As a nation, Brits are renowned drinkers. Many of our social activities tend to revolve around drinking alcohol, pubs, bars and clubs. The drinking culture we have in Britain can make it hard for those avoiding alcohol to still be social without feeling like an outsider or even pressured to drink. Removing yourself from social situations completely can impact your wellbeing given how integral socialising is to building and maintaining positive mental health.
Some choose to forgo alcohol for personal or religious reasons, whilst others may be battling problems with alcohol or alcoholism. Many people forget (especially those who don’t struggle with alcohol) that alcoholism and other substance addictions are serious and challenging mental health conditions that need the appropriate support from those around them. But many people don’t want to sacrifice their social habits which means that sober people can often feel excluded.
But it’s not impossible to maintain a social life without. This is a perfect opportunity for us to share some tips for those with a difficult relationship with alcohol to maintain a healthy, sober social life.
1. Find alternative activities
If you can find other ways to spend time with people besides drinking, you will find it much easier to have an enjoyable social life without alcohol. Rather than going to a club for your birthday, why not try an activity like paintballing or a trip to the cinema? These activities don’t always have to be completely alcohol-free either – you can simply find ways to minimise the emphasis that will be placed on alcohol. Instead of going to the pub for dinner, find a restaurant where the focus will primarily be on the food.
It helps to have a couple of good options on hand for when people suggest something you think could be difficult for you. Figure out what activities you enjoy and what’s on offer locally so that you can always make a counter-suggestion if needed.
2. Find alternative drinks
While it may seem obvious to find something non-alcoholic to drink when staying sober, the key is to find something you genuinely enjoy drinking so that alcohol becomes less appealing. This can also make it easier to attend the same social gatherings as usual since you’ll have an alternative drink to look forward to. This can be a standard soft drink, speciality alcohol-free option (like mocktails) or even a hot drink. Try a few things out and see what you like.
3. Learn to say ‘no’
The people-pleasing part of many of us can make it difficult to say no to people when they ask us to do something or offer us something.
But it’s very unlikely that a situation will arise when refusing to drink alcohol will have catastrophic consequences – if anything, it’s likely to have the opposite effect in the long term.
Get used to saying ‘no’ by continuously turning down offers for drinks (or alcohol-centred social events if you find them challenging). You could even engineer this by having a friend who knows what you’re trying to do and get them to continuously offer you drinks so you can practice.
At the start of your sober journey there will always be questions about why you’re not drinking or why you won’t have ‘just one’. In this situation, you’ll massively benefit from having some prepared responses to decrease the chance of you being talked into drinking. Here are some examples:
- “I just feel better when I don’t drink”
- “I’m not feeling great and don’t want to make it worse”
- “I had a bad experience a while back and I’ve been put off since then”
- “My doctor said I can’t drink for a little while”
These don’t always have to be completely true, sometimes you just need a way to get people to drop the subject and move on.
If someone keeps pushing you and seems intent on getting you to drink, Mark Willenbring, an addiction psychiatrist, suggests asking “does my not drinking make you uncomfortable?” as this will often get them to immediately stop and reflect on their actions.
4. Prepare your friends and family
If you feel comfortable opening up to your loved ones about your choice to stop drinking, it will make it easier for you to avoid alcohol in social situations. They’ll be less likely to offer you alcohol (which means you don’t have to feel awkward about saying ‘no’) and may actively try to find non-alcohol-centred social events for you to go to.
Similarly to when saying ‘no’, you don’t have to tell everyone the whole story if you don’t feel comfortable with it. Keeping it simple and saying “I feel better when I don’t drink” is absolutely fine!
5. Have a sober network
We can probably all agree that it’s easier to stick to any commitment when there is more than one person involved. Arrange social events with other people who are sober or invite a sober friend along to other social events to help you stay away from alcohol. If you can’t bring them along, you can send them a message or give them a call with things get tough.
If you don’t have someone who is actively trying to avoid alcohol, ask for help from someone you trust who can help you stay away from alcohol.
6. Find healthy ways to respond to triggers
Some people drink when happy, some drink when they’re stressed and others drink for a variety of reasons. Take some time to identify why you drink so that you can prepare alternative ways to respond to that situation.
Drinking when stressed? Try going for a walk.
Drinking in celebration? Why not go out for afternoon tea?
Knowing what your triggers are can also help you avoid them – but we know it’s not always a realistic long-term strategy.
It’s not impossible to maintain a social life while battling alcoholism – but it might take some work.
Sometimes your social life will change as a result of becoming sober, but it doesn’t have to be for the worse. Often, going sober can help you spend more quality time with your friends and family, build stronger relationships and allow you to feel better both mentally and physically.
If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol, reach out to Drinkaware.
Want to find out more about the mental health side and implications of additions like alcoholism? Take a look at our mental health awareness courses covering a range of mental health conditions and how you can spot and support those struggling.
All funds from our courses go directly into our Headucation campaign that aims to improve mental health in children and young people by training teachers in the basics of mental health support.