How Do I Keep My Sobriety at Non-Sober Events?

In early recovery, it can feel tough. But a party doesn't have to be a crisis for you. Here's how you can protect your sobriety and maybe even enjoy yourself

September 2, 2022
DJ's hand on turntables

Fair or not, when you are in early recovery, avoiding places that serve alcohol is best. Being around alcohol and people who “get” to have alcohol — that’s how it might feel to you — can trigger cravings and even relapse. At very least, you’ll likely feel uneasy, self-conscious or a bit alien-like. This is still a strange new world, and that’s fine.

But the world keeps spinning while you’re in recovery, so sometimes you don’t have a choice in what social or professional obligations you can skip. Or perhaps you feel it’s important or meaningful for you to attend. In these cases, it’s vital to have a plan to stay sober. This might involve staying away from alcoholic beverages, staying close to a friend or family member who is also in recovery (or in the loop about your recovery), and having an escape plan if the event becomes overwhelming and the vibes don’t sit right. Being prepared can increase your chances of staying sober and moving on to the next thing.

Get More Info

Getting more information if you plan to attend a non-sober event is necessary; understanding what to expect and how to stay safe is vital to your recovery. Before attending any event, understand your own limits and capabilities, as well as just how substance-focused (or not!) the get-together might be.

If you are unsure about something, it is always best to choose caution and abstain from participating. It’s OK to not attend an event if you don’t feel comfortable, and there’s a way to gracefully beg off virtually every kind of function society has invented. Remind yourself that right now, your sobriety is more important than anything else.

Talk With Your Friends and Family — First

When staying sober at non-sober events, being honest with friends and family about your limitations is essential. It can be helpful to explain why you are staying sober — to whatever extent you feel comfortable — and how you plan to stay sober at the gathering. You might say that you are staying sober because you are recovering from addiction or that you simply, but strongly, do not wish to drink alcohol. You may also want to explain how you plan to stay sober by avoiding triggers or staying away from areas where there will be alcohol use.

Your most trusted friends and family, especially, will help you maintain clear boundaries and stay sober at the event.

Decide What You Will Say

Attending non-sober events can be challenging when you’re trying to live sober. You may be worried about what other people will think or say if they see you not drinking alcohol. Most likely, they won’t even know, but it can be helpful to plan and practice what you will say if someone offers you an alcoholic beverage. This way, you will feel more prepared and confident in your decision to stay sober.

Keep these tips in mind when crafting your explanation:

  • You do not owe anyone an explanation, but if you feel comfortable sharing, it may help the person understand your decision.
  • Keep it simple. There’s no need to go into detail about your sobriety journey or explain why you choose to stay sober. There are whole communities of people in recovery who do care about your struggles and triumphs, but — you should be relieved to hear — a stranger at a party probably doesn’t. Everyone has their own stuff to worry about!
  • Be confident in your decision. It is OK to state assertively that you are not using alcohol, and you do not have to justify your choice to anyone. Remember that staying sober is a personal decision, and you should feel proud of your commitment to sobriety.
  • “No, thanks.”

Have a Substitute Beverage on Hand

When attending non-sober events, such as work functions or family gatherings, you may find it helpful to have a nonalcoholic beverage in your hand. This can help you stay sober while still enjoying the event. There are many nonalcoholic drinks out there, so you can find one that suits your taste. Alcohol-free mixology has been gaining in popularity, and a veritable wave of tasty new non-alc drinks for grown-ups has been building in the past few years. Of course, simple and old-school works too: Sparkling water, lemonade and iced tea all have their acolytes.

Sober folks like those three in part because no one else knows what’s in, or not in, your glass. Having a nonalcoholic drink on hand lets you avoid awkward conversations about why you’re keeping sober. You can say that you are driving, or taking medication that doesn’t mix with alcohol, or nothing at all. If someone insists on prying or pressuring, remember you’re not weird for abstaining — they’re weird (and rude and probably insecure) for making it any of their business.

Have an Exit Strategy

It can sometimes feel like a slog to stay sober or have fun at non-sober events, especially lengthy ones. Alcohol and other substances may be pretty visible, peer pressure can be tough to resist, and sometimes you’ll just get tired of the scene. So it’s crucial to have an escape plan in place before attending any event where alcohol is served. This way, if things start feeling off to you, you’ll have a plan for how to leave, or at least take a breather, and stay safe.

Exit strategies could involve anything from leaving an event early to meeting up with a friend who is also staying sober to stepping out for a phone call with someone who’s in your corner. If you always know you have an out, you can attend non-sober events without risking your sobriety.

Recovery Comes First

So: When attending non-sober events, remember that staying sober is the priority. This means that if you feel any risk of relapse, it is best to avoid the event altogether.

Sometimes avoiding the event may not be entirely possible, such as when a close friend or family member is getting married. In these cases, it is important to have a solid plan to help avoid relapse. This may include attending the event with a sober support system, having a backup plan for leaving early if necessary, and avoiding triggers, such as alcohol right nearby or socializing with people you have used substances with in the past. By staying focused on recovery and keeping sobriety as the top priority, you can attend non-sober events without jeopardizing your sobriety.

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