How to Socialize Without Alcohol: 7 Tips

Posted On: 10.07.14

7 tips

A month ago, I wrote a post called Are You Ready to Stop Drinking? I wrote the post for people who might not need to stop drinking, but who might want to, for those of us who suspect life might be sunnier and sweeter without alcohol. I wrote the post because it’s one I would have loved to read several years ago when I was quietly thinking about my own drinking patterns and wondering if I might want to change them. I wrote the post because I don’t think there are enough people writing about this topic – the choice to rethink alcohol in modern life – and felt I had something to say.

To be honest, the response to my post startled me. So many people reached out saying that it struck a chord, that they have been wanting to experiment with a new way of living life. Several people – some that I know, some that I don’t – have actually given up alcohol in the wake of my September post. Hearing this is both humbling and gratifying; that my words are landing where they should inspires me to keep exploring this topic even though I continue to struggle with whether or not I want to.

You see, not drinking is not a big deal for me anymore. It is rare that I feel tempted to have a cocktail. The craving I once felt has faded. I no longer associate relaxation or fun with consuming alcohol. And so none of this seems super interesting to me because it’s just become my life. But then I hear from friends, from you guys, from real people who are curious about living life without alcohol and I remember that what I’m doing is not the norm and is not necessarily easy. I remember that it was difficult for me, or more difficult for me, at first. And then I feel compelled to write about it again because the truth is I have learned a lot and have lots to say on the topic.

So, once a month, I will write about this. Today is October 7th which means that it has been six months since I made this decision to live a dry life. That’s half a year. Kind of major even though it doesn’t feel major because it has gotten to be easy and purely a good thing. Six months of living clearly and sleeping well and waking up every morning feeling good. All worth smiling about, and celebrating. To celebrate, I will leave you with seven tips on how to navigate those first days/weeks/months of going out and not drinking. Because the territory can feel tricky and treacherous and there are little insights I collected along the way.

1. Arrive armed with answers.

For better or worse, people might expect you to drink and give you strange looks and pepper you with questions if you don’t. Particularly here in New York City where alcohol is ubiquitous, this is the case. If you will be in a setting where people will be drinking and might expect you to partake, arrive armed with a few answers. Note that these are simple answers and no elaboration is necessary. If someone says: What can I get you? you might say: I’m going to start with water. If someone says: Why aren’t you drinking? you might say: I don’t feel like it tonight or I don’t drink during the week or I’m experimenting with not drinking. Note: You might want to explain more about your decision not to drink. I was always happy to engage people on this topic and I found these conversations fascinating, but I appreciate that not everyone wants to talk about this. The bottom line is that you might feel empowered to have a few easy answers to toss back at people who choose to ask. Also note that many wonderful people will not even notice whether or not you are drinking or care one way or the other. One more thing: Pay attention to the people who give you the hardest time for not drinking. It’s worth considering whether they have their own issues around the topic.

2. Push through the first round(s).

Though it’s now no big deal to go out and not drink, it didn’t feel so easy-breezy at first. In the beginning, I noticed that the biggest temptation came at the start of a social event. Perhaps predictable, but I felt most deprived and resentful when everyone was ordering their first take-off-the-edge cocktail. But after that first stretch of time passed, that first round or two, it got much easier to not be drinking. By the end of the night, when some people were slurring their words or doing sundry other silly alcohol-fueled things, I was thankful to be clear and in control, happy that I had chosen to abstain. The beginnings of the nights are trickiest, so just push through.

3. Choose a go-to mocktail.

In the beginning, when I wasn’t drinking, I sometimes found it easier to look like I was drinking so that people would leave me alone. I would drink sparkling water with lime. On occasion, I’d order a virgin Mary. These days, I don’t care at all, but in the beginning, it’s easy to feel self-conscious. Also note that many bartenders can whip up wonderful mocktail versions of many cocktails.

4. Celebrate the details you’d otherwise miss.

This is my favorite tip and I acknowledge that I might be more jazzed about it than most because I’m a writer and obsessed with details, but when we are drinking, when the world starts to blur at the edges a bit, we can lose the details of our experiences. Sometimes, this loss is welcome; it’s nice to escape a bit. But it’s also wonderful to be in a restaurant or at a party and have a crystal clear lens on life. I remember being at a restaurant downtown with Husband a while back. It was a trendy, happening place and we were seated at the bar and waiting for our table. Everyone around us was sipping beautiful, lush cocktails and for a fleeting moment, I felt a sharp envy that they were doing this and I was just drinking boring old water, but then I started to really see what was happening around me, to hear snips of stories (a couple arguing next to us, another couple whispering sweet nothings), to smell the food traveling by us, to feel the cardboard coaster in my hand, the air sweeping in from the outside, to taste the flavors of our food. It’s amazing how dense and rich the world can be without the gloss of booze.

5. Pay attention to who you are without booze.

This is a big one. I noticed that when I first started socializing without alcohol, I was a quieter version of myself. I was less exuberant and chatty and more reserved and observant. It took me a while to realize that this was, and is, okay. It also took me a while to realize that this was, and is, who I really am, that alcohol might make us more animated and exaggerated versions of ourselves, but that the raw material of self is what it is without this and other accoutrements. Without alcohol, I am more careful, but also more authentic. I say what I want to say and have a better filter. I have come to love who I am without getting tipsy. This is a process, this learning who we are when sober in social settings, but it can be a really wonderful and eye-opening process.

6. Reward yourself.

When it comes to this kind of stuff, I believe in rewards. At least in the beginning. If we are in a world where everyone seems to be drinking and we are abstaining for reasons that feel important to us, then it’s okay to reward ourselves for making it through evenings without wine or our drink of choice. For me, rewards have come in the form of candy, trashy magazines, extra workouts, writing, selfies (ha), etc. Obviously, as we become more comfortable in our abstinence, it’s probably best to eliminate these rewards, but I think in the beginning, it’s totally okay.

7. Memorize the morning after.

Waking up after a good, solid stretch of sleep with zero hangover is the absolute best. Even when we don’t drink a lot, I think mornings after can be tough and a bit draggy. I didn’t realize this until I stopped and my mornings became so much brighter. Yes, I am still perpetually exhausted from the shuffle of kids and books and all else, but I don’t feel the same trademark physical/emotional/existential heaviness that drinking sometimes caused. In the beginning, I would pay close attention to the hues of these mornings, how good and pure they were, and this would serve as wonderful motivation for my next booze-free night out.


  • Is it easy or hard for you to go out and not drink?
  • How does it make you feel when someone you are socializing is not drinking?
  • Do you pay attention to how much other people are drinking?
  • Do you have any additional partying-without-drinking tips?
  • Are you interested in changing your drinking habits? What do you think is holding you back?
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19 Comments for: "How to Socialize Without Alcohol: 7 Tips"
  1. What a great list! I am not foregoing all alcohol these days like you are, but I have certainly become more selective of when I decide to have a cocktail, more so than any other time in my life. The real reason is so much of what I like to drink (beer and wine) are migraine inducers for me and these are quite often the only choices at a particular party/venue. It’s just not worth it to me in the AM to feel like I’ve been run over by a truck. So my go to response is, “no thanks, I’ve got to feel sharp tomorrow morning.” I think most people get that. But I do love your idea of having responses at the ready because if you’re female, the automatic assumption if you’re not drinking is that you are pregnant (though should anyone really be probing for reasons? that’s another topic altogether!). Another tip: if you’re hosting an event, make sure you have plenty of fun non-alcoholic choices available (mine usually include seltzer and juices, Izze sodas, sparkling lemonade, etc) and that those folks get the fancy glasses too, no matter what they’re drinking.

    • Stace

      Yes I do find that I’m much more sofa after some alcoholic foo foo .
      I am kind of a bump on a log with no drink. I usually don’t socialize too much. If I buy alcohol then I rarely finish it at home. I’m not about to need a drink to calm down. Alcohol is a depressant after all.

  2. Andrea

    I love your writing on this topic and, while I may not comment on it often, I really pay attention to it. I am not dissimilar from you (how you were, anyway) when it comes to my relationship with booze and you writing really makes me think and look inward. Thank you.

  3. i often don’t drink when we are out w people or I drink very little. (I like my wine at home!) I never regret not keeping up w everyone else. And people only notice if I make a big deal of it. I recommended having an exit plan– know when you’re leaving and stick to it. I get a little uncomfortable at parties after a while–especially when everyone else is getting drunk, and knowing I will be leaving when I want helps. (I’m a little anti social though, to begin with!) thanks for writing about this.

  4. Nicole

    I have 6 months on Thursday! And truly, I couldn’t agree with you more, that life is a bit brighter, a bit clearer, and that mornings are so much less fuzzy. I have become accustomed to often being the only one who is not drinking at a social event but I find that to be empowering. I often say that not drinking is very “punk rock” especially in an urban environment (I live in San Francisco). As a single parent of three, I have found that the absence of alcohol has made me a much more grounded mother, and better able to fully experience the joyful, fascinating, and sometimes difficult moments of parenting. I feel all of it, the full spectrum of every moment, and it has made me much more grateful for both the difficulty and the bliss.

    Thank you for your insights!

  5. Melissa

    Again, my sincerest thank you for your words.
    Always a bullseye feeling on my experience of choosing not to drink as well.
    Is it hard at the beginning of a social event? Yes, but it does definitely get easier.
    And i do feel more my genuine self than ever before.
    It has been 13.5 months for me. What i would like to share is not only does socializing get easier and the experience richer, but i have discovered my alone time is just as enjoyable and i do not feel that awful self deceit i felt before when i would drink more than usual because i was alone.
    This evening, i am currently on a “redo” solo camping trip that i did July 2013. I drank most afternoons and evenings, as much as i could. It was heart wrenching, i knew then i had a big issue.
    This week i have cycled, kayaked, ran and had so many joyful moments hanging wirh my little guy (dog) Arrow.

    Life is so much better.

    Warmest appreciation for your words,

  6. katherine

    Great list and a great attitude! Inspiring! Thanks for sharing.

  7. I am one of those who LOVE these posts and also one who has quit alcohol. I am not sure how long or if I will bring it back … but for now, until at least May. Most days though it’s Just For Today:)

    It’s definitely not easy breezy so I love love love these posts. Like Gabrielle Bernstein, you have a way of making the hard things look glamorous and chic. So thank you:) I agree that the highs are so much better than the lows, but I do get resentful sometimes and I miss the edge being off.

    One thing that helps is to think past the first drink and remind myself of all the icky bits. Thank you so much for opening this new trail for me:)

    • Patrick

      Just finding your article cuz well, I was looking for it.
      Enjoying my Sunday morning about 6 weeks in. My social life was/is very wrapped up in drinking and friends that do. When I couple both the blurred edges of intoxication and hangover, I am motivated to introspection and the possibility of the “new” time granted to explore. and remember.

      Thank you. .

  8. Pingback: Giving Up Alcohol

  9. jimmy artache

    I am under the influence of alcohol now, and crying after reading your post,it touched me. Right now I just want to say thank you.

  10. Gary

    Dear Aidan,

    I am 6 weeks into not drinking. Due to a medical condition I was “encouraged” to give up the excessive drinking outings. Moderation was fine but not the excess. I found the more I resisted the more I wanted to resist. The actual act of giving up the alcohol for me was nothing (for me anyway). What I’m finding is what to do now??? The same activities with the same people now seem senseless and unattractive. I’ve spent 25 years programming myself to associate drinking with socializing. I travel extensively with my business and am in sales. The happy hour into the late night became my venue of choice. The upside to not drinking is tremendous, however my friends, clients and colleagues like most I assume have become programmed to see me in a different light. If you’re familiar with Seinfeld many have called me “fun Bobby” and I’m looking to keep the same friends but figure out how to hang in those situations and not be the proverbial stick in the mud. I’m finding that drunk people piss me off (unless I’m one of them apparently). Anyone with suggestions fire away. This has been the best source I’ve found for this subject and want to extend a very sincere THANK YOU.


    • Miranda

      Hi Gary
      I’ve just read your post and in thinking exactly the same thing! I don’t want to stand around talking for hours now, can’t enjoy tipsy jokes etc and just don’t know what else to do now. I’m bored and boring. What did you do?

  11. Jessica

    As of recent I have decided to cut alcohol out of my life. I believe my body cannot process it and any more than one drink would make me loopy. It has been wonderful but awkward as I live without it. The hardest part is socializing. I really appreciate your thoughts in this area. I don’t want to stay home and avoid socializing just because I am not drinking. I want to feel comfortable and accept that I am shy, not as outgoing as I was when cocktailing, and serious. I enjoy small group conversation and listening to other people share themselves. However I need to work on being my true self in any situation rather than what I think others want me to be. So thank you so much for this commentary on this very popular subject.

    • Michael O'Meara

      I quit alcohol (beer only 5 pints per evening) 4 years ago (on my own) it was difficult at first , I felt great after a few months , and still feel great, I don’t hang around my old drinking buddies any more ,I’m a lot more reserved, but feel like a much better and responsible person , good luck Jessica , it is difficult at the beginning

  12. Laura

    Hi I am 59 years old and have drank must of my life to function in these situations. I hadn’t drank for a week and then we had a get together. I get nervous and drank not alot but I really feel like I’m on the right path .I have to learn how to deal with the feelings I get and learn a new,way to deal with them.your post is very helpful thank

  13. Tiffany

    Thank you for the fantastic tips! I am currently in Drug Court and had a relapse at a memorial for a friend who died. I realized shortly after drinking, it was the wrong decision for me to make. I woke up with a killer hangover, even with just a couple shots taken, regret for the things I’d revealed to certain people while I was tipsy, realizing I had to test that day and I’d better tell on myself and last but not least, nobody even spent the time to speak about the beloved friend who had passed just days before! The memorial ended up being a wild house party and the only time I heard our friends name was at the beginning of a round of cheers! I now have to write a report on what I could do differently next time something is celebrated in a social environment, so Thank you for helping me with ideas for this! Awesome

  14. Miranda

    I previously posted that having stopped for four weeks was feeling bored and found the prospect of socialising boring…not so!! I had a wonderful evening, people were fun and entertaining and, as a previous post has said, after the first round (which was the hardest) it was easy and most of all, I had fun. I was worried that I am boring without alcohol but to my surprise I felt exactly the same, chatty and sociable!! There was a good atmosphere too.
    More surprisingly, I still spilt my drink and the next day found it hard to remember everything!! And I thought that was down to drinking !!! I was so pleased that my closest friends, who love to drink, congratulated me that night and the next day too (I think it helped that this big night out was after four weeks as it really shows an achievement)! That takes a lot of pressure off I can say as I was worried whether our friendships would be affected. Interestingly, no one was daft enough to ask why I wSnt drinking (they know me well).
    I learned a lot that day about how my thoughts can really test my resolve as a night out draws near, it helped to remember why I quit in the first place and pit my desire to really let off steam with the reality of how being tipsy then drunk really feels. I remembered that the allure is an illusion. The next day it was great to wake up clear headed and to have dodged the usual cycle of shite that follows a big night out

  15. Lucy

    What an excellent summary of socializing without alcohol. It is difficult if you have always socialized with people that drink quite a bit. I’ve had people want me to join in with the drinking, but I’ve found that most are quite happy, or don’t notice what I’m drinking in the end. I’ve discovered some wonderful mocktails in various bars, so that has been quite a treat. It’s wonderful to wake up on New Year’s Day and be sober and not worry where I’ve put my keys or handbag or how much I’ve put on my credit cards for extra drinks I definitely didn’t need. I never knew when to stop and couldn’t see the point in having one drink. Hence needing to stop for good. I had a lapse this past summer and the same old patterns started. Drinking and eating more and generally becoming less focused. Alcohol totally messes with my sugar levels, which doesn’t do anything positive for my mood.

    Thanks for this article. It’s a reminder for me to stay sober, as the benefits are brilliant. I am looking forward to a sober Christmas, New Year and being sober at a friend’s wedding in 2017. No more excuses. Happy sobriety everyone!

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