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How To Stay Sober At Social Events

Last Updated: Tue, January 23, 2024

Part of the beauty of rehab is you get to live in a bubble -- devoid of outside influences -- but when it's time to leave, the bubble pops, and you need to figure out how to stay sober in social situations. You can only remain reclusive for so long. Eventually, be it a wedding, a graduation, or somebody's birthday, you'll be forced from your safe haven and into a precarious situation. So what can you do?

The key to any dangerous situation is the same as the boy scouts' motto: always be prepared. In the same way that schools, companies, and overprotective parents enforce fire drills, so too should you plan in advance to attending any social event. Overconfidence will be your downfall. And by "overconfidence," I mean strutting onto the scene with nothing but an "I've got this" attitude. Make a plan.

Drive Yourself

This is one of the most basic and obvious ways to stay sober at social events. Drive yourself. Even if you bring someone with you, ensure you have the keys to your car. This provides you with 2 immediate benefits.

  1. You can leave whenever you want This is huge, if you carpool or take public transportation, you become dependent on others to take you out of the situation. If you start feeling uncomfortable, you need to be able to grab your keys and leave.

  2. You have an excuse for not drinking If you're not telling people, you don't have to. You can't drink tonight because you're the designated driver.

The latter is the next point to work out.

Establish If You're Telling People

Are you telling people you're sober? For many, sobriety is a proud badge they wear, share and look for support. For others, it's a personal journey they'd rather not advertise. Whichever boat you're in, figure it out ahead of time. Rehearse dialogues in your head. If you have access to the guest list, think about how you'd feel with the attendees knowing you don't drink. If you feel comfortable with people knowing, then you should also prepare to talk about it.

If you're not comfortable with people knowing, then have some excuses ready for when someone asks "why aren't you drinking?" or "can I get you a drink?"

Some stock replies you can use are:

  • I have an early day tomorrow.

  • I'm on a diet.

  • I'm DD tonight.

  • I don't feel like drinking, thanks anyway.

Of course, if you're meeting at a restaurant, one of my personal favorites is to react with sheer snobbery. When the waiter comes by to ask what you'd like to drink, ask to hear what type of whiskey they have, after they've recited their selection, shrug and say, "ah, I guess I'll have a coke, then."

Set Ground Rules

Determine when you'll arrive at the party and how late you plan on staying. If this event changes venue, determine ahead of time how you'll handle it. If it will interfere with when you've planned on going home, don't go. If you think it'll put you at risk of relapse, don't go. A good rule of thumb, "if you have to ask, you know the answer."

Get A Drink In Your Hand

One of the fastest ways to avoid temptation is to put a drink in your hand quickly. If you're at a wedding, head over to the bar for something non-alcoholic and fruity. If you're at a restaurant, order a large non-alcoholic beverage. It's all too common for someone to volunteer to get you a drink. If they see you already have a drink in your hand, then you've already won that battle.

If you're heading to a place where they won't have non-alcoholic beverages, say someone's house or something, then buy your own and bring it to the party. A large cup of coffee from Starbuck's or an energy drink can keep your energy up and keep your hands occupied.

Find Your Safe Space

A great majority of people drink to give themselves "liquid courage." It's a way to lower inhibitions and feel comfortable (at the time). As one man put it, "a normal drinker has a martini, they feel a little dizzy; if I have a martini, for the first time in my whole life, the world makes sense." When you go to social event, find that other thing that normalizes you. If you can, lose yourself in dance. If it's food, hover around those appetizers. If it's a friend you haven't seen in years, engage them in conversation. Wherever you can go to feel at ease and calm, do it. This isn't your wedding; you don't need to reach every person. Find the activity, person, or space where you can relax a little. If you're having trouble finding it, plan B...

Exit Strategy

You know that feeling you get when you walk into a room and you can tell something horrible happened? Two people clearly just fought before you walked in or someone was crying in their car before they approached your desk. When you've been sober long enough to be out of the withdrawal phase, you'll feel a heightened sense of awareness, and if you're starting to feel temptation creeping up, leave.

It doesn't matter in this case if the threat is real or not. If you're starting to feel uncomfortable, then you need to leave. If you're in a position where you could not drive yourself, then call an Uber, Lyft, or taxi. If you have a friend you can rely on, then get them to drive you.

Listen to your emotions and trust your gut, you'll be glad you did.

Observe & Report

This doesn't work for everyone, but when all else fails, give this a shot. Observe those drinking around you. Most people are more into the "idea" as opposed to actually "drinking." With this in mind, watch the people around you. For some, this can have a sobering effect where you can objectively view what alcohol does to others, regardless of whether or not they're alcoholics.

Pull In Sober Support

This isn't weird anymore to broadcast your surroundings. A lot of people make a living vlogging for a living. If you're finding yourself in a social situation where you're struggling, take to social media to share it. Find support in the sober community by live tweeting, instagramming, or posting on Facebook. Get the community to back you up.

If you're not using social media actively, then draw upon the I Am Sober App and check your back on your progress. View your entries and see why you became sober in the first place. Blog or journal what's happening around you to keep track of your feelings and articulate your thoughts clearly.

Drinking is heavily ingrained in our culture and as an alcoholic, retraining yourself to not drink can induce a culture shock-like experience. However, there's plenty to do and healthier ways to socialize than relying on a drug.

I Am Sober is a free app that helps you get some control back in your life.

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