What Not To Give: The Anti Gift Guide for the Sober Person

What Not To Give: The Anti Gift Guide for the Sober Person


the-anti-gift-guide-for-the-sober-personYou would think that if everybody knew about your series of embarrassing DUIs and drug related incidents, that maybe you’d never receive drugs or alcohol as a gift ever again. Yet that’s exactly what happened to swimmer Michael Phelps recently when the Mayor of Windsor, Ontario, Canada gave the Olympian a big ol’ bottle of whisky. Needless to say, folks familiar with Phelps’ struggles (i.e. everyone but this mayor) were aghast at the stupidity of such a gift.

On par with giving a lung cancer survivor a carton of Pall Malls, the gift embodies the clueless- yet-well-intended gifts sober people often receive. To help friends and loved ones of those in recovery avoid any awkward moments by the Christmas tree, we’ve rounded up a few “Do Not Give” gifts for the sober person on your list.

The Outright Dumb and Insensitive

Just so you won’t be elected the next Mayor of OMG You’re So Insensitive Land, let’s get the list of obvious gift no-nos out of the way. Go ahead and forget anything booze of the month club, anything Vape related, anything that looks like a martini or shot glass and anything that is a an actual bottle of alcohol or a drug. Like I said, these fit snugly in the “Duh!” category, but if an elected official can make this type of blunder, it’s safe to say that anybody can.

Also, just stay far away from hideously tacky and terrible gifts like liquor-scented cologne, thoughtless t-shirts, weed cookbooks, whisky lollipops and of course flasks you can smuggle in your bra. Maybe simply opt for something thoughtful like a houseplant or a massage gift certificate or anything that doesn’t look like it came from a Vegas gift shop?

The Hidden Culprits

Nothing puts a damper on holiday treats like hidden alcohol. Just this season, someone at my day job brought in a delicious gooey looking cake with homemade whipped cream. My co-worker wanted to share because it’s the holidays and that’s what people who don’t suck do. Unfortunately, it was from a company famous for their bourbon-packed gifts and I had to pass. A true bummer for a person like myself who considers cake a legitimate reason to even show up at work.

The lesson? When gifting food items for sober people, read those labels. And no, we don’t want to hear the old, “the alcohol bakes off!” refrain. This also means no drunken chocolates, booze-packed barbecue sauces or marijuana flavored gummy bears (gag). Just choose one of the zillion other great food gifts out there in the shopping universe and everyone will be happy with bellies full of cake.

The Preachy and Inappropriate

When gift giving for the newly sober, the instinct might be to give them something inspirational—something that can help them on their spiritual journey. That instinct would, however, be a bad one. Rest assured, your sober friend already has boatloads of journals and self-help books. Ditto they’re probably good on sobriety phone apps, meditation guides, drug abuse memoirs, addiction documentaries, healing crystals and anything that shows up in your local new-agey bookstore.

When I was newly sober, all kinds of people (who weren’t drug addicts or alcoholics) all had ideas about what books I should read or things they wanted to give me to help me. It was a nice gesture but one I found kind of annoying and insensitive. What I really needed in early sobriety was lots of coffee—so why not leave the self-help books on the shelf and give your buddy a cute mug and a coffee subscription instead?

When it comes to gifts for people in recovery, your mom was right: it is the thought that counts. All anybody—sober or not—wants at the holidays is to be thought of and considered. Choosing a gift that you know they’ll appreciate even if it’s just a card with some heartfelt words is clearly the way to go. For what it’s worth, this particular writer would really appreciate coffee and alcohol-free chocolate cake.


About Author

Sean Paul Mahoney is a writer, playwright, blogger, tweeter, critic, podcaster and smartass for hire. He lives in Portland, Oregon with two ridiculous cats and one amazing husband. His book of essays Now That You’ve Stopped Dying will be published by Zephyr Bookshelf in fall 2018.