How to socialise without alcohol this Christmas

It’s time to dust off the decorations, get stuck in traffic and drink to celebrate the festive season – at the staff party, the Christmas dinner with friends and that charity ball.

Christmas is meant to be a time of inclusion, but the Irish focus on alcohol makes it difficult for any non-drinkers and people trying to live their best sober life.

Alcohol is a feature of all social situations – and our culture makes it tough to opt out when everyone else is sharing a bottle of vino, or enjoying an after-work pint. Telling your social circle that you no longer drink is sometimes harder than not drinking in the first place.

Sobriety is so much more than a decision about your physical health and emotional well-being — it has a huge effect on your social life. Throughout life, alcohol is integral to all of things communal – from family dinners, weddings and BBQs, to holiday get-togethers, networking events, birthday parties and impromptu catch-ups with neighbours.

Don’t expect everything to be the same

So, your social life is different now — but that’s a good thing. You’re different, too. You need to accept that this is a big deal. It’s huge. You used to self-medicate with one of the most addictive drugs in the world, and you don’t anymore.

You’re going from being one of the drunkest people at the party to being (frequently) the only sober person. Of course things are going to be different.

Know that time will build confidence

Alcohol is a security blanket in any social situation we feel anxious or uncomfortable in: Dating, family parties, nights out with groups, work mixers, etc.

Don’t worry if you feel anxious and uncomfortable a lot at social events in the early days of sobriety; as your confidence in your decision grows, those belly-clenching moments become few and far between.

Trust your friends to be there

Your real ones, at least. Sobriety can have a fascinating impact on friendships. Some of your friends will need a little time to adjust to your significant life choice. A couple of others may drift away without any trauma on either side —your sobriety may simply have accelerated an inevitable growing-apart process. Your true friends were there for you when you were passing out at parties and throwing up in the back of taxis, and they’ll be there for you now.

Explain yourself

You’re probably going to get asked why you’re not drinking again and again. Have a quick reply ready, such as: “I just find I feel better if I don’t drink.”

If someone is persistent, consider replying: “Does my not drinking make you uncomfortable?’” You’ll find that usually ends this line of enquiry quickly and respectfully. If that doesn’t work, or if you feel under pressure from friends to drink, this is the point where you have to question those friendships.

Know your first drink

The most difficult part of not drinking at a social event is often turning down that first drink from your host. So, if it’s BYO, bring your own soft drink. Or, if it’s at a bar or restaurant, know what you’re ordering – once that first one’s out of the way the rest of the event will be a lot easier.

Find a new favourite drink

This might be a lime and soda, chocolate milk, plain old water, or a mojito mocktail – but it’s nice to still have a regular drink when you’re out and about with friends.

Keep a drink in your hand

Quite simply, people are less likely to offer you an alcoholic drink and you’re less likely to have that uncomfortable look of someone who doesn’t know what to do with your hands.

Dance (or do something)

If there’s great music enjoy it – and if you’re sober you’ll be a lot more co-ordinated! But even if there’s no dancing going on, find something to keep you occupied so you don’t dwell on not drinking.

Watch the drinkers

If you need reinforcement about why you’re not drinking at a party, just take some time to watch anyone who’s over-indulging and enjoy the hangover-free morning after!

Watch yourself

It’s good to see who you really are and how you really react to others when you’re sober – this sort of mindfulness is important when it comes to reacting to social situations.

Break the inhibition cycle

It’s important to remember that you don’t need alcohol to go out and meet new people – and once you’ve got used to being the life and soul of a party without having a few drinks, it’ll become second nature.

Give yourself a reward

Set yourself the goal of not drinking at the party and then reward yourself with a meal out, a trip to the movies or new shoes. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a big prize or not, just make sure you realise it’s an achievement you’d like to repeat.

Hold your own sober events

If you’re holding a daytime barbecue or a kids’ birthday party, spell out to those coming that it’s going to be alcohol-free.

Gain the support of friends and family

Don’t just spring your sobriety on people at a social event – let them know that you’re not drinking beforehand and get them to help you.

Enjoy your mornings

Get up and out early the day after a sober party and make the most of your clear head – it’s a sure fire way to keep you motivated the next time a party rolls round.

Walk away

Planning ahead is crucial, and if a situation is likely to be high risk, it’s absolutely fine for the plan to simply be to opt out. Otherwise, every event should include an escape plan. If you’re feeling more than a little tempted, leave immediately. There’s no advantage to testing your willpower. Happy Sober Christmas!

Tabor Group is a leading provider of residential addiction treatment services in Ireland. We provide support and care to hundreds of clients suffering from addictions to alcohol, substances, gambling and eating disorders. For more information on Tabor Group’s services click here.