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5 Ideas for a Sober St. Patrick’s Day

Although some people view St. Patrick’s Day as a way to celebrate their Irish-American pride, many Americans regard it as an excuse to drink as much as they can. Twenty-five percent of adults in this country have had at least one heavy drinking day in the past year (four or more drinks for women and five or more drinks for men) and most of those occasions are on one of the four major drinking holidays: Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Fourth of July, and St. Patrick’s Day.

For the approximately 15 million American adults with alcohol use disorder, St. Patrick’s Day can be very triggering, with gallons of green beer and Irish Whiskey being poured at almost every celebration, and open drunkenness not only being accepted, but encouraged. This article will discuss the history of drinking on St. Patrick’s Day, tips for recovering alcoholics on how to avoid alcohol and still be festive, the pros of being sober, and how to prepare for an alcohol-free holiday.

The History of Drinking on St. Patrick’s Day

March 17th wasn’t always known as a day to get drunk. In fact, drinking on St. Patrick’s Day was widely frowned upon until the late 1970s, when Ireland repealed the law that had previously forced pubs to be closed on that day.

The holiday was established in 1631 as a Feast Day to honor St. Patrick, who brought Christianity to Ireland.

Because March 17th is during Lent, St. Patrick’s Day became a welcome opportunity for Christians to take a break from the restrictions and self-denial leading up to Easter. After so many weeks of abstinence, being given a day to indulge led many Christians to get carried away on St. Patrick’s Day—or at least that’s how the church saw it. In the 1720s, they assigned St. Patrick the symbol of the shamrock to remind the public of what the holiday is really meant to be about. Legend has it that St. Patrick used Ireland’s omnipresent three-leaf shamrock as a visual aid to explain the holy trinity. The color green didn’t become a symbol of the holiday until the Irish Rebellion in 1798, when the Irish wore green in opposition to the British redcoats. Before then, blue was the color used to represent the feast day.

Over time, partying hard started to overshadow eating a big meal and going to mass as the identifying characteristics of the St. Patrick Day holiday. In the United States, this was partly due to the large number of Irish immigrants who arrived in the country in the mid-1800s to escape the Great Famine and wanted to publicly celebrate their heritage in their new home, but it was also partly due to capitalism and advertising. In fact, a major marketing push by Budweiser in the 1980s is the main reason that Americans now associate the holiday with beer drinking.

5 Ideas for a Sober St. Patrick’s Day

1. Find events that also serve non alcoholic beer and beverages.

how to avoid alcohol

St. Patrick’s Day wasn’t traditionally about drinking. You can enjoy the holiday sober!

There is no shortage of parties on St. Patrick’s Day, and there is no shortage of alcohol at those parties. The trick is to search out gatherings that serve non alcoholic beer and other beverages to give you an option other than water (and to keep people from pestering you about why you aren’t drinking). If, however, you know that being in the presence of alcohol will be too much of a temptation, make sure any gathering you attend only serves non alcoholic beer and beverages. AA chapters and other 12-step groups will sometimes plan sober events on major drinking holidays, to guarantee people in recovery a place to celebrate without alcohol.

2. Throw a sober party with supportive friends.

If you can’t find a sober party in your area on St. Patrick’s Day, consider hosting your own sober gathering. Plan the event with your preferred addiction support group, and/or invite friends you met in treatment to attend. Be sure to invite the loved ones who have supported you through your recovery, too, but make it clear that no alcohol will be served or allowed at the party. Make it a pot luck, a cookout, or a picnic in the park. Make a playlist of traditional (and not so traditional) Irish music and have a singalong. Plan to play board games, volleyball, frisbee, or other activities that will be a lot more fun if you’re sober rather than drunk. Get creative and brainstorm with sober friends to come up with ways to keep the celebration so interesting that you won’t waste time thinking about alcohol.

3. Enjoy some traditional Irish food.

Bars tend to be much busier than restaurants on St. Patrick’s Day, but you still might want to stay home and try your hand at making some traditional Irish fare yourself. If you aren’t exactly a wiz in the kitchen, enlist some friends or family members who are good cooks, and talk them into showing you how to make some Irish dishes, or into making a meal for you to eat together. The potato is a staple of Irish food, an Irish stew or coddle always pleases, and corn beef, cabbage, and bacon are the ultimate in traditional Feast Day foods. Also, just because you won’t be drinking green beer doesn’t mean that you can’t get creative with your use of green food coloring, so get ready for some green-tongue selfies!

4. Create your own tradition.

You can celebrate St. Patrick’s Day any way you want to, and it doesn’t have to be a party. Start a new tradition for the holiday. Go out to listen to Irish music, go camping, visit a museum, watch a marathon of Irish and Irish-themed films at home, or go out to a movie theater, which is likely to be less crowded on the holiday. Big cities often have annual events that celebrate Irish culture without alcohol, putting the focus on Irish music, dancing, food, or arts and crafts. Attending a 12-step meeting is an especially positive tradition to have on such a triggering type of holiday—you can wear your “Green and Sober” trucker hat, and your “Kiss Me, I’m Irish and Sober” t-shirt.

5. Volunteer at a St. Patrick’s Day celebration for kids.

Many community centers and youth groups hold sober St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, and family-friendly sober festivals have become an annual event in many areas. Join in the fun, or help make the fun possible by volunteering. Giving back is always rewarding, especially when you are helping kids to grow up associating St. Patrick’s Day with happy, healthy, sober fun. You might also want to participate in a local St. Patrick’s Day parade. Watching a parade might encourage drinking, but helping to make a float for a local non-profit or business and then riding on or marching alongside the float in the parade encourages sobriety.

The Pros of Celebrating Sober

Once you’ve mastered how to avoid alcohol on St. Patrick’s Day, you can reap the many rewards of a sober celebration, such as:

Not embarrassing yourself– A major downside to a drinking holiday is how often it leads to drunken errors in judgement, ridiculous behavior, and even blackouts. Waking up humiliated is no fun, especially when you can’t quite remember what it is you’re embarrassed about, and you have to start calling friends to ask what you did last night.

No risk of DWI or other dangerous behavior– A sober celebration means being safe to drive home, and being aware enough to keep an eye out for less sober drivers on the roads. Being able to trust yourself to make good choices and stay safe is a wonderful St. Patrick’s Day gift, and will ensure that you live on to enjoy many more celebrations in the years to come.

No Hangover– In the past, March 18th was likely a day of pain and misery for you. This year, after celebrating with non alcoholic beer and sober fun, instead of spending the day wincing at bright lights and noise, you can wake up feeling and looking good, ready to go to work, take a walk, or tackle whatever challenges the day may bring.

Great memories– A sober St. Patrick’s Day is an opportunity to create great memories instead of heavy regrets. Not only will you get to happily remember and relive the fun you had in the days that follow the holiday for a change, you will also be able to be proud of yourself for resisting some major addiction triggers and staying strong in your recovery.

Being able to look back without regret is a great reason to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day sober!

How to Prepare for a Sober Holiday

Staying sober on St. Patrick’s Day or any other holiday requires some advance preparation, so don’t wait until the last minute or try to wing it. Be sure to only make plans with people who support your sobriety. You don’t want to invite the temptation to relapse. Be open with friends and family about the nerves you might feel about coping with St. Patrick’s Day, and how you might need their help and distraction to keep you on the right track.

Being open about your substance use disorder with friends and family can also help you to avoid some of the holiday peer pressure to drink. Anyone who truly cares about you will respect your wishes to stay alcohol free on March 17th. Even so, there will be some people who just don’t understand what it means to be addicted to alcohol, as well as people you don’t know well enough to want to confide in about your recovery, which means you are still likely to face some amount of peer pressure on or around the holiday. Have a plan in place to deal with this.

Tips for recovering alcoholics facing peer pressure:

  • Schedule alternate activities that will make sure you’re unavailable to accept invitations to drunken parties and bar-crawls on the holiday.
  • Come up with polite ways to refuse invitations in advance. It can be useful to have one or two of these all-purpose excuses or polite refusals memorized to use at any time, year-round. Practice them out loud at home until you feel just as comfortable saying no to a drink or a party as you used to feel saying yes.
  • Plan out polite excuses and exit strategies to get you out of triggering situations you might accidentally run into. If you find yourself surprised by the presence of alcohol at a gathering, or if you have to attend a work function that involves alcohol, say something about having to go somewhere soon, or about not feeling well, almost immediately after arriving. This way you can quickly and easily excuse yourself if you start feeling the urge to drink.
  • Review your addiction triggers so you can do your best to avoid them. Some of these triggers may include:
    • Being around people and places you associate with drinking
    • Letting yourself get too hungry or thirsty
    • Trying to take on too much too soon after addiction treatment
    • Bottling up negative emotions
    • Getting sleep-deprived
    • Attempting to overcome challenges alone

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