How to Go Out When You’re Quitting Drinking

Counseling Westwood, NJ

There are many reasons to quit or cut back on your drinking. Alcohol is bad for your health. It can cause weight gain. It takes a toll on your wallet. And too much drinking can lead to social, legal, and work-related consequences.

So whether you’re cutting back on how often you drink because you’re tired of being hungover, or you’re quitting because your alcohol intake has gotten a bit out of hand, socializing while sober can be a little unnerving at first.

You may have a lot of concerns about going out after quitting drinking. Can you have fun without drinking? How will your friends react? Will you feel self-conscious without a little liquid courage? Can you say no and stick to it?

Fortunately, a solid plan can help you enjoy going out without alcohol. Here are some tips for going out after you’ve quit drinking.

Be Prepared for People’s Reactions

There’s a good chance that your drinking buddies will be uncomfortable with your decision not to drink. After all, your sobriety might serve as a reminder to them that they drink a lot. It may possibly stir up a bit of anxiety if they recall how uncomfortable they feel socializing sober. Or they may simply want you to partake alongside them, because they think you’ll all have more fun together when drinking.

So be prepared to deal with things like:

*Nagging – Your friends may say things like, “Come on, can you please just have one drink to loosen up a little?”

*Teasing – You’ll likely get made fun of for being boring or lame. Some friends might say you can’t handle your alcohol or that you’re getting too old to drink.

*Cajoling – Your friends might try to act as though they’re doing you a favor by buying you a drink so you can “have fun.” Or they may try to convince you that if you just have one drink, they won’t tell anyone.

*Peer pressure – Your pals might gang up on you a bit and try to talk you into having a drink. They may even pass out a round of shots and try to insist that you join in.

*Confrontation – An upset friend may even confront you and insist that your unwillingness to drink is a sign of something bigger, like a “controlling partner” or “a midlife crisis.”

Some of your friends, of course, may be totally supportive of your decision. Others may seem indifferent. But don’t be surprised if at least some of them respond in a negative way.

It’s also important to be prepared for the long-term changes you might experience. Choosing to abstain from alcohol may lead to:

*Being phased out of social situations – You may receive fewer social invitations over time once your friends realize that your decision not to drink isn’t going to change.

*Being labeled a specific way – If alcohol plays a major role in your friends’ lives, you might get labeled as the “sober friend” or the “boring one.”

*Being invited to be the designated driver – You might find that you’re only invited to events when your friends expect you to be their designated driver.

A change in your friendship dynamics doesn’t have to be a bad thing, however. You might find the shift welcoming. There’s always a chance that you’ll enjoy conversations with your friends more when you’re sober. And you may even find that they appreciate you more or respect your decisions.

And even if your friendships do change in a way that you don’t like, don’t despair. You might be able to create a new circle of friends, or you may simply decide to hang out with your old pals in different locations and times when alcohol isn’t the main focus.

Go Places that Don’t Serve Alcohol

One of the easiest things you can do to avoid drinking—and to avoid having to explain yourself—is to go to places that don’t serve alcohol.

Coffee shops, movie theaters, museums, and fast food restaurants, are just a few places that aren’t likely to serve alcoholic beverages. Look for places in your community that are alcohol free. From farmer’s markets to local theaters, you’ll likely find plenty of places that don’t serve alcohol.

You might go out alone as you start this new chapter of your life. Or you might invite your friends to join you in these places as a way to encourage sober activities.

Develop a Couple of Go-To Responses

Obviously, you aren’t likely to avoid alcohol all the time. Weddings, shows, and even art galleries, usually serve alcohol.

And of course, your friends may want to go to bars, clubs, or other events, where alcohol is one of the main attractions.

So it’s important to develop some go-to responses ahead of time for how you’ll handle questions about why you’re not drinking. Or you may want a response for how you’ll politely turn down an offer to buy you a drink.

Depending on the person asking, you might decide to offer a direct, truthful response. Here are some options:

“I decided to stop drinking for a while.”

“I’m not interested in drinking tonight.”

“I gave up alcohol.”

“I’m cutting back on my drinking.”

“I’m not going to drink for a while.”

“I’m sober curious.”

“I’m driving tonight, so I’m not drinking.”

“I took a break from drinking, and I love the way I feel now. So I don’t plan to start again any time soon.”

If you’re comfortable lying (some people are, others aren’t), and you need a quick reason to explain your sobriety to an acquaintance, you might say something like:

“I just had a drink, but thank you anyway.”

“I’m still recovering from Thursday night, so I am giving my liver a break tonight.”

“I promised my fitness trainer I’d give up alcohol for a while.”

“I have a medical problem that makes it so I can’t drink.”

“I’m taking medication right now that can’t be mixed with alcohol.”

“I’m on a new diet that doesn’t include alcohol.”

You might also find it’s helpful to add a little humor to the response. You might say that you’re training for a marathon (when it’s clear that you’re not) or that you’re taking a drug test in the morning (which is only funny if it’s not true).

Of course, you don’t need to explain yourself. A simple, “I’m drinking seltzer tonight,” is enough. But if you know your friends are likely to give you a hard time, or you know that you’re going to run into people who are going to insist you drink, having a few canned responses ready to go can prevent you from being taken off guard.

Have a Conversation with Your Friends

It’s up to you to decide how much information to share and who to share the information with. You certainly don’t have to justify your decision. Some people drink, and some people don’t. Everyone has their own choice to make, and no explanation is needed.

If you have good friends who are likely to support your efforts, you might decide to have a direct and honest conversation with them. Tell them that you plan to avoid alcohol or that you’re cutting back.

Let them know what they can do to help. Perhaps you’d appreciate someone else staying sober with you when you go out. Or maybe you’d still like to hang out together, but only not in bars.

You might even still like to do the same things—such as playing cards or watching movies together—but you’re hoping to do so without alcohol being served sometimes.

Hopefully, some of your friends will support your decision. In fact, some of them might also be thinking about cutting back on their own alcohol use and be inspired by you.

Yet others might not understand or may even discourage you from doing it. So be prepared for a variety of responses, as alcohol can stir up some strong feelings for people.

Have a Non-Alcoholic Drink on Hand

It’s helpful to have something in your hand at all times. So if you go to a place that serves alcohol, maybe you can immediately order a non-alcoholic drink.

If you go to someone’s home, bring your own drink. Whether you have bottled water or a protein shake with you, keeping a drink in your hand can prevent people from offering you alcohol.

It’ll also help you decline more easily if you are offered a drink, because you can say, “No thanks, I already have one.”

Have Fun

You might find that people will accuse you of being “boring” or a “buzzkill” when you’re not drinking and they are.

So when you walk into a situation believing that you can’t have fun sober, this is likely to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. You might even isolate yourself or hold back from having a good time—which will then reinforce your belief (and everyone else’s) that being sober makes fun impossible.

So enter into the situation with a positive attitude, and make the best of your time, even if you’re the only one not drinking. You might actually find that being sober is more enjoyable than you predicted.

Have a Reason to Bail Early

If you go out with people who are drinking and you’re not having fun, or you’re really tempted to drink yourself, then maybe you should bail early. This is especially important if you’re going somewhere where you used to always drink before. Walking into the same old bar or the same nightclub you used to frequent may trigger thoughts of wanting to drink again.

You can either just leave or say you have to go without offering a reason why. But you might find it’s more helpful if you offer a reason.

Plan ahead, and think of a reason you could offer for leaving early. Whether you say you have to get up early for an event, or you say you have to meet someone else, a fast excuse to get out of the situation can be helpful.

Do Something Productive the Morning After

You might find that one of the best parts about not drinking is that you don’t waste away the next morning sleeping and feeling hungover. So make the most of the time you gain by doing something enjoyable or productive.

Go for a jog, clean the house, or run errands. Then, take the rest of your day to enjoy your time. Having more time and energy might motivate you to continue abstaining from alcohol.

Do New Things With Your Friends

If your friends are up for trying things that don’t involve alcohol, then you can make some suggestions. Invite them to go to a park, a museum, or hiking. Sign up for a class or new activity together.

You might find that you get to know each other much better when you’re creating new memories—rather than standing around in the same old bars. They might have fun exploring new places and trying new things with you.

Spend Time With People Who Don’t Drink

You may need to shift your social circle to include people who don’t drink. This may seem tough at first. If you’re surrounded by people who make alcohol a big part of their lives, it can feel like everyone drinks.

But in reality, there are plenty of people out there who don’t drink. You just have to find these people.

You might need to try new activities so that you can meet people who don’t drink. Join a volunteer organization, attend events that don’t serve alcohol, or join social media groups for people who participate in sober activities. You’ll likely find plenty of people are doing the same thing—looking for friends who don’t drink.

When you get together with such people, you’ll likely find that they do plenty of activities that don’t involve alcohol—like hiking, skiing, playing games, or fishing. And you might even find that you enjoy doing these types of things much more than doing things that involve alcohol.

Learn From Your Experiences

Consider every sober outing an experiment. You might make some mistakes—like drinking when you didn’t intend to or arguing with someone who offers you a drink.

But you also might discover that you are happier when you aren’t drinking, or that you really enjoy conversations with people more when you’re sober.

Learn from each experience. The information you take away can help you continue creating your best life.

Regardless of why you decide to change your drinking habits, socializing sober can feel scary. If you find that you’re struggling to avoid alcohol, or you’re feeling lonely and isolated, then seek professional help. A therapist can support your efforts and help you find the strategies that work best for you and your life.

By Amy Morin, LCSW