How to Make Friends Without Alcohol

Group of friends walking outside
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One of the reasons that drinking is so popular is that many drinkers find it helpful in social situations—at least, in low doses. Research with untreated heavy drinkers shows that for many of them, drinking alcohol is central to their social life, and they cannot imagine a life without alcohol. Instead of thinking of all the things they could be doing that do not involve alcohol, they imagine being the lone guy in the pub, sipping on a pint of orange juice, while their friends enjoy beers all around them.

Those whose lives have not revolved around alcohol know that the world is full of other possibilities, but these can all seem quite alien to a hardened drinker. Making friends without drinking alcohol—both as a confidence-booster and as a social activity—can be a challenge for some people, especially those who have recently quit drinking. And while for some people, responsible drinking is a reasonable goal, for others, no alcohol is the best choice. Here's how to do it.

Cheap Things to Do Without Food or Alcohol

There are two steps to socializing without alcohol. The first step, which is the focus of this article, involves figuring out what you would like to do with your time that doesn't involve alcohol. The second is a process of building up the social skills that you feel you lack, so you don't need alcohol as a prop.

Focus on finding non-drinking activities that you enjoy. Then practice building social skills that will help you connect with others without needing alcohol to facilitate friendships.

People who are used to drinking as a way of spending their free time may either think of social activities as revolving around alcohol—for example, going to bars or pubs, or they may see alcohol as a necessary supplement to other social activities, such as watching sports while drinking.

If your focus has previously been situations focused on alcohol, such as bars or pubs, it may be the automatic acceptance you receive from fellow-drinkers that makes socializing in this way appealing to you. You just show up, order a drink, and you have a group of ready-made friends. Yet these are not real friendships, based on truly knowing one another, but rather, a way of alleviating loneliness. You get back what you put into a friendship, so the chances of the people having any commitment to you beyond buying you a beer are low.

Just Show Up

To replace this kind of superficial friendship, it is best to think of other activities where you will automatically be accepted, just for showing up. There are a variety of activities like this—you simply need to think of what you might enjoy instead of drinking.

One tip to help with this is to think about what you have enjoyed doing, no matter how little you tried it (or even if you have never tried it, but would like to), and not to think about what your drinking friends would think or say about you doing the activity. Drinkers will think of a thousand excuses to avoid doing anything that doesn't involve alcohol, and the peer pressure to keep just spending all your time and money with them can be shaming and unhelpful to you moving on with your life.

The bottom line: Don't avoid activities just because there won't be alcohol involved. You might find that you enjoy these events without needing to drink.

Physical Activities

If you enjoy physical activity, there is no shortage of sports clubs and lessons, walking and running groups, and outdoor activities that simply require you to sign up and pay a fee. You may resent paying the fee, feeling like you shouldn't have to pay for the company, but the cost will probably be equivalent to, or less than, the cost of drinking. Or, you can find a free walking or running group, or even start your own, by advertising on a local online board, such as Craigslist.

Intellectual and Cultural Activities

If you don't enjoy physical activity, you might enjoy intellectual or cultural activities, such as joining a book club or visiting your local art gallery. You will soon find opportunities to connect with others who share these interests. If you have enjoyed being creative yourself, there are many opportunities to develop these skills alongside others, whether it is visual arts, music, or writing you prefer.


Volunteering is another great way to easily connect with people over a shared interest. This can be helping promote a cause or charity that you care about, but you are not limited to these options. Many other opportunities for volunteering exist, and most communities have offices that can help you find a good match.

Once you have found the right activity, the next step is to develop your social skills.

2 Sources
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  1. Sudhinaraset M, Wigglesworth C, Takeuchi DT. Social and Cultural Contexts of Alcohol Use: Influences in a Social-Ecological Framework. Alcohol Res. 2016;38(1):35-45.

  2. Jacobs L, Conroy D, Parke A. Negative Experiences of Non-Drinking College Students in Great Britain: an Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. Int J Ment Health Addict. 2018;16(3):737-750. doi:10.1007/s11469-017-9848-6

By Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, MA, PhD
Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, MA, PhD is a psychologist, professor, and Director of the Centre for Health Leadership and Research at Royal Roads University, Canada.