You may have heard of Dry January, a New Year’s tradition where people abstain from alcohol for the first month of the year as a reset after the holidays. With benefits that include increased energy, better sleep, less anxiety and even dropping a few pounds, it makes sense that some people consider extending their sobriety beyond the month.
However, many social gatherings remain centered around alcohol and around 65 percent of Americans drink regularly. Many of us are familiar with the physical changes that come with abstaining from alcohol, but what kind of social changes can you expect if you decide to cut back on booze?
The Taboo of Sobriety
Alcohol has long been associated with a lengthy list of cancers, health problems, intimate partner violence and drunk driving incidents. Despite how dangerous alcohol consumption can be, many people drink regularly and see it as a routine part of their lives. This can make it complicated to tell people about your decision to stop drinking. And because alcohol and socializing often go hand in hand, it can also be difficult to separate the two activities. You might fear that if you stop drinking, your friends will stop inviting you out or give you a hard time.
“The hardest part about not drinking is other people’s perceptions about it,” said Millie Gooch, author of “The Sober Girl Society Handbook.” She explained that when she decided to go sober, some called her boring, saw her choice as self-righteous or virtuous and took it as an offense to themselves.
Your decision to quit drinking in the absence of a serious problem may be hard for others to understand. This can result in unpleasant responses like peer pressure, nagging or making assumptions about your decision. Making someone feel uncomfortable for not drinking is referred to as “sober-shaming” and it’s unfortunately common. A study done in the U.K. found that 64 percent of men reported being sober shamed when making an effort to cut down. However, this shouldn’t deter you from deciding to abstain from alcohol. In most cases, your friends and family will be supportive and will respect any boundaries you set around alcohol.
A Social Life without Alcohol
There’s a good chance alcohol plays a key role in your social life, such as family dinners, networking events, weddings and nights out with friends. Alcohol is well-known for being a “social lubricant” because it can temporarily ease feelings of anxiety and make you feel more outgoing and confident talking to others. Because of this, many people turn to alcohol as a security blanket. In some cases, people may believe they need alcohol to “perform” at social events. However, the confidence alcohol gives you is synthetic and temporary and you can build similar confidence in yourself naturally.
Many who stop drinking note that sobriety can have profound impacts on their friendships. For instance, if a relationship was centered around drinking, you might find you no longer have much in common with that person and eventually drift apart. However, it’s unanimously reported that real friends stick around and remain close without alcohol. And when you stop drinking, you might find you’re better able to give attention to your personal relationships and be a better friend, partner or family member.
Ways to Be Social without Alcohol
There are many ways to remain social without drinking, whether that be opting for non-alcoholic drinks at bars with friends or by finding new activities altogether. Here are some tips on staying social if you decide to stop or cut back on your drinking:
- Try zero-proof drinks. As long as you’re comfortable being around alcohol, you don’t have to miss out on going to bars or happy hours with friends. Many restaurants, bars and liquor stores offer a variety of non-alcoholic and low-proof beverage options for those who don’t want to drink.
- Lean into alcohol-free hobbies and activities. One of the easiest ways to avoid drinking and having to explain your reasons for not drinking is to opt for activities that don’t include alcohol. These include going for a walk in nature, trying a new workout class, going out for coffee, volunteering in your community, taking an art class, spending time with family or seeing a movie with a friend.
- Be prepared. It’s likely that at some point you’ll be asked why you aren’t drinking, and you might be met with negative responses. While you don’t need to explain yourself or justify your decision, it might be helpful to be armed with some prepared responses about why you’re cutting back.
Sobriety isn’t only for those with alcohol dependence or an alcohol use disorder, and many people might find they benefit from an alcohol-free or lower-alcohol lifestyle. While giving up booze in an alcohol-friendly society can seem taboo or even impossible, there are many ways to remain social and engaged without the buzz. If you feel you rely on one or two drinks to feel comfortable in social situations, it might be worth evaluating your relationship with alcohol and trying to intentionally socialize without substances. You might find you don’t even miss it.