In my twenties, I stopped drinking. For two years, I just nursed glasses of lemonade at parties and tried my best to deal with people’s confusing suspicion about it.
Friends don’t always trust you when you decide to drink less or quit drinking, you see. They’re wary of you. It’s like they suspect you’re deliberately staying sober so you can catch them out doing or saying something stupid in their inebriated state.
They feel betrayed somehow by your decision not to join in the drinking. That, or they just think you’re no fun anymore.
The peer pressure is real when you decide not to drink for whatever reason. People would often foist a drink on me when we were out, or fill my glass with alcohol, insisting that I be part of the party.
That included friends, even close ones. It troubled me and proved just how powerfully we’ve come to rely on alcohol for socialising.
So, how do you manage your social life when you decide to cut down your drinking? How do you quit without losing your mates? And how do you manage the weird reaction you might get from people when you put down the booze?
How to explain it
Maybe you’ve stopped drinking for mental or physical health reasons. Maybe you need to address your relationship with alcohol.
Whatever your reason, it belongs to you. You don’t have to explain to everyone why you’ve decided to quit drinking – you do not owe it to anyone – but it might be helpful to have a little spiel ready to go, anyway.
It doesn’t have to be the whole truth, particularly if it’s tender for you. In good company, it should really be enough to say that you’re not feeling like drinking right now, you’re taking it slow booze-wise at the moment or you just don’t fancy a wine.
Of course, if you’re feeling strong enough to be vulnerable, you can explain that you need a break from alcohol because you felt out of control, because your doctor recommended it, or because you’re testing out sobriety for a bit.
You can be as brief as you like, and if someone presses you to tell them more, just say that you don’t want to talk about it. Good friends shouldn’t have objections to that.
How to socialise without alcohol
Once you’ve decided to stop drinking, you’ll start to notice how easy and lovely it is to have fun without it. We can get so dependent on alcohol as a social lubricant that we forgot how to socialise without it, but it can actually be refreshing and delightful.
So, you could start by suggesting some activities where alcohol is not required. A walk in the park, for instance. Brunch, without the bottomless prosecco. Coffee dates. A sport of some kind, cycling, a swim, the movies.
There are all sorts of wholesome activities that do not require alcohol and it’ll probably be freeing to be among your friends without needing that sip of a G&T.
Your friends will probably enjoy it, too, because it can actually be a wholly lovely throwback to a time before alcohol complicated our social lives.
You will ultimately have to get used to being the one who’s not drinking at an event where everyone else is if you want to be able to go to weddings, birthdays and celebrations.
To survive that unscathed, you just have to be resolute, calm and committed to your new sobriety. Stay strong, lay into the soft drinks, work on knowing who you are without booze.
It might take time for this to feel normal and OK for you but stick at it. Keep accepting those invitations to social events and ordering those cranberry juices.
There’s no reason to isolate yourself just because you’ve decided to say no to cider.
Speaking of drinks – take delicious non-alcoholic drinks with you if you’re going to an event where booze will be supplied.
Just as other people might BYO beer, bring along some fancy elderflower cordial or a lovely sparkling mineral water. You could also invite along a sober friend for solidarity and support.
What to do if your friends get angry about it
If your friends get angry with you for making the decision to stop drinking, then you need to think about the type of people you’re keeping in your life.
Frankly, it’s pretty appalling if someone can’t handle your decision to quit drinking. If they give you a hard time about it, I’d be having a stern think about whether they belong in your life anymore.
Real friends should listen to you, encourage you and support you in your decisions, even if that means they lose a drinking buddy.
If the foundation of your friendship with someone is the shared act of consuming alcohol, then you should think about what this person means to you without a tequila in their hand and whether there’s anything worth salvaging outside partying together.
If you lose a friend because you stopped drinking, how good a friend could they really have been in the first place?
That said, if you’d like to keep a cranky friend of yours, you could try explaining your decision to them, if that’s something you feel comfortable doing. If they understand why you’ve decided not to drink, they might find it easier to get on board.
If they’ve reacted badly, you could tell them it’s hurt you and you’d really appreciate it if they could try and be kinder about it.
Challenge them on their behaviour, too. Asking someone straight-up ‘why does my not drinking make you uncomfortable?’ will either shut someone up or get them to assess their own reaction. Pour yourself a nice cold apple juice and talk it through.
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