Summer Recovery Tips: The Red Cup Trick

When you enter recovery for the first time, you learn a lot of hard lessons very quickly. If your first recovery experience involves formal treatment in a residential, partial hospitalization, or intensive outpatient program, you focus on the big things first. You learn how your alcohol or substance use disorder has changed your mind, body, and spirit. You get to work bringing those three components of your life back into balance.

To that end, you learn a variety of new coping skills. You learn how to manage your emotions and navigate your triggers. You learn how to repair your primary relationships and make healthy life choices.  Alongside your counselors and peers, you establish a new set of behaviors that promote recovery and long-term, sustainable sobriety.

That’s all during treatment.

When you leave treatment, however, the game changes. You’re not on your own – you should have a support network in place as part of your post-treatment recovery plan – but you will spend time away from sober peers and the level of support you had during treatment. That’s when you learn that sometimes, it’s not the big things that trip you up.

Sometimes it’s the little things.

A Small Trick That Goes a Long Way

The little things.

Like a song on the radio.

A perfume or cologne an old drinking friend used to wear.

The sight of a cooler filled with ice, keeping beverages frosty on a hot afternoon.

Or when you’re at an outdoor event and someone walks up to you and puts a drink in your hand.

And it’s alcohol.

That’s a little thing for everyone else, but for you, it could be a big thing. It could lead to relapse. If you’re in recovery – especially from alcohol – it’s likely you haven’t had a drink in your hand since you quit. And having an actual drink in your actual hand is not something you actually planned for, because you honestly thought there was zero chance of that actually ever happening again.

But guess what?

It happens.

And there’s an easy way to prevent it from happening.

It’s called “The Red Cup Trick.”

We’re talking about those red Solo cups that everyone uses at every backyard barbecue, sporting event, or pool party you’ve ever been to. Those plastic sixteen-ounce cups that are most often filled to the rim with beer.

The trick is to get one of those cups as soon as you get to the party – or sporting event, or barbecue, or pool party – and fill it with water, soda, or juice. Anything but alcohol.

Then hold onto that cup for the duration of the party, like Linus with his blanket.

Why Hold a Cup?

When you have a drink in your hand, no one will put a drink in your hand. They can’t. No one will ask you if you want a drink. The status of your drink will never come up, because you have one already – right there in your hand. A corollary to the status of your drink never coming up is that your drinking status probably won’t come up, either. You won’t need to explain why you don’t have, want, or plan to drink an alcoholic beverage at the party. You’re standing there drinking something, so it won’t occur to anyone to ask.

If you do The Red Cup Trick right, you can avoid those topics altogether. That’s why we recommend a colored cup, not a can of soda or even a clear cup. You don’t want people to see through it and then start pestering you about what you’re drinking. And you don’t want people glancing at your soda and urging you to join the fun have a beer instead.

The cup doesn’t even have to have anything in it. You don’t have to drink thirty-seven sodas loaded with sugar and caffeine. You can stand there sipping at nothing, crunching ice cubes all afternoon. No one will be the wiser. In fact, “The Red Cup Trick” is just a name for this technique. The red cup is a symbol. It’s like wearing an emblem on your shirt that says,

“All good here, got my drink in hand, doing fine, really, yes I’m sure, thanks no thanks, how’s your mom been doing?”

The little things can trip you up and lead to big things like relapse – fact.

In this case, though, the little thing that can lead to a big thing has a little fix: just one red plastic cup – fact.