How to Maintain a Social Life When You’re Quitting Drinking

Three young friends sitting down in their favorite coffee shop, laughing and catching up with each other.

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Being sober doesn't have to mean giving up your social life, yet managing sobriety in a social setting (especially when alcohol is involved) can be a bit of a challenge. You may have a lot of concerns about going out after quitting drinking.

  • Can I have fun without drinking?
  • How will my friends react?
  • Will I feel self-conscious without a little liquid courage?
  • Can I say "no" and stick to it?

If you're in early recovery, you'll want to stay away from any situation where alcohol or drugs are involved for some time. These environments can trigger cravings and put you at risk of relapse.

If you have decided to cut back on alcohol for your health, or you're more established in your sobriety, social environments that involve drinking may be easier to navigate. Still, being prepared and having a plan can help you enjoy going out after you’ve quit drinking.

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Have an Honest Talk With Your Friends

It’s up to you to decide how much information to share and who to share it with. You certainly don’t have to justify your decision. Some people drink, and some people don’t. Everyone has their own choice to make, and no explanation is needed.

If you have good friends who are likely to support your efforts, you might decide to have a direct and honest conversation with them. Tell them that you plan to avoid alcohol or that you’re cutting back.

Let them know what they can do to help. Perhaps you’d appreciate a sober buddy, or someone else staying sober with you when you go out or helping you resist the temptation to drink. Or maybe you’d still like to hang out together, but not in bars. You might even still like to do the same things—such as playing cards or watching movies together—but without alcohol.

Hopefully, some of your friends will support your decision. In fact, some of them might also be thinking about cutting back on their own alcohol use and be inspired by you.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area. 

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Be Prepared for People’s Reactions

While some of your friends may be totally supportive of your decision, others may seem indifferent or respond in a negative way. Your sobriety might serve as a reminder to your "drinking buddies" that they're consuming unhealthy amounts of alcohol, or stir up a bit of anxiety if they feel uncomfortable socializing sober. Or, they may simply want you to partake alongside them because they think you’ll all have more fun together when drinking.

Just knowing a few possible reactions will help ensure that you're not taken by surprise and you're able to cope:

  • Nagging: Your friends may say things like, “Come on, can you please just have one drink to loosen up a little?”
  • Teasing: You may get made fun of for being "boring" or "lame." Some friends might say you can’t handle your alcohol or that you’re getting too old to drink.
  • Cajoling: Your friends might try to act as though they’re doing you a favor by buying you a drink, so you can “have fun.” Or, they may try to convince you that if you just have one drink, they won’t tell anyone.
  • Peer pressure: Your pals might gang up on you a bit and try to talk you into having a drink. They may even pass out a round of shots and try to insist that you join in.
  • Confrontation: An upset friend may even confront you and insist that your unwillingness to drink is a sign of something bigger, like a “controlling partner” or “a midlife crisis.”

It’s also important to be prepared for the long-term changes you might experience from your decision to quit drinking, including:

  • Being phased out of social situations: You may receive fewer social invitations over time once your friends realize that your decision not to drink isn’t going to change.
  • Being labeled a specific way: If alcohol plays a major role in your friends’ lives, you might get labeled as the “sober friend” or the “boring one.”
  • Being invited to be the designated driver: You might find that you’re only invited to events when your friends expect you to be their designated driver.

A change in your friendship dynamics doesn’t have to be a bad thing, however. You might find the shift welcoming. There’s always a chance that you’ll enjoy conversations with your friends more when you’re sober. And you may even find that they appreciate you more or respect your decisions.  

And even if your friendships do change in a way that you don’t like, don’t despair. You might be able to create a new circle of friends, or simply decide to hang out with your old pals in different locations and times when alcohol isn’t the main focus.

Go Places That Don’t Serve Alcohol

One of the easiest things you can do to avoid drinking—and to avoid having to explain yourself—is to go to places that don’t serve alcohol.

Coffee shops, movie theaters, museums, libraries, and fast-food restaurants are just a few places that aren’t likely to serve alcoholic beverages. Look for places in your community that are alcohol free—from farmer’s markets to local theaters, you’ll likely find plenty of spots that don’t serve alcohol.

You might go out alone as you start this new chapter of your life. Or, you might invite your friends to join you in these places as a way to encourage sober activities.

Develop a Few Go-To Responses

Obviously, you aren’t likely to avoid alcohol all the time. Weddings, shows, and even art galleries usually serve alcohol. And, of course, your friends may want to go to bars, clubs, or other events where alcohol is one of the main attractions.

To be better prepared, it’s important to develop some go-to responses ahead of time for how you'll politely turn down a drink or handle questions about why you’re not drinking.

Depending on your comfort level and the person asking, you might decide to offer a direct, truthful response. Here are some options:

  • “I decided to stop drinking for a while.”
  • “I’m not interested in drinking tonight.”
  • “I gave up alcohol.”
  • “I’m cutting back on my drinking.”
  • “I’m not going to drink for a while.”
  • “I’m sober curious.”
  • “I’m driving tonight, so I’m not drinking.”
  • “I took a break from drinking, and I love the way I feel now. So I don’t plan to start again any time soon.”

Of course, you don’t need to explain yourself. A simple, “I’m drinking seltzer tonight,” is enough. But if you know your friends are likely to give you a hard time, or you know that you’re going to run into people who are going to insist you drink, having a few canned responses can prevent you from being taken off guard.

Have a Non-Alcoholic Drink on Hand

It’s helpful to have something in your hand at all times. So if you go to a place that serves alcohol, maybe you can immediately order a non-alcoholic drink.

If you go to someone’s home, bring your own drink. Whether you have bottled water or a protein shake with you, keeping a drink in your hand can prevent people from offering you alcohol. It will also help you decline more easily if you are offered a drink, because you can say, “No thanks, I already have one.”

Think Fun

When you walk into a situation believing that you can’t have fun sober, this is likely to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. You might even isolate yourself or hold back from having a good time—which will then reinforce your belief (and others) that being sober makes fun impossible.

Enter into the situation with a positive attitude, and make the best of your time, even if you’re the only one not drinking. You might actually find that being sober is more enjoyable than you predicted.

Create an Exit Excuse

If you go out with people who are drinking and you’re not having fun, or you’re really tempted to drink yourself, then you'll want to leave early. This is especially important if you’re going somewhere where you used to always drink before. The bar or the same nightclub you used to frequent while drinking may be a trigger for you.

While you can just leave or say you have to go without offering a reason why, you might find it’s more helpful to have a scripted excuse to quickly get out of the situation. A few examples:

  • You have to get up early for an event.
  • You're not feeling so great.
  • You have plans to meet another friend.

If you're in recovery and feel especially fragile or are craving alcohol even after you leave the environment, be sure to seek help. Call a trusted friend or family member or go to a meeting at a nearby support group.

Plan a Productive Morning After

You might find that one of the best parts about not drinking is that you don’t waste away the next morning sleeping and feeling hungover. So make the most of the time you gain by doing something enjoyable or productive.

Go for a jog, clean the house, or run errands. Then, take the rest of your day to enjoy your time. Having more time and energy might motivate you to continue abstaining from alcohol.

Try New Things With Your Friends

If your friends are up for trying things that don’t involve alcohol, then you can make some suggestions.

  • Invite them to go to a park, a museum, or hiking.
  • Sign up for a class or new activity together.

You might find that you get to know each other much better when you’re creating new memories—rather than standing around in the same old bars. They might have fun exploring new places and trying new things with you.

Seek Out People Who Don’t Drink

You may need to shift your social circle to include people who don’t drink. This may seem tough at first. If you’re surrounded by people who make alcohol a big part of their lives, it can feel like everyone drinks.

But in reality, there are plenty of people out there who don’t drink—and who are looking for friends who don’t drink. You just have to find them. You might need to try new activities so that you can meet sober people, including:

  • Join a volunteer organization.
  • Attend events that don’t serve alcohol.
  • Join social media groups for people who participate in sober activities.

When you get together with such people, you’ll likely find that they do plenty of activities that don’t involve alcohol—like hiking, skiing, playing games, or fishing. And you might even find that you enjoy doing these types of things much more than activities that involve alcohol.

Learn From Your Experiences

Consider every sober outing an experiment. You might make some mistakes—like drinking when you didn’t intend to or arguing with someone who offers you a drink. But you also might discover that you are happier when you aren’t drinking, or that you really enjoy conversations with people more when you’re sober.

Learn from each experience. The information you take away can help you continue creating your best life.

A Word From Verywell

Regardless of why you decide to change your drinking habits, socializing sober can feel scary. If you find that you’re struggling to avoid alcohol, or you’re feeling lonely and isolated, consider seeking professional help. A therapist can support your efforts and help you find the strategies that work best for you, your health, and your life.

1 Source
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Karriker-Jaffe CJ, Witbrodt J, Mericle AA, Polcin DL, Kaskutas LA. Testing a socioecological model of relapse and recovery from alcohol problems. Subst Abuse Res Treat. 2020;14. doi:10.1177/1178221820933631

By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is a psychotherapist and international bestselling author. Her books, including "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do," have been translated into more than 40 languages. Her TEDx talk,  "The Secret of Becoming Mentally Strong," is one of the most viewed talks of all time.