The COVID vaccine rollout is hitting its stride across the U.S. and many people are beginning to feel something they haven’t in over a year: hope. But even as we begin to make plans for the future, re-entering this new “normal” may feel uncomfortable—anxiety-provoking, even. With Summer Vaxacation, we’re here to help ease the transition out of our homes and into society.

As the United States and certain other areas of the word steadily re-emerge from lockdown amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many folks are facing an influx of social events hitting their schedules all at once. And in many cases, these gatherings come alongside what can feel like a never-ending flow of alcoholic beverages for folks excited about being together and drinking after quarantine. After more than a year of missed celebrations, reuniting with loved ones—whether for a wedding, birthday, or just sharing space together—is certainly a cause to pop bottles.

That said, adjusting back to social settings and their norms after extended isolation can be anxiety provoking for some, especially when alcohol is involved, says Adia Gooden, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist based in Chicago. “I think alcohol is particularly sensitive because it’s one of the few areas where peer pressure is accepted,” says Dr. Gooden. “There’s a lot of peer pressure that can happen around alcohol use in a way that is not the same for a lot of other behaviors and things that we consume.”

“There’s a lot of peer pressure that can happen around alcohol use in a way that is not the same for a lot of other behaviors and things that we consume.” —Adia Gooden, PhD, licensed clinical psychologist

Furthermore, Dr. Gooden says, our pre-pandemic lives and habits shouldn’t be treated as a time capsule, meaning many folks may simply have different preferences now than they used to. For example, many people re-evaluated their relationship with their drinking patterns during lockdown, and bringing new habits into old settings or group dynamics can feel challenging to address and navigate. “There might have been old norms that you did drink a lot, or you were willing to buy rounds,” she says, adding that if you have a different relationship with alcohol and social drinking after quarantine, communicating and expressing that that to others can be difficult.

So, what’s the social person who doesn’t necessarily want to partake in every alcoholic cheers to do? What’s important, says Susan Bartell, PsyD, a psychologist and author based in New York City, is to know and respect your own boundaries. Below Dr. Bartell and Dr. Gooden offer strategies and tips for how to set healthy boundaries with drinking after quarantine to stay in control and comfortable amid the whirlwind of newfound social gatherings.

6 helpful boundaries for social drinking after quarantine

1. Have a game plan

Decide before any social event how many drinks you want to have while you’re there. “Once drinks start flowing, it’s easy to lose track and get caught up,” says Dr. Gooden. So, set rules for yourself.

“If you set some concrete rules for yourself and you stick to them, you come out of it feeling more in control and happier with yourself,” Dr. Bartell says, adding that you can write down your personal rules and read them to yourself before you step into a party to hold yourself accountable. Some ideas? Try having one drink per hour, eating before drinking anything, or setting a maximum drink amount you’ll have.

And if you reach your limit, but still want to feel like you’re participating? Dr. Gooden suggests grabbing a mocktail, sparkling water, or any non-alcoholic drink of your choice.

2. Use the buddy system

If you limit your alcohol intake at social events, consider sharing your plan with a trusted friend who can support you by helping you to stay accountable to your boundaries. When you share your plan with someone else, “it makes you feel like it’s more real and that you’re willing to take that step and do that work,” Dr. Bartell says.

3. Change the setting

If the idea of drinking after quarantine period makes you feel uncomfortable, but you still want to spend time with friends and loved ones, consider suggesting a different location for hanging out—one where alcohol is less central to the gathering, if it’s present at all. “Suggesting other activities is a great idea,” says Dr. Gooden, like going for a walk, or having a (booze-free) picnic in the park.

4. Be honest with your friends

If you start to notice a pattern of not sticking with the limits you set for yourself, don’t ignore it. Instead, use it as an opportunity to check in with your current boundaries and goals to note what may need to be reassessed—and whether some points may need to be externalized to the people you’re with.

For instance, you might realize that you’re now in a different place in life right now than a number of members of your social circle. If this is the case, be honest with yourself about what it may mean for certain friendships. “If you want to keep hanging out with the same friends, you have to accept them for who they are, you have to accept yourself for how you are, you need to talk to them about not pressuring you to drink beyond your limits,” Dr. Bartell says.

5. Listen to your body

Stay in tune with yourself and honor how your body is feeling and what it’s telling you. “Our bodies tell us what feels good and what doesn’t feel good,” says Dr. Gooden. “The little feeling of anxiety or discomfort is smaller than the regret of drinking too much and then not feeling good.”

So, if your body is telling you that you don’t want to drink anymore, listen, and vocalize that to the group you’re with if you feel you owe anyone an explanation (which, to be clear, you don’t). “How you feel and honoring your body is more important than that small moment of discomfort when you’re setting that boundary.”

6. Know when to bail—and have a plan in place ahead of time for your exit

Dr. Bartell suggests setting a clear escape plan for when you’re feeling out of control or even uncomfortable. “If you’re feeling that you’ve blown past all the rules you’ve set for yourself, you probably want to leave,” she says. Hint: No one ever needs to know whether the “birthday party” you’re leaving your group to attend is actually happening or not.

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, please call 1-800-662-4357 to reach the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration for confidential and free treatment referral information.

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