Perspective: The Sniff Test

by Bill G.

(A jewel from the archives.)

I was nine months into recovery when I experienced my first sober Christmas in more than 15 years.

My wife and I were invited to a big family party. While I did not anticipate any problems, I was mentally prepared just in case somebody wanted to see old uncle Bill dance on a table one more time.

At one point I had put my diet coke down to go the “loo” and on my return I decided to give it the sniff test. A good thing, too. Quite discreetly I waved the glass under my nose and detected the sweet aroma of amber rum. So, I simply put it down and went to the bar and got another diet coke.

I never did figure out who was playing a game with me, but there is a sister-in-law that still does not receive a Christmas present from me. Like Gordie Howe, I don’t hold grudges, but I don’t forget. This is a life and death thing, not to be trifled with.

With that in mind I realized it was time to develop a heightened level of awareness and some strategies to reduce the risk around the holidays. We are all going to find ourselves in situations where alcohol is served so it is important to have a plan or some options ready to deal with the situation.

So here are a few time proven strategies:

  • Always have a glass in your hand. No one cares what you are drinking. They just want and expect you to be partying, and people get uncomfortable when they see someone without a glass in their hand. The assumption is that everyone has to drink to have a good time.
  • If you set your glass down and leave it for a few minutes and have any suspicion that someone may be playing games, simply get another drink. No one cares how much soft drink you consume; they only get upset when someone walks away from three ounces of a 12-year-old single malt.
  • If you are really feeling uncomfortable, there is one place in every home where you can seek some privacy with no one raising an eyebrow. Just go to the bathroom. If there is more than one, go to the one which has the least amount of traffic. Once there you can have some quiet time to gather yourself and perhaps pray a little or meditate for a few minutes. It gets you out of the party environment and allows you to clear your head. If you are really feeling at risk, perhaps this is the time and place you make a decision to leave. Being in a bathroom also gives you an opportunity for some privacy to call your sponsor or another member if you have a cell phone.
  • If questioned about why you are not drinking you can always reply (without being rude) that you are taking medication and your doctor has instructed you not to drink alcohol as it interferes with the effectiveness of the meds — or you can simply say that you are the designated driver tonight.

The critical factor is to be aware of your surroundings and environment and, most importantly, be aware of where you are and to make sure that you are spiritually grounded.

Have a safe and happy holiday.

About the Authors

Renascent Alumni
Members of Renascent's alumni community carry the message by sharing their experiences and perspectives on addiction and recovery. To contribute your alumni perspective, please email

One response to “Perspective: The Sniff Test

  1. It’s so much better for the “sniff test” to be me sniffing my soft drink to ensure that it’s alcohol-free rather than the “sniff test” having to be my family finding out with their nose that I’ve been out drinking yet again. The former is an indication of dignity – as opposed to that latter scenario.

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