How to stay sober when everyone else is drinking

The classic advice about being around people who are drinking when you are trying not to drink, especially in early sobriety, is to avoid the situation entirely! However, that’s not always possible or realistic. You may have an upcoming event that you don’t want to miss, such as a wedding, a friend’s birthday, or a coworker’s retirement party. Or, you may simply be looking forward to an intimate gathering with your family or friends. Either way, it can be hard to resist drinking when everyone else is doing it.  I have been there many times!

No matter what the situation, there are some simple strategies that can help you to stay sober while still enjoying yourself!

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Tell someone (or multiple people) that you will not be drinking! Make sure you tell at least one person who you trust and who can help to hold you accountable to this pledge. My whole family knows I don’t drink now, so family gatherings are much easier. A few of my close friends also know I don’t drink, so I don’t have to worry about them offering drinks to me when I visit them or when we meet up for a night out.

Prepare a line in case someone offers you a drink. Taking the time to come up with something to say will help to take the pressure off and make it easier to say no. I suggest writing it out and saying it out loud a few times before you go to the event. A simple response like, “No, thanks!” is totally acceptable and usually does the trick. You can also say something like, “Sure, but no alcohol. How about a club soda with a splash of cranberry juice?” Or, if you want to be more firm, you could say, “No, I don’t drink alcohol.”

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Remind yourself why you don’t want to drink. I have my reasons written down on a note that’s saved to my phone, so I can look at it any time. I also keep a daily journal where I often reflect on my reasons for not drinking so they stay fresh. Take a few minutes to write down your reasons for not drinking so that they’re fresh in your mind. For example, are you staying sober for your health? Your loved ones? Financial reasons? Legal reasons? Write out these reasons in detail.

Attend to HALT before the event. HALT stands for Hungry, Angry or Anxious, Lonely, and Tired. These are common triggers that may threaten your sobriety. Before you are around people who are drinking, make sure that you go through this checklist and attend to any needs you may have. For example, if you’re hungry, have a snack or eat a meal. If you’re anxious, try to figure out why and calm yourself down. If you’re lonely, call up a friend. Being around people may also help! If you’re tired, take a nap. After meeting these needs, you should find it a lot easier to resist the temptation to drink.

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Always have a non-alcoholic drink in hand. A can of soda, cup of coffee, glass of water, whatever you want as long as it’s alcohol-free! My go-to is club soda or lime-flavored sparkling water with a splash of cranberry and a lime wedge. It’s a great tasting drink that looks like a cocktail, so it often helps to stave off any offers of a drink, thus reducing my need to tell people “no.”

Think about how you will feel the next morning if you’re tempted. It always helps me to “play the tape forward” and think about how I will feel if I drink versus how I will feel if I don’t drink. Consider how you think you will feel physically, mentally, and emotionally the following morning if you drink and compare that to how you think you’ll feel if you don’t drink. For example, if I drink, I know that the following morning I will feel sick, hot, tired, achy, sad, anxious, ashamed, worried, angry at myself, and remorseful. If I don’t drink, I will feel good physically, energetic, happy, proud of myself, and calm. This little exercise always makes it much easier for me to avoid drinking. I almost always regret drinking, but I have never regretted not drinking!

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Have an exit plan in place. This is crucial! Everyone has their limit and if you find that you are reaching a point of discomfort, the best thing for you and your sobriety is to leave. Go home or somewhere else that you feel safe and where you will not have the option to drink. I have a child, so my excuse usually has something to do with him. I might say something like, “I need to get home and relieve my mom! She’s watching my son tonight. But I had a great time! Thanks so much for inviting me!” If you have a pet, you could say something like, “Baxter needs his dinner, so I have to head out. Thank you for the lovely evening, though!” Or, for a simple no explanation required response, you could simply say, “I’m heading out. It was great to see you! Take care!” See? Easy peasy!

Use some of the money you save by not drinking to buy yourself a gift. I like to splurge on a dessert sometimes when I go out with friends or buy myself a new makeup or jewelry item after an alcohol-free night out. If you go to a bar that serves food, you could buy yourself a nicer meal than you’d usually get since you’ll be saving all that money by not buying alcohol! Or, if you’re at a gathering at someone’s house, you could buy yourself a fancy latte or pick out a nice chocolate bar for yourself on your way to or from the party. If you don’t want to spend money, try arranging a treat for yourself when you get back home, such as a luxurious bubble bath or a massage from your partner.

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Don’t forget to have fun! Sobriety is hard work, and you deserve to enjoy yourself every chance you get! Whatever you’re doing, try to stay focused on the present. Enjoy pleasant conversations with friends, dance, enjoy the music, and savor every moment! Remember that by not drinking when everyone else is, you’re doing something amazing for yourself today and in the future.

Got more tips about how to stay sober when everyone else is drinking? Leave a comment below to share them! Thanks so much for reading and for stopping by! 🙂

“The classic advice about being around people who are drinking when you are trying not to drink, especially in early sobriety, is to avoid the situation entirely! However, that’s not always possible or realistic.”

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