How to Maintain a Social Life When You’re Quitting Drinking

How Your Social Life Changes if You Give Up Drinking

How to Maintain a Social Life When You’re Quitting Drinking

It’s the question everyone in sobriety asks themselves: Will my friends still want to hang out with me if I’m sipping Perrier instead of Laurent-Perrier?

It’s crazy, but telling your social circle you don’t drink is sometimes harder than not drinking in the first place. Sobriety is so much more than a decision about your physical health and emotional well-being—it has a huge effect on your social life.

And as I found out when I gave up drinking, that doesn’t just mean suffering awkward moments every time you hit a bar with friends. It wasn’t drinking in bars that was my downfall—it was drinking too much, period. It was affecting my relationships, my parenting, my career.

It was sucking the life me. So I stopped.

Throughout my life, alcohol was integral to all of things communal: spanning from family dinners, weddings and BBQs to holiday get-togethers, networking events, birthday parties, and impromptu catch-ups with neighbors.

It was only when I stopped drinking that I realized how many social occasions revolve around booze. It’s everywhere. Or at least it was for me, a heavy drinker whose social world revolved around…heavy drinking.

Going from that to not drinking at all, I had no idea what to expect and I feared the worst.

After seven months of sobriety, I still avoid alcohol-heavy occasions as often as possible.

Not because I’m worried I’ll succumb to temptation, but because watching other people rack up a line of tequila shots on the bar just doesn’t appeal anymore. I still only have a toe in sober waters.

But I’ve learned a lot about socializing in sobriety over the past few months. Here are some tips that may help.

Don’t expect everything to be the same

Your social life is different now—but that’s a good thing. You’re different, too. A huge turning point for me was accepting that this is a big deal, and as much as I might want to brush it under the carpet, I can’t. It’s huge.

I used to self-medicate with one of the most addictive drugs in the world, and I don’t do that anymore. I’ve gone from being one of the drunkest people at the party to being (frequently) the only sober person.

Of course things are going to be different.

Know that time will build confidence

Alcohol used to be my security blanket in any social situation I felt anxious or uncomfortable in: dates, family parties, nights out with lots of women, work mixers, etc. I met my fiancé before I got sober so I’ve never had to navigate sober dating, but the mere thought of it gives me the worst kind of goosebumps.

Toward the end of my drinking days, the fear of losing that security blanket was my main reason for not quitting.

I won’t lie: I was anxious and uncomfortable a lot at social events in the early days of sobriety, so I had to act everything was cool.

I still have the occasional belly-clenching moment when I walk into a party sober, but as my confidence in my decision grows, they’re few and far between.

Trust your friends to be there

Your real ones, at least. Sobriety can have a fascinating impact on friendships. Some of my friends have needed a little time to adjust to my significant life choice. That’s cool with me.

A couple of others have drifted away without any trauma on either side—I suspect my sobriety may simply have accelerated an inevitable growing-apart process.

My true friends were there for me when I was passing out at parties and throwing up in the back of taxis, and they’re there for me now.

I’m also forming new friendships, because I’m devoting the time I used to spend drinking or nursing hangovers to other things: yoga, swimming, writing, blogging—what John Mendelson, professor at University of California at San Francisco and clinical addiction expert, calls “a new social world where drinking is not the only function of the party.”

“Former drinkers may need to search for and join this world,” he says. “Dinner, work parties, and any explicitly alcohol-related events can be a challenge to newly sober people so you need a plan if you are going to attend these.”

Make a backup plan

Mendelson has more advice for making those awkward social occasions a little easier: Take your own alcohol-free drinks with you wherever you go.

I to have pink lemonade or ginger beer on tap at all time—I keep a stash in my car because, yes, I’m also now the designated driver. And maybe take a sober friend with you for moral support.

(Note: Nobody has your back a fellow sober sister or brother.)

Planning ahead is crucial, and if a situation is ly to be high risk, it’s absolutely fine for the plan to simply be to opt out, says Mark Willenbring, who led the Division of Treatment and Recovery Research at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) from 2004 to 2009 and was responsible for overseeing research on alcohol use disorder at universities around the United States. Otherwise, every plan should include an escape plan. “If you’re feeling more than a little tempted, immediately leave,” he says. “There’s no advantage to testing your willpower.”

Have a response ready to the drinking question

At several points during early sobriety, you’re probably going to get asked why you’re not drinking. Willenbring recommends having a quick phrase at the ready, such as, “I just find I feel better if I don’t drink.” Boom.

“If someone is persistent, consider replying, ‘Does my not drinking make you uncomfortable?’” he adds. “My patients have found that usually ends this line of inquiry quickly and respectfully.

” If that doesn’t work, or if you feel under pressure from friends to drink, this is the point where you have to question those relationships.

“For many people, sobriety is the norm and there is little to no stigmatization of non-drinkers,” Mendelson says. “Members in these groups are friends, because they have similar work, recreational, and professional interests.

If your social group is built around drinking it can be hard to gain acceptance for a behavior not practiced by the group. For people contemplating a sober lifestyle they will ly need to develop new peer groups and activities.

They are there—all you need to do is find them.”

If all else fails, just stay home. Seriously. Take your time with this whole sober thing, and keep the focus on yourself.

In the first few weeks of sobriety, when I was turning myself in knots trying to figure out how to tell people I was no longer drinking, the only other sober person I know IRL told me, “The only conversation you need to have is with yourself.” It’s a pretty good mantra for the newly sober.


How to Socialize After You Quit Drinking

How to Maintain a Social Life When You’re Quitting Drinking

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En español | Maybe you felt your drinking was getting control or you got tired of the hangovers.

Regardless of why you've decided to stop drinking, you may worry about whether your wine-connoisseur or beer-chugging pals will still want to socialize with you — will they still think you're fun? — now that you've decided to cut alcohol from your life. And you may not feel explaining to certain people exactly why you're sipping sparkling water rather than your usual gin and tonic.

Experts suggest a few strategies for how to handle (and hopefully even enjoy) social situations where drinking's a focus when you're newly sober.

1. Start with a personal pep talk

“Before the event, examine your reasons for not drinking,” advises Donna Cornett, founder and director of Drink/Link Moderate Drinking Programs in Santa Rosa, Calif.

Take five or 10 minutes to focus on them and psych yourself up: Are you having health problems? Did your doctor tell you to stop? Do you feel too tipsy after one or two drinks? Is your relationship at stake because you argue when you drink? Were you endangering yourself or others? “Get yourself motivated to say, ‘Yes, I'm going to do this tonight,'” says Cornett.

2. Make a plan

Think through your strategy for the event — everything from how long you'll stay to what you'll drink instead of alcohol to what you'll say if someone asks why you don't want a glass of wine or tries to push something stronger on you. “Peer pressure to drink is incredible,” Cornett says. (See sidebar for suggestions on easy ways to respond to questions about your sobriety.) The more prepared you are, the more comfortable you'll be.

  • “No, thanks. I'm cutting down on calories.»
  • “I'm the designated driver.»
  • “My doctor thinks I should cut back for health reasons.»
  • “I have to get up really early tomorrow, so I'm not drinking tonight.»
  • “I have a headache and am steering clear tonight.”
  • “I feel better when I'm not drinking.»

If people are insistent — “Come on, just have one!” — Koob suggests turning the tables by asking, “Does my not drinking make you uncomfortable?”

Once you arrive, order or pour yourself an alcohol-free drink, recommends George F. Koob, director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland. That way you have something in your hand — club soda with lime, nonalcoholic beer — and won't invite questions about whether you want a drink.

4. Tune in to what's happening beyond yourself

This will help you take your mind off alcohol and any discomfort you're feeling, Cornett says: “You'll forget about the drink obsession if you focus on what's happening and the conversation around you.”

5. Enjoy the hors d'oeuvres

Eating gives you something to do with your hands and is another way to be involved socially with the event.

6. Call a friend if you need support

This could be your Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) sponsor or anyone who cares about you and your effort to stay sober, says Koob.

If the situation becomes too uncomfortable, thank your host with a polite excuse for your early departure («I have a big day tomorrow …») and go. If someone drove you to the event and wants to stay longer, call a friend or a cab/ride-booking service to pick you up. “Your health is your priority,” Cornett says.

8. Send your regrets before the event, and stay away

Certain social gatherings may be too difficult to attend at all, especially when you're newly sober. Maybe it's a Super Bowl party with the guys or a birthday celebration at a bar with a group of heavy-drinking friends. Those situations may test your resolve more than others — in which case it's perfectly fine to pass on attending.

While it can be tricky to navigate this new terrain when you first stop drinking, many people who've gone sober say socializing with drinkers gets easier.

“The first couple of times are rough, but the difficulty decreases every time,” says Cornett.

And viewing heavy drinkers through sober eyes can even fuel your resolve, she adds: “You may look around the party and see how people are behaving while they're drinking and realize you're better off.”


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