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Dealing with Substance Use Bullies

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A major function of rehab is to help you to identify the environmental triggers that can lead you to relapse: all those toxic people, places, events, and situations that can create stress and push you back into getting high or drinking.

Armed with that knowledge, you'll try to do all the right things and avoid those triggers. You'll remain abstinent, steer clear of old pals and old haunts, attend your AA or NA group meetings regularly, spend quality time with your sponsor, and keep your appointments with your counselor.


You've also been careful to avoid social situations where there is a good chance that alcohol or you're going through some rough times, or a well-meaning friend who wants you to join in and "have a good time." Then there are the Booze Bullies, people who just won't give up until drugs will be present. But no matter how careful you are, you can suddenly find yourself in a situation that can get you into deep trouble because there are plenty of people out there that just don't get it.

Family members who offer you "just one glass of wine" because you're sharing a drink with them.

How do you deal with these triggering situations during recovery?

Have a Plan for Sobriety

If your current plan consists of saying "no thanks," you're going to find that it's usually not that easy. Researchers agree that it is critical that you have a well-thought-out plan, a suitable strategy that you can use when others are pressuring you or you are tempted to drink or use on your own.

Turning to a stranger and saying "I'm an alcoholic" or "I have a drug problem" isn't always ideal because you might not want to talk about your struggles or you might not be sure how they will react to that. Many former addicts want to hide the reason that they are turning down drinks or drug offers. In a small sample study released by North Carolina University, researchers found that hiding the real reason for not drinking was a common theme, and people used excuses such as "wanting to lose weight" or having "concerns about driving home." Many people will lie or cover up the real reason they aren’t partaking.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) offers guidelines on how to refuse drinks on a webpage entitled "Building Your Drink Refusal Skills." The webpage explains that there are two different types of social pressures that you can experience and offers tactics and strategies for dealing with persistent pressures. For example, someone who is insisting that you "have just one drink to relax" can be dealt with in the following ways:

Practice Your "No"

Saying “no” can be hard and many people are surprised at just how hard it can be to say "no" the first few times. You can build confidence by scripting and practicing your lines at home before you go out. NIAAA has a great "Plan Your Resistance Strategies" worksheet to help you prepare for those situations where you'll be tempted to indulge. You’ll also be surprised at how many people don’t take “no” for an answer the first few times, so you’ll want to work on a few different ways to say “no” so that you can say it and have it be respected.

Change the Subject

If a friend, relative, or even stranger just won’t let up, another option is to simply change the subject. When someone is being pushy about wanting you to drink with them try a quick "no thanks" followed by a sudden shift in the conversation topic. This will get them thinking about something else entirely.

You Don’t Have to Stay

If that doesn't work, remember that you can always simply walk away and call it a night. In the long run, you’ll be thankful that you did.

Lean on Your Support Network

Knowing that you’re being tempted or pressured to give in is a warning sign that you might be headed for a relapse. This is an important time to reach out to your sponsor, therapist, mentor, sobriety coach, or other friends and family who are supportive of your recovery and who are there to help you through this rough patch. You CAN do it!