Ibid. [9] Ibid. [10] Sack, D. (May 5, 2015). “5 Ways to Stay Sober While Traveling.” Psychology Today. Accessed June 24, 2015. [11] Ibid. [12] Ibid. [13] Ibid. [14] Ibid. [15]Nine Strategies for Families Helping a Loved One in Recovery.” (n.d.). Hazelden Publishing. Accessed June 24, 2015. [16] Dougherty, S. (Aug. 21, 1995). “What a Long Strange Trip.” People Magazine. Accessed June 24, 2015.