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Should We Abstain From Drink In Front of Him?

man pouring red wine into glass

Abstaining while others are drinking can be hard for a Loved One in recovery from alcohol dependency. Me4clean’s family is seeking a better understanding of what it would mean to have the occasional drink in front of their son. Whether we choose to forego all alcohol or not, there are ways to reinforce the progress our Loved One is making.

man pouring red wine into glass
©Andrea Piacquadio/

We are lucky to now have our previously out-of-state son living with us as he goes through treatment for alcohol dependency. My question is how fair or correct is it for other family members to have a drink (beer or wine) in front of him. We are all happy to abstain, but don’t know if it is OK for some of the occasional drinkers to have just a drink or two when our recovering son is present. Thank you.

There are a couple points of view on your question of whether it’s okay to have a drink or two in front of someone in early recovery. No one but you can say for sure what will work in your family, for you and your son.

It can be hard to ask the house to stay dry…

If yours is a family that regularly has alcohol present at gatherings, you may find it too difficult to ask everyone to abstain in front of your son. I don’t think I could ask this of my family, for instance, since alcohol is rather too central a focus for a couple of us. As a family, we still struggle to fully accept the hold addiction has on us. There is also a heavy-duty historical stigma in our family about addiction and the role it continues to play in our lives. I can almost hear the answer from my family to such a request: “Well, sure, good idea. I’ll have just one glass at dinner.”

I couldn’t have asked this of them in the past, either, when I was the one in early sobriety. I had finally gained some traction in my recovery through self-help groups, and they were clear about staying away from people, places, and things that could make me want to drink. Between my shyness and my family’s needs, I came armored up not to drink at family functions. Soon enough it became second nature to sip some juice and really not think much about it.

…but if you can, it can help

All that said, if abstaining is an option, it’s not a bad one at all. CRAFT suggests we model what we are looking for in our Loved Ones. Not drinking in front of your son fits this description.

Perhaps you say something like:

“As a way to support your effort at not drinking, I thought we’d have homemade lemonade with dinner tonight.”


“Hey, I know there is going to be drinking tonight at your uncle’s, so I’m going to find us both something yummy and non-alcoholic to drink.”

Keep your eye on their motivation

The literature on relapse prevention suggests it isn’t people, places or things you need to watch out for when your Loved One’s trying not to drink so much as their motivation not to drink when faced with the urge. The key thing, in other words, is their level of confidence in their ability to abstain.

I renewed that motivation every day by attending self-help meetings. So despite my family, and with the strength that comes from hearing the message of recovery in those groups, I hung in there and stayed sober. There is growing evidence that self-help, of any shape or form, improves time sober (Recovery Research Institute). It makes sense that hearing the message “Don’t drink today,” every day, along with suggestions for how not to drink, helps build that confidence.

Give the support you’re able to give

So in answer to your question, it is best if you can keep your son’s immediate environment clear of drinking triggers, and that would include liquor in the home or guests drinking in the home. But it may not be possible. Despite family and other drinking triggers he is likely to encounter, then, you can appreciate, encourage, and support any kind of self-help meetings, online or in person, that he can access. They are an important counterweight to protecting your son from relapse.


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In your comments, please show respect for each other and do not give advice. Please consider that your choice of words has the power to reduce stigma and change opinions (ie, "person struggling with substance use" vs. "addict", "use" vs. "abuse"...)

  1. This was really helpful for me, I always wondered about what was best to model drinking in moderation or to abstain. Now I have the view of both ideas. Ty