One reason it’s so hard to quit alcohol is that it’s so readily available. Most Americans drink at least occasionally and there are many occasions when it’s expected. When quitting other substances, it’s typically a good idea to distance yourself from people who still use them, but with alcohol, that’s often not practical, or even advisable. While it’s definitely helpful to have friends who don’t drink, you probably have friends and family who drink in moderation and support your sobriety. It’s possible to maintain a healthy social life without drinking. Here are some ways to make it easier.
Have an excuse ready
Before you go to a wedding reception or an office party or wherever else you think you might be offered alcohol, have an excuse ready. You don’t have to explain your whole situation whenever someone asks why you’re not drinking; just a few words will do. You might say you have an early morning or that you’re driving. You can say that you don’t drink, although some people feel this implies judgment. Hardly anyone will press the issue, but if someone does, remember that you’re entitled to not drink and you don’t have to justify your decision to anyone.
Go for coffee instead
People often catch up with friends and colleagues over drinks. For most situations, catching up over coffee or lunch is better. Not only do you avoid the temptation to drink but it’s also easier to talk over coffee or lunch. It’s quieter and there are fewer distractions. You will know that your friend’s attention is not being gradually eroded by alcohol and you’re appointment won’t stretch on indefinitely, which is usually a good thing.
Be the designated driver
One excuse that always sticks is saying you’re the designated driver. This may be a better strategy for later on in recovery, when you’re not so tempted by alcohol. Your friends will appreciate your service and bartenders will often give you free non-alcoholic drinks. Letting everyone know you’re the designated driver will add an extra layer of accountability. It will also reinforce your decision to stay sober when you see how everyone is behaving at the end end of the night and you’re responsible for them.
Decide on a replacement
Have a few go-to non-alcoholic drinks. This saves you the effort of having to make a decision every time. Temptation creeps in when you’re indecisive. If you automatically order your replacement drink, you won’t have to think about it. Tea or water are fine. Soda is fine in moderation, but if you’re quitting alcohol, you may want to watch your sugar intake. Non-alcoholic beers are somewhat controversial in recovery circles. They are a convenient replacement, but they can also be strongly triggering, since they smell and taste pretty much like real beer. It may be better just to skip the non-alcoholic beer. Non-alcoholic cocktails, sometimes called “mocktails,” might be a good solution if you’re self-conscious about not drinking. Club soda with lime tastes fine and people will assume it’s a gin and tonic. The caveat is to keep track of your glass, as you don’t want to take a swig of someone’s real cocktail by accident. Mocktails might also be triggering for some people, although they don’t smell or taste like alcoholic cocktails. It’s important to know your triggers and act accordingly.
Try new things
Quite often, going out for drinks becomes the default way of spending time with friends, but it’s not the only option and it’s not even the most fun option. Try something no one in your group has done before. Go see a play, then afterwards discuss it over pie. Go ice skating. Find an arcade. If you’re looking for things to do on your own, sign up for class. It doesn’t have to be anything big. Maybe you want to learn how to paint landscapes or cook Indian food. Join an exercise class or a sports league. You can meet new people with the same interests there will be something to do besides drink.
Go to meetings
Mutual support groups can be a great way to build your sober network after treatment. This is your core group of people who never drink and really understand why you decided to quit. 12-step groups like AA and NA are the most well-know mutual support groups, but there are other good options. SMART Recovery has about 1500 meetings in the US and Refuge Recovery is a relatively new group that’s growing rapidly. People often get to be good friends with the other people at meetings, as they’ve been through a lot of the same things and they can understand each other in ways even their families sometimes can’t. While mutual support meetings can sometimes be rather somber, they can also be fun. More importantly, they can be a way to find meaningful connection with others.
Focus on the positive
When you go out to dinner with friends but can’t drink, it’s easy to fixate on that fact. Instead of thinking about what you’re giving up, think about what you’re getting. How is dinner better without alcohol? How is the party more interesting? Are you really tasting your food instead of just cushioning your booze? Are you more aware of what’s going on around you? Do you follow conversations better? You will almost certainly notice some positive aspects the next day when you wake up without a hangover after a good night’s sleep.
Choose quality over quantity
One thing people often miss after they quit drinking is the social lubrication. Many people start drinking in the first place because they have social anxiety and alcohol makes it easier to talk to people they don’t know. However, the tradeoff is that you’re less thoughtful, you don’t listen as well, and you wake up the next day thinking, “What did I say last night?” When you engage people while sober, you can give them your full attention, ask thoughtful questions, and say what you mean, rather than whatever pops into your head.
If you or someone you love is struggling with alcohol addiction or mental illness, we can help. Recovery Ways is a premier drug and alcohol addiction treatment facility located in Salt Lake City, Utah. We have the resources to effectively treat a dual diagnosis. Our mission is to provide the most cost-effective, accessible substance abuse treatment to as many people as possible. Request information online or call us today at 1-888-986-7848.