6 Tips to Help Ensure a Sober St. Patrick’s Day
By Matthew Goldenberg, D.O.
Board Certified Psychiatry and Addiction Psychiatry
Associate Medical Director, Promises Professionals Treatment Program
Many people in the U.S., Irish-American or otherwise, have only a vague notion of what the St. Patrick’s Day holiday represents, beyond the connection to alcohol. While the root of the holiday is paying homage to St. Patrick and the spread of Christianity in Ireland, in recent years drinking is the most common and accepted form of celebration.
For people with an alcohol problem, St. Patrick’s Day may be an excuse to binge drink green beer or Guinness, toss back shots of Irish Whiskey, or sip Irish Coffee spiked with Jameson’s and Irish Cream, among other drinks. For those in recovery from alcoholism, it can be a very triggering day. It is estimated that 13 million pints of Guinness are consumed worldwide on St. Patrick’s Day.
Is St. Patrick’s Day Just an Invitation to Drink?
How does a recovering alcoholic avoid the parties, bars, parades and other boozy festivities celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, which is ranked as one of the top four drinking holidays in the U.S. (along with Fourth of July, Christmas and New Year’s Eve)? This may be especially hard for someone of Irish descent with a strong desire to celebrate their roots. For example, alcohol-related triggers on St. Patrick’s Day can be as seemingly benign as sitting down to a traditional Irish dinner of corned beef and cabbage, which can prompt the urge to reach for a stout beer to go along with it.
Resisting “Drinking Holiday” Temptations
To help those in addiction recovery avoid these pitfalls, addiction specialists can work with clients to create a plan of alternative activities that keep triggers and temptations at a distance. Instead of partying, they can engage in healthier endeavors and make sure they are “unavailable” for invites to drink all day long or bar-crawl with old drinking buddies.
Here are some tips for maintaining sobriety this St. Patrick’s Day:
#1 Be healthy and humorous. Those who are in recovery should be aware of the healthy and sober ways to show others you are proud to be Irish. Approach sobriety on St. Patty’s Day with humor by wearing a green T-shirt that says, “Kiss Me, I’m Irish and Sober.” This slogan and similar messages such as “Green and Sober” have become increasingly popular in recent years.
#2 Support others in recovery with a sober celebration. Do something fun with others who are in recovery. Support each other in sobriety by planning a non-drinking get-together at home, making sure not to invite anyone who may be drinking, which would be uncomfortable and counter-productive. Many 12-step groups now schedule “sober parties” on drinking holidays (research those in your area) or consider hosting a sober party of your own.
#3 Go to a self-help support group meeting. Even if local sober support groups don’t schedule any “sober parties,” it is important to attend a meeting to bolster your commitment to sobriety — and support others in theirs. The holiday might be a good excuse to attend a different 12-step meeting than the usual one, to meet new people and expand your support network.
#4 Decide how to decline invitations in advance. It is important to plan ahead so that you do not get caught off guard and then fall into the trap of feeling shame and guilt about your recovery, or worse, make an impulsive decision that puts your recovery at risk. For example, make a list of reasons why you will be declining invitations to parties or other activities that pose challenges to your sobriety — in a way that won’t hurt feelings (yours or otherwise). You may want to practice declining so it becomes as natural as saying “yes” to a drink may have been in the past.
#5 Plan an easy exit from problematic situations. For recovering alcoholics who do end up at a party or parade where others are drinking, it is a good idea to mention that you have to be somewhere else later so you can make a quick exit if you start to feel tempted to drink. One option is to tell people that you are the designated driver for a friend that day and need to go pick them up and drive them home. This is also a good excuse for refusing drinks. You may be at a point where you are comfortable saying you are in recovery or you are an alcoholic — the goal is to create a safe space around you and to surround yourself with recovery.
#6 Start a new St. Patrick’s Day tradition. Many youth groups, colleges and community centers now offer sober St. Patrick’s Day celebrations as a way for students and others to avoid binge drinking. In cities like New York, “Sober St. Patrick’s Day” events welcome those who want to celebrate Irish culture without a beer in hand. Some organizations host annual alcohol-free events at ice skating rinks or other venues where Irish dancing or arts and crafts are featured. Research local options such as these and share the information with your peers in recovery. You may find an annual sober event that becomes a new tradition where you can enjoy a fun, safe and festive atmosphere.
Taking these steps will help ensure that you can enjoy and celebrate the holiday while maintaining your recovery. The benefit of exploring these healthy coping tools and alternative activities will be long-lasting, and potentially, lifesaving. By staying close to home, sober and off the roads where those who are drinking may also be driving, you will be set up to have many more happy and sober holidays to come.