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Navigating Your Friendships When You Choose to Drink Less

When you start to reconsider your drinking habits some elements of your life will change. If much of your drinking was done socially then you may find your friendships taking a new turn, some will develop more deeply but it’s possible not every friend will be supportive from the start.

When I first decided to have a break from alcohol I was really worried about what other people would think about my choice to stop drinking. I found all sorts of ways to soften the blow for friends and family and to change their way of thinking about my choice. I'd say, “Oh, I'm just not drinking today” or “I'm taking a break for a month” to illustrate that I didn't have a problem with alcohol, and to stop them trying to encourage me to drink but of course, trying to make someone think a certain way is impossible, people are going to think what they're going to think and there's only so much you can do to influence that and absolutely nothing you can do to control it. So, in the end, I stopped trying.

It's really easy to get hung up on explaining ourselves on why we've made the alcohol-free or sober choice we have. Perhaps you've got a night out planned, either with people you know well or with acquaintances. These might be people who have seen you in your drinking heyday or people to whom you are a drinking clean slate. We might think “oh, what will I say if someone asks what I'm drinking?” “What if they asked me why I'm not drinking?” “What if the waiter says there's no alcohol-free beer?” If someone asks what you're drinking, you can tell the truth. Tonic water, lime and soda, ginger beer, whatever. If a friend asks why you're not drinking, You smile and either tell the truth, “I'm taking a break at the moment,” “I feel better not drinking,” or “I don't feel like it tonight” or you tell a white lie if you have to. “I'm on antibiotics,” “I'm training for a marathon” or “I'm pregnant.” With those last two, be careful, you may need to actually run a marathon or produce a baby at some point. The point is, we think people are interested and we think they care but I'm here to tell you, often they don’t. Once they've had one or two drinks themselves, they won't even notice who else is or isn't drinking around them. People occasionally question it when they feel defensive about their own drinking habits but again, that's on them and not on you.

The friends who really care about your physical and emotional health will be supportive and encouraging. A couple of my good friends have significantly cut down their drinking since I did and it’s meant we’ve grown even closer.

Whilst my daytime activities never revolved around drinking my evening socialising always did. I was often the friend who organised the social activities and I don’t think it ever occurred to me that I could organise fun that didn’t involve dinner or the pub/bar – it was just the go-to activity. As I started to drink less I more often asked my friends if they fancied a walk or brunch rather than an eve out and no one has ever said No. Yet. We do still go for nights out but I am so happy to have alcohol-free drinks and I never care about what my friends are drinking when we do.

I’ve joined several online sober communities since I’ve chosen to be alcohol-free and I’ve made loads of new friends that way – it’s been a total surprise and an absolute joy. If you’d have asked me a few years ago I wouldn’t have believed it was possible to meet new people and enjoy every second of it sober.

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