How To Have A Sober Social Life


A lot of social events involve, or even revolve around, alcohol. If you’re sober, or if a friend or date is, this can cause some problems. Luckily, we have some tips for solving them.

Talk to your friends.

I talked to Sacha Scoblic, author of Unwasted: My Lush Sobriety, who recommends an open chat if you or a friend decides to get sober:

Drinkers should […] feel free to talk to the sober person in their lives about his or her limits around alcohol. These aren’t state secrets; these are comfort zones. And everything is more comfortable when its out in the open instead of festering inside (Oh so now we can’t go to a bar anymore? — so lame. Or, Oh so now I have to watch my friends get drunk? — so rude). A chat about this new state of affairs — a friend’s sobriety — will probably end in a hug. Not chatting will end in resentments that only serve to further cleave the friendship.

So if a friend is quitting drinking, feel free to talk to them about how you can support them socially and otherwise. And if you’re the one quitting and you’d like your friends to make adjustments — like, say, meeting up for ice cream rather than beer — bring it up early rather than letting yourself get resentful.

Schedule non-alcoholic fun.

Caren Osten Gerszberg and Leah Odze Epstein of Drinking Diaries offered this advice for sober folks:

Take the lead by suggesting a movie or a play; a game of frisbee or something outdoors. A concert. Something where sitting in a bar or a restaurant drinking is not the focus.

Scoblic agrees:

When the get-together revolves around drinking, I start to focus on what I can’t have, and then I get moody just as everyone else is getting loose and playful. It’s not a great combination. I think the best way to be social with people who meet up at bars is to ask them to meet up at coffee shops, diners, or your apartment instead.

Non-sober friends can help too, she says. Some ideas:

Do shit together. Don’t just hang around drinking and expect to maintain a good friendship with your sober pal. Get out into the world. Eat together. Go to movies. Play games. Take a class. Climb a mountain. Study krav maga. Did I mention eat together? Without a drink in hand, parties, cocktail hours, and bars just feel like standing interminably.

Serve tasty non-alcoholic drinks.

When I was in college, all parties had to offer EANABs, or Equally Attractive Non-Alcoholic Beverages. This meant you couldn’t have a full bar and, say, tap water — you had to offer some Snapple or Nantucket Nectar or at least a selection of sodas. This is a good rule of thumb for post-college parties as well. Gerszberg and Epstein say,

Make sure to have an assortment of nonalcoholic drinks on hand, not just water. If you’re going to take the time to stock your bar with wine, beer, and countless other choices, make sure you have other options for sober people, like sparkling soda or cranberry juice and seltzer.

They suggest offering some Equally Attractive Non-Alcoholic Activities as well:

Try not to make the entire event or party revolve around booze. If you’re having a cocktail or dinner party, include games where people can be silly without alcohol, like charades, Pictionary, Scrabble, Poker, even Guitar Hero.

Don’t treat your sober friend with kid gloves.

Says Scoblic,

Don’t completely edit your behavior for, say, me just because I’m an alcoholic. Getting wasted in front of your sober buddy is not awesome, but I don’t want to be the reason you’re not having a glass of wine, either. I’m not interested in imposing my psycho mental issues on top of your party, house-warming, or weapons swap. Nor will it help me to feel as though everyone is walking on eggshells for my benefit; I don’t want a big neon sign that reads “SENSITIVE ALCOHOLIC CHICK” swinging over my head every time I enter a room. Look, if you’re having a kegger, obviously I know to expect attending — and then I have to decide if I can handle it or not. Don’t judge me for not coming and don’t hide your beer if I do show up.

For dates, try a coffee shop — or coffee shop/bar.

Booze is a pretty common feature of first dates — as Gerszberg and Epstein say, “everyone seems funnier after a few drinks — and sexier, thanks to beer goggles.” Nonetheless, there are alternatives. They suggest, “If your date wants to meet at a bar and that’s hard for you, you might suggest a cafe instead. If the person insists on a bar, that might be something to note.” Scoblic has a similar idea:

Go to coffee/bars — you know, the kind with old velvet couches and lots of freelancers zoned out on their laptops. Your date gets his or her social lubricant, you don’t feel conspicuous ordering chai, and the noise level is actually conducive to a conversation, unlike an ordinary bar.

Don’t feel like you have to explain yourself for not drinking on a date.

Gerszberg and Epstein say, “Most people don’t want to come right out on a first date and announce that they’re in recovery — probably best to save that for the second or third date.” Luckily, not drinking on a first date doesn’t have to be a huge deal. Says Scoblic,

The thing about sober dating is that it shouldn’t be any different from any other kind of dating. The reason it is different is that we alcoholics get all in our heads about it and go whackadoodle. We do this because, as good addicts, we cannot actually imagine what it is like just to be a social drinker. We immediately assume that if we don’t order a drink, our date will think terrible things about us before we’ve even said a word — like that we’re lame, vanilla, preachy, squares — because that is exactly what we used to think about people who didn’t drink. Your date, however, is presumably not an alcoholic and therefore not as obsessed with this subject as you are. And here’s the thing: A lot of people don’t drink for many reasons (almost all of which this alcoholic finds hard to fathom) — like health, having no taste for it, or Mormonism — and no one gives a good gosh darn. Most of the time, people just aren’t thinking about us as much as we think they are thinking about us (in fact, they’re thinking about what we think of them; it’s a narcissistic round-robin). So: relax, have a club soda, and pretend you’re a health nut — until you can get comfortable with the fact that your lack of an alcoholic beverage is Not a Really Big Deal.

She adds, “If your lack of drinking does bother your date in any way, then consider yourself lucky: You just found out right away not to waste your time.”

While dating and socializing while sober can be scary, and changing your social life to accommodate a sober friend might feel difficult at first, the change can also be enriching. Gerszberg and Epstein suggest,

Where alcohol perhaps was once your jumping-off point to having fun, explore new activities that you may not have tried before: indoor rock climbing, poker. Go to film festivals and concerts with friends. You’d be surprised how many activities don’t revolve around alcohol.

Even if you’re not sober, having a sober friend can spur you to break out of a social rut and try new things. And if you’re the one who’s sober, remember that gaining your friends’ support could help them discover new forms of fun too. Also, support is what friends are for. Says Scolic, “Friends should make you feel good to be around, not anxious. And good friends will want that, too.”

Need help with a sticky social situation? Email us! We’ll sweep your social minefield!

For all Social Minefield columns, go here.

Unwasted: My Lush Sobriety
Drinking Diaries [Home]

Image via keren-seg/

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin