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Five Tips For Staying Sober In Social Settings

Getting sober changes your life in so many ways. You don’t realize how pervasive alcohol is until you give it up! A very real concern is how to interact with your drinking friends in social settings. They still want to order beers at the ball game, wine at dinner and throw back the shots on the weekends. Getting sober doesn’t mean you have to give up your social life or find a completely new set of friends (you may end up doing that, but that’s a different story). The following five suggestions have worked for me in my almost seven years of sobriety; I hope they help you, too!

Don’t try to test yourself

I got sober on Sept 10, 2006. A week later, I was in the bar partying up a storm, deliberately testing my newfound sobriety. I didn’t drink, but I still want to go back and slap the shit out of myself. Why did I feel the need to do that? And it wasn’t like it was a casual backyard barbecue with friends and beer. No, my first test was the same bar I was at when my friend took me home and raped me. I went back to that same damn bar, danced my stupid ass off and thought I was being a strong woman and showing “them” that I still had “it” (don’t ask me what “it” was, I have no idea). I was being an idiot. Looking back, I put both my sobriety and my safety in danger. In early sobriety, you may need to simply avoid places that serve alcohol. That’s ok – it won’t be like that forever. When sobriety is new, you need to be gentle with yourself. Just please, don’t feel like you have to test yourself by dangling temptation in your face. You don’t. You will have plenty of non-self-made tests in sobriety; don’t make things harder on yourself.

Have a plan

Before you even step foot in a place that serves alcohol, have your exit strategy planned. Decide ahead of time what you are going to do if you’re triggered to drink, and stick to it. Are you going to leave? Don’t let yourself get stuck somewhere – always have a mode of transportation available. Be the designated driver so you have control of the vehicle. Keep enough money for a taxi. Have your cell phone handy with the number of someone you can call.

Decide what you’re going to do before you get there. What can you do at this place that doesn’t involved alcohol – dancing, games, people-watching? I actually enjoyed dancing more when I wasn’t falling over drunk. What are you going to drink or eat? Who will you be with–are they people you can trust or will they mock you for not drinking? Practice saying no when someone offers you a drink or yells to take that shot. It helps to have a supportive buddy–someone who will have your back when that drunk guy tries to shove a Jager bomb in your face.

Do your research

Check out the place you’re going ahead of time. If it’s a bar or restaurant, see if they have any “fun” non-alcoholic drinks. I could always get sparkling water with lime, which made me feel festive. Some bars will give free non-alcoholic drinks to designated drivers. If you know what to expect ahead of time, you will be able to order more smoothly while still enjoying the atmosphere.

If you’re going to a private residence, you might be able to bring along a bottle of your favorite nonalcoholic beverage. The etiquette police are split on whether you should ask your hostess before bringing your own beverage, but it’s probably not a bad idea to give them a heads up. No need for lengthy explanation–just a simple, “Hey, I don’t drink alcohol, so I was thinking of bringing some Martinelli’s sparkling cider. Is that ok with you?” will usually suffice. Either the hostess will say, “Oh you don’t need to bring anything, I’ve got you covered” or “Oh hell yes, bring that shit. Now it’s a party!”

Tell a friend

Shortly before my first anniversary, I went to Las Vegas for a work conference. That night, I went out with my coworkers and ended up in the VIP section of Tao. Open bottles of liquor sitting five feet from me, in the hot Vegas night air, feeling like a rock star…recipe for disaster. Luckily, I had planned ahead (see #2). As I was relatively new to this job, none of my coworkers knew my history with alcohol. I wanted to party in Vegas with them but was afraid of what might happen. My plan was to simply leave if things got too rough. I confided my plan to a coworker. She would keep everyone from worrying if I suddenly disappeared from a Vegas nightclub. I was a little scared to trust her, but her response was that she wasn’t planning to drink and would leave with me if things got too hard. She didn’t leave my side all night, and I had a great time – sans alcohol.

If you’re going to be in a place where you think you might have a hard time staying sober, try to find someone you can trust to be with you. Not to be your guardian, but to be supportive of your choice not to drink and help you stick to your plan if you need it.

Put yourself first

If you are somewhere and you feel yourself wanting to reach for a drink, leave. Don’t worry about pissing people off. Your sobriety is more important than someone else’s drunk annoyance because you’re leaving the party early. Your friends will get over their annoyance faster than you will get over your self-hate for staying and taking that drink.

If you’re with a group, tell the least drunk member that you’re leaving to keep them from worrying. You never know – you may even provide the out that others are looking for.

Giving up alcohol doesn’t mean becoming a hermit or only socializing with sober people. It just means you need to be a little more strategic about what you do when you’re at places where alcohol is served. You can protect your sobriety and still have a good time!

What has worked for you when faced with alcohol in social settings?

Share your tips, stories, and suggestions in the comments!

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  1. Great suggestions! I always make sure I have an exit strategy planned just in case I need it. That’s the main reason I always make sure I’m driving separately to events – in case I need to leave. That way it doesn’t ruin it for anyone else.

  2. These are great tips, Sara! I never would have thought about telling someone you are leaving, but that makes perfect sense. Love the idea of an exit strategy. I always want to drive separately to my family’s house, and my husband never wants us to because he thinks it’s a hassle, but I feel so much more comfortable knowing I can leave when I want. I need to be firmer about this. Thanks for validating that for me. I never realized why I felt that way, but your post really helps!

    1. I had such a hard time with this. I was so afraid that people would start to give me a hard time and that I’d use it as an excuse to drink. Like Sara, I put myself in situations where I was in danger of drinking or just really uncomfortable to make other people happy or to continue to “fit in”. I really do wish I’d had this list on hand. 🙂

  3. This help me a lot. I need to get my kids back in believing in me really fast before I lose them forever. I want to be the mom I used to be.I’m just starting my sobriety and I am REALLY REALLY ready to make this change. I WANT MY KIDS BACK!!!! My oldest daughter(25yrs old) has been picking upm y slack and it’s not fair to her. I want to change my life. They watched their dad die 3 years ago and I never got over that. Now I’m doing this to them. My husband was only 43. I have to change please help

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