The biggest sports event of the year is less than two weeks away, and for football fans in early recovery, a single question looms large: How can I enjoy the Super Bowl sober?
To be clear, safeguarding sobriety is a decision everyone in recovery has to make, regardless of how long they’ve been clean and sober. And as those individuals navigate the “firsts” of a new way of life — the first Christmas, the first birthday, the first family reunion, all of which can be accompanied by triggers that fire off thoughts of drinking or using — they began to understand that such events are only as difficult as we make them.
What does that mean, exactly? First and foremost, we need to rein in our fears of temptation. Although we should always have a healthy respect for the potential of any of us in recovery to relapse, it’s not a forgone conclusion. Yes, relapse rates for addiction range anywhere from 40 to 60 percent, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) , those rates are comparable to relapses by sufferers of hypertension and asthma. And while relapse is obviously discouraged — no one who gets clean and sober wants to relapse — the NIDA observes that “the chronic nature of addiction means that for some people relapse, or a return to drug use after an attempt to stop, can be part of the process.”
But it doesn’t have to be, and it shouldn’t be a big and frightful boogeyman that lies in wait for us. Relapse often begins long before we wind up with a drink or a drug in our hands: “If people stop following their medical treatment plan, they are likely to relapse,” as the NIDA points out. If you’re not adhering to the plan set in place upon discharge from a drug and alcohol treatment program, then your chances of relapse increase. If you’re not continuing to use the tools that helped get you clean and sober, then your chances of relapse increase. If all you’ve done is stop using and drinking, and you’ve done nothing to address the underlying issues or change your habits, then your chances of relapse increase.
Those are important considerations to keep in mind if you’re wondering, “How can I enjoy the Super Bowl sober?” Because if your sobriety is already on shaky ground, showing up to a Super Bowl party where you’ll be the only sober attendee is probably not a wise decision. Even if you manage to stay sober, chances are good you won’t enjoy it, so what’s the point in going, except to tempt fate?
But I’m Doing Well. So How Can I Enjoy the Super Bowl Sober?
Let’s say you are attending to your recovery. You’re actively involved in recovery meetings, you have a sponsor, you’re working the 12 Steps, and your brother-in-law invites you to a Super Bowl party. Assuming he’s a caring individual who’s concerned about your sobriety but doesn’t want to hurt your feelings by not inviting you, he gives you a heads up: “Hey, there’s going to be alcohol there. Are you OK with that?"
Let’s evaluate such an invitation. First, it’s far more likely most Super Bowl events that aren’t recovery-centric will involve alcohol. According to a 2016 article on the financial website Money , roughly 325 million gallons of beer are consumed on Super Bowl Sunday, meaning those of us in recovery are the outliers. But is that pressure for us to join in the fun? Only if we interpret it that way.
Remember, it’s not up to the rest of the world to accommodate our sobriety. We don’t expect grocery stores to remove beer from the coolers or liquor stores to move to another part of town or restaurants to wall off the bar area in order to accommodate our desire to not be triggered, do we? Of course not. Sobriety is learning to deal with life on life’s terms, and if we go out in public at all, that life is going to involve interaction with places that serve and sell alcohol and the people who consume it.
With that in mind, of course people are going to drink at a Super Bowl party. If anything, we can find gratitude that our brother-in-law gave us the courtesy of a heads-up, because we can take that into consideration when we make our decision.
I Feel Good About It, Though. Should I Go?
The answer to that question is entirely up to you, but there are several factors to take into consideration before deciding:
- What’s your motive? Maybe you’re that invested in the outcome of the game. Perhaps one of your first sports-themed jerseys sported Joe Montana’s No. 16 (or even his No. 19, which he wore during his final two NFL seasons with the Chiefs). You may be an enthusiastic supporter of one of those two teams, or maybe you’re just a passionate football fan and want to watch the big game before the ol’ pigskin is retired until the late summer preseason. But maybe you don’t care at all — and hey, you’re not alone. A report last year by United Press International  revealed that roughly 44 percent of Americans didn’t care who won the game; Patriots jokes aside, it stands to reason that while interest may be higher this year, it’s often a coin toss (no pun intended) by the average football fan as to which team they’ll root for. So if you really don’t care, why are you going? Maybe for the social interaction — everyone loves a party. But maybe it’s because a part of you waxes nostalgic for the parties of your past, when you were posted up keg-side and giving it your all-American effort to consume as many of those 325 million gallons as possible. And if that’s the case, maybe you should think long and hard about attending.
- Have you talked to your sponsor or your support network? In early sobriety, it’s always good to bounce potentially thorny decisions off of individuals we trust. Your sponsor and your sober brothers and sisters may help you see potential pitfalls you don’t realize, or they may reassure you that you’ll be OK. Either way, if your motives are good, you should have no problem bringing up your possible attendance to these individuals … but if you’re reluctant to do so, maybe it’s because you know what they’re going to tell you.
- Will there be non-alcoholic drinks available? If your brother-in-law’s house has indoor plumbing, there’s always tap water, but it’s always nice to know whether you’ll be able to fix yourself a club soda or a soft drink. Don’t hesitate to ask your friends or loved ones what other options they’ll have, and if they’re open to you bringing your own.
- Can you bring a sober friend? It’s always good to have a wingman (or woman) who understands where you’re at in your sobriety and is perhaps on a similar path. The bottom line, as Victor Yocco writes for the sobriety website The Fix , “The common thread is that each person knew I wanted to avoid drinking. I felt accountable to them and they felt accountable to check in with me.”
I’m Going. So How Can I Enjoy the Super Bowl Sober?
You’ve checked your motives. You’ve talked to your sponsor. You’ve touched base with party organizers to make sure you won’t be the odd person out when it comes to beverage choices. You’ve got your team hoodie and you’re ready to party. So how can you enjoy the Super Bowl sober? First and foremost, keep a cool head.
If you pull up to the house or the apartment where the party is taking place, and something just feels off, pay attention to your instincts! There’s absolutely nothing wrong with throwing in the towel before you walk through the door, which is why it’s a good idea for you to drive yourself or ride with someone who’s invested more in your sobriety than attendance at the party. If upon your arrival you just don’t feel comfortable, abort! Call or text the organizers, if you don’t want to be a no-show, and make your apologies, and then just turn around. Go watch the game at home, or better yet, call some sober friends and invite them over.
The whole goal of watching the big game in a social setting is enjoyment, and if you’re in a perpetual state of discomfort while at a Super Bowl party, are you truly enjoying it? Fortunately, there are a lot of online suggestions for being a part of the fun and staying sober, like those offered by Peggy Spear for the website SoberInfo.com : “taking two cars, bringing a sober friend, keeping a non-alcoholic drink in your hand at all times, and leaving when you feel like it. You hear these suggestions all the time, and may even scoff at them, but they’ve been around for a long time because they work.”
Of course, there are other common sense tips to keep in mind:
- If a friendly stranger or even an acquaintance who’s unaware you’re sober offers you a drink, know what you’re going to say, according to Yocco : “My response is always ‘I don’t drink.’ Nothing complicated, nothing hedging, nothing apologetic. You aren’t wracking your brain for an excuse. You don’t need one. I assure you, anyone worth your time doesn’t care that you aren’t drinking alcohol.”
- If you find yourself fidgeting or nervous, get busy, Spear says : “Service doesn’t just mean making coffee at Alcoholic Anonymous meetings. It means escaping from your head and helping others. At a Super Bowl Party, help by preparing and passing food (avoid filling the wine glasses), or helping the host clear plates. Better yet, take over organizing the Super Bowl games … to give yourself something to concentrate on other than the fact you’re not drinking.”
- And of course — watch the game! That’s the whole reason for the party, right? Not only is it the sports event of the year, it’s also one of the biggest pop culture water cooler moments of the year, and the commercials themselves are just as buzz-worthy as anything that takes place on the football field. Post up, enjoy the spectacle and catch up with old friends — with your non-alcoholic beverage in hand.
And of course, if at any point you feel uncomfortable or unsettled or like the beer in someone’s hand looks awfully tempting, leave. Call your sponsor or your sober network from your car and simply get out of there.
“How can I enjoy the Super Bowl sober?” Easy — just be vigilant, be smart and be safe. And hey, if a house full of drinkers isn’t your scene, there are likely a number of sober options in your community where there won’t be any alcohol on hand whatsoever. A number of recovery clubs and organizations host “Sober Bowl” events, and there’s even a nationwide SoberBowl, hosted by the nonprofit organization The Ark , that’s gotten a lot of mainstream recognition in recent years: “The connotation of drinking and football and the Super Bowl is heavy,” superstar sports agent Leigh Steinberg told the Twin Cities Pioneer Press in 2018 . “This is a model and alternative way to celebrate the day.”
Again, if you can’t find a sober Super Bowl celebration, you can always plan for your own. While booze and the big game are often packaged together, they don’t have to be — and for individuals in recovery, they shouldn’t be. If you find yourself asking “how can I enjoy the Super Bowl sober?,” the answer is that it’s entirely up to you. As long as you put your sobriety first, you can find enjoyment in almost anything, provided you safeguard the new way of life that recovery has given you.