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Summering Soberly: Vacations Without Alcohol

It’s that time of the year when people lock up their desks, pack up the cars, and go away on vacation. For people who are in recovery from alcohol or drugs, vacation time poses a whole new set of problems. Even if you’re not planning a vacation at this time of the year, we have the Fourth of July to get through plus all those summer barbecues, right up through Labor Day. How can you manage to stay sober throughout all those hot summer days and nights?

It’s difficult to face beach parties with tubs of ice-packed beer bottles and night spots where people sit around twirling the umbrellas in their drinks. If this is your first vacation during your recovery, you probably spent your last one sneaking drinks—spiking your morning juice with vodka or pouring liqueur into your coffee so that you were getting a buzz on without people even knowing it. Now you realize you have a whole lot to lose if you can’t stay sober on your vacation.  Don’t worry, we have some tips.

  1.  Choose a New Vacation Spot. Even if your old location was a family tradition, it’s time to pick a new place. Your old vacation spot will bring back too many memories of the places you used to go to have a drink or get high. The family should be happy with your new sobriety, so it’s time to start a new tradition. Before you check in, ask the hotel desk clerk to remove alcohol from your hotel mini-bar, if there is one. Just tell them you’re allergic.  
  2. Choose a Sober Vacation. There are websites to trawl where you can find sober vacation destinations. SoberTraverlers.org lists places in Baja Sur, the Florida Keys, the Black Mountain Center in California, camping in Bangor, Pennsylvania, the Aerie Inn in Vermont, the Casa Hamaca in Mexico’s Yucatan, and more. There’s even a sober Club Med cruise. Just be aware that AA and NA do not sponsor vacations—remember that they are anonymous. If you are taking a cruise aboard a ship advertising a sober group, be certain that you are booked as part of that group.
  3.  Get a List of 12-Step Meetings. Even if you’re on vacation, you should know that you have the backing of AA or NA behind you. Before you leave for your destination, visit the AA or NA website and locate meetings in your vacation area. Use Google Maps to find directions from your hotel to the meeting locations. Don’t wait until you’re on vacation and desperately fighting a craving to do this; print it out and pack it in your luggage.  Ask your substance abuse treatment counselor to help you do this.
  4. Talk to Your Family. Whether you’re vacation with your spouse, with grown children, or with long-time friends or relatives, they need to know about your commitment to remain sober on your vacation. If they can’t pledge to abstain around you, then you should reconsider whether to vacation with them. While it’s true that you can’t remain in a cocoon and you will have to learn to carry on when other people around you are drinking, at least you should be able to depend on your immediate support network.
  5. Collect Nonalcoholic Drink Recipes. If you feel sufficiently confident to vacation amidst drinkers without relapsing, at the very least you can have some flavorful cocktail recipes on hand. Visit Martha Stewart’s website for Nonalcoholic Drinks so that you can swirl some ice in your glass along with everyone else.  You can have a Pink Grapefruit Margarita with sanding sugar, pomegranate juice or grenadine, and grapefruit juice. As summer segues into fall, how about an Apple-Ginger Sparkler, with some apple cider, cinnamon sticks, and crystalized ginger? They are just two of the 11 recipes you’ll find there. If all else fails, go for tonic and a twist.

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