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A Sober St. Patrick's Day Takes More Than Luck

Author: Michael Frost, MD, FACP, FASAM

Five tips to help have a safe St. Patrick's Day celebration.


For many, events such as St. Patrick’s Day are a fun way to celebrate a popularized version of Irish culture. Esquire magazine lists St. Patrick’s Day as the fourth biggest drinking day in the U.S., and fueled by alcohol, festivities often leave people feeling worse for wear the following day. There is also a more serious side to these types of celebrations. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, it is one of the deadliest days of the year for drunk driving with 1 in 3 drivers involved in fatal crashes having a blood alcohol level above the legal limit. For people with substance use disorders (SUD), St. Patrick’s Day can be a day of challenges and pitfalls the result of which can be relapse, overdose or injury. Knowing it takes more than simply the “luck of the Irish” to maintain recovery, here are some tips to help have a safe celebration:


1) Don’t Just Hope. Plan Ahead:

When it comes to events such as St. Patrick’s Day, going to a party and just “hoping” to stay clean and sober is usually not an effective plan. Maintaining long term recovery requires an individual to be vigilant and insightful about his or her illness and the potential stressors or triggers that they may encounter day to day. Developing a plan in advance of an event for where to go, who to go with, and how to remain safe and sober is much more likely to be successful than waiting until already in a negative situation.

2) You can still celebrate without drinking:

Believe it or not it is entirely possible to have a great time at a celebration that does not involve alcohol and for someone in recovery, the most ideal plan is to celebrate where alcohol is not present. Sober St. Patrick’s Day parties that are alcohol free are becoming a more common option and there is of course, always the choice to not celebrate at all. Pre-planning an alternate activity with family or friends is a fun way to stay busy without worry.

3) Watch for the People, Places, Things that can lead to relapse:

If participating in St. Patrick’s Day activities is something that cannot be avoided, then it is important to consider the potential presence of what are called cue induced triggers. These are the people, places and things that the addicted brain associates with drug or alcohol use. Even though a person may decide that they don’t want to drink or use drugs, being in a bar, around people that are drinking can activate the brain to expect and want the “reward” sensation received from a drink or drug. The longer the addicted brain is around these triggers, the stronger the urge to use may become. Anticipating these stresses in advance and avoiding them where possible is the best way to ensure that an individual’s recovery is not jeopardized.

4) Have supports in place:

An important piece of a sober celebration is to have help on your side. Before the event arrives, make sure the people who support an individual’s recovery are in on the plan. Setting ground rules for behavior at the party, staying close by to offer support or being available to help the person disengage from the party if it becomes uncomfortable can all the be role of a supportive person. Having a supportive companion present can also help with socialization and takes away potential awkwardness of being the only person not drinking.

5) Avoid a cascade of poor decisions:

Relapses don’t usually aren’t built off a single poor decision but rather are a host of smaller decisions or ignored signs that build upon each other. Many stories of relapse begin with “I figured one wouldn’t hurt…” or “I knew I shouldn’t go but…” Even the person most experienced with long term recovery can be swayed by being around a large group of drinkers. A single drink for a person in recovery can lead to disaster. The addicted brain lacks the ability to moderate and soon one drink becomes many. Alcohol impairs cognition and judgement and what starts with a drink can end with blackout, DUI, injury or other drug use. The only sure way to prevent this is to be cognizant of surrounding and to thoroughly consider every choice before making it.

It’s worth making the point again that there is nothing wrong with skipping the party altogether however if it can’t be avoided, these tips can form the basis of a safe and sober St. Patrick’s Day celebration.