What's the Protocol of Inviting a Recovering Alcoholic to an Event With Drinks?

By: Alia Hoyt
Should others help with your sobriety by keeping the alcohol at bay? Hero Images/Getty Images

A recent episode of "New Celebrity Apprentice" saw some friction arise between pop star Boy George and Mötley Crüe rocker Vince Neil as they teamed up to write a jingle. The drama peaked when Neil brought a glass of wine into the recording studio with George, a recovering alcoholic. "I just didn't want to be around that,” said George, later in the boardroom. Neil (who has had his own problems with alcohol) shot back, "It's just a couple of glasses of wine, and you can't put your sobriety on everybody else."

This exchange between the two aging music icons raises the question: What's the proper etiquette at social gatherings where liquor is likely to be present, and a recovering alcoholic is among the guests? Should you hold off on the booze, give the guest a "heads-up" or not do anything different?


Addiction specialist and Racing for Recovery founder Todd Crandell, who's been sober since 1993, backs up Neil's argument. "It's very kind and thoughtful when family members are cognizant of a loved one's alcoholism. However, it is the sole responsibility of the alcoholic to maintain their sobriety," he says in an email interview, adding, "Family and friends do not have to change their lifestyle to support my sobriety."

Recovering alcoholic and life coach Tara Massan, of the Twin Cities area in Minnesota takes the same hard line. "You cannot coddle an addict," she emails.  "You cannot enable them to not engage with society because they have an addiction problem. They must learn to cope and to overcome societal standards and norms.  It's tough, but it does get better with time."

For many families, however, a little extra sensitivity, effort and awareness is a small price to pay for long-sought recovery. Kelly (whose name has been changed to protect her privacy) is the adult daughter of an alcoholic, and has spent the better part of two decades trying to help her father address his addiction.

"As I have been told in [my family support group], it is up to them to decide when enough is enough," she says via email. "That in itself has been the toughest for me to bear. I am a fixer... I was completely unable to fix this. It is devastating to watch your loved ones kill themselves with alcohol."

Since Kelly's father made the decision to get sober in mid-2016, he has maintained the frame of mind that sobriety is his responsibility, and he attends five Alcoholics Anonymous meetings per week and sees a therapist. But Kelly says her father appreciates his family's support.

"Seeing what my family has been through, I gladly run defense for my father for the goal of sobriety," Kelly says, noting that she politely requested extended family members at a recent holiday gathering be discreet with adult beverages. "Because he is newly sober, I feel I need to help and be super supportive," she says. "At least until his training wheels are off .... which may take years in my opinion." She also adds that she only felt comfortable with the request because just family was involved and the gathering was on her father's property. 

Such a request is not unreasonable, says substance abuse counselor Dr. Nicki Nance, an assistant professor of psychology at Beacon College in Leesburg, Florida. "If making an event dry will garner a lot of negative comments from the people who attend, the family probably has bigger problems than a recovering member should have to handle," she explains.

Although hosts shouldn't feel obligated to address a guest's addiction, if the guest is a close family member or friend, they could approach the person prior to the event. Nance suggests asking something like, "We will be having alcohol at the party. Is there some other beverage you like that I can have on hand for you?" But whatever you do, she says, don't announce to your guests "things like, 'We're having soda because Johnny got sober.' It is demoralizing." 

Kelly notes that if she had a social function at her home and a lot of alcohol would be there, she would likely not invite her dad, out of respect for his new sobriety. "Maybe years down the road I will feel comfortable to do that, but, after what our family has been through, I would never chance it on a party at my house," she says. 

Owen (name also changed) is an ad executive from Sacramento, California. He's six months into his sobriety but says he wouldn't expect hosts to do anything different at a social event. "This isn't their problem to solve or monitor, it's mine," he says. He'll usually bring some Vitamin Water Zero to a party. "Alcohol is everywhere," he says. "So just accept that and deal with it. If you can't do that, you're screwed."