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You’ve stopped drinking. Now what? How to be sober and social

You’ve stopped drinking. Now what? How to be sober and social

Drinking alcohol has become so deeply ingrained in Australian social culture that it’s almost synonymous with having a good time.

Going to the pub for after-work drinks is one of the most popular ways that Australians catch up with mates. But what does this mean for people who can’t or don’t want to partake in one of our most popular cultural pastimes?

The idea that you can relax, dance, laugh, and have a big night out without alcohol is strange for some. But sober socialising is becoming the norm for an increasing number of young Australians.

Whether you’ve had to cut back alcohol for medical reasons, have a history of addiction, want to improve your physical health and fitness, or are simply sober-curious, one question taunts many teetotallers: what are my friends going to think? Will they think I’m boring and stop inviting me out? Will they assume I’m judging or feel superior to them? Will my social life survive without the social lubricant that is the staple of so many social gatherings?

I was once excluded from the hen’s night of someone I once considered a close friend who explicitly told me it was because I didn’t drink. So, I can empathise with people who fear the social ramifications of cutting back or ditching booze altogether.

Not surprisingly, research has found people facing peer pressure experience negative consequences like social isolation, drinking when they don’t want to or knowing that it will have ramifications.

Why is it so awkward to be the only one not drinking?

Belonging to a group of like-minded individuals doesn’t just make us feel happier and more connected, it’s inextricably linked to our survival instincts.

Our ancestors relied on the safety of their tribes for shelter, pooling food and resources, and staying safe from predators. This is why social rejection activates the same part of our brains as physical pain – being excluded is literally painful and tells us we are in danger.

It’s natural to feel out of place when you’re the only one not getting more tipsy as the night progresses. If you’re the only one not under the influence, your composure and relaxation can seem dull or starkly contrast the group’s energy, making you feel on the outer.

Alcohol is a strategy some people use to dull the senses to the less glamorous aspects of going out. It can make painful shoes more bearable, loud noises more tolerable, and being shoved and bumped funny instead of frustrating. Without the armour of alcohol, your traditional social settings can be a source of irritation and discomfort rather than pleasure.

Does being sober mean you need to get a new group of friends to do non-alcohol-related activities with? Not necessarily, but if your current social circle is uninterested in doing other things like going to museums, hiking, or seeing a movie with you, it’s understandable if you start feeling excluded or lonely.

But trying to convince your friends to join you in your sober endeavours can yield unpredictable results.

Some may leap at the chance to have a break from booze and get involved in activities that are kinder to their livers and wallets. Others will baulk at the suggestion, either because they feel an implied judgement of their life choices or because they are uninterested in modifying their drinking habits.

Either way, it’s important not to take this personally or presume the friends in question no longer like or care about us. Everybody has the right to choose how to spend their free time, and it’s perfectly natural for one friend or social group not to fulfil all of our social needs.

You don’t need to cut yourself off from friends who drink but having a few trusted companions that are at least willing to explore other pastimes can make it feel a lot easier and less lonely. A diverse social support network can make you more resilient, socially fulfilled, and happier, so don’t be shy to admit you might need to consider making new friends.

You’ve stopped drinking. Now what? How to be sober and social

Hiking is a great option for sober socialising.

How to have fun without alcohol

If you are used to alcohol being the guest of honour at the majority of your social outings, it’s normal to feel unsure of how to adapt to your new booze-free lifestyle.

Here are some ways to have a thriving social life when sober:

Organise activities that don’t include alcohol

Rather than lament the missed opportunities to drink with friends, take the initiative to plan fun and interesting outings. The more unique or exciting the plans, the less likely that you or others will miss the presence of alcohol.

Find a hike with stunning views where you and your pals can enjoy a picnic, book a painting or jewellery-making class, or find a great restaurant where the focus is on the food, not the drinks.

Offer to be the designated driver

If you don’t mind the extra mileage, offering to drive your friends home after a night out is a great way to eliminate peer pressure to drink.

The obvious bonus is that everyone gets home safely, and sometimes those drives home are full of more fun and laughter than anything that happened at the venue.

Plan more social outings in the daytime

Obviously, drinking isn’t reserved only for evening events, but many people are more likely to avoid alcohol during the day due to work, family, or other commitments they want to stay clear-headed for.

Daytime activities are less likely to centre around free-flowing drinks and may feel more comfortable while you are still getting used to socialising sober.

Spend time with friends who don’t drink (or make new ones)

It can be helpful to spend time with people in your life who also don’t drink, especially when you are still finding your footing.

Of course, you don’t have to have everything in common with your mates, but it’s nice not to always be the odd one out amidst a group of people drinking.

If you don’t have a strong group of sober friends, it could be a great time to explore booze-free communities like Untoxicated, Australia’s largest sober social group.

Confide in people you trust

If you feel comfortable, share why you are no longer drinking with close friends. It may help them understand your decision better and remove any fear that you judge them for continuing to drink.

Most friends are more than happy to support you in your decisions once they know it’s something you are doing to feel better and lead the life that you want to live. Being vulnerable can be scary, but it will help you to build stronger, deeper friendships of mutual support and understanding.

Do you need support?

If you or someone you love is struggling with alcohol dependence or you are concerned about their relationship with alcohol or drugs, help is available.

Reach out to one of the below organisations for information, advice, or support for someone struggling with substances.

Emma Lennon

Emma Lennon

Emma Lennon is a passionate writer, editor and community development professional. With over ten years’ experience in the disability, health and advocacy sectors, Emma is dedicated to creating work that highlights important social issues.