Alcohol is often described as a social lubricant, when it’s really more of a social anaesthetic. It gives you temporary relief from the anxiety associated with social interaction but it doesn’t do anything to improve those interactions. In fact, it does the opposite. It’s hard to listen and participate in a meaningful conversation if you or your friends aren’t very coherent. Socialising without alcohol is far more rewarding, but does take a bit of practice. Here are some suggestions to help you get started.
Dry people, dry places. It helps to stick to situations where sobriety is the default, especially in the beginning. Try spending time with people who won’t pressure you to drink and go to places where drinking isn’t expected. An obvious place is meetings. Many newly sober people meet sober friends there. Meetings can even be fun once you find the right group and get past the initial anxiety of being the new person. People with more time sober will also have ideas for how to socialise without alcohol.
To be less self-conscious, be more conscious of others. Self-consciousness makes socialising difficult. It’s why many people feel they need to drink to socialise. One way to be less preoccupied with your own anxiety is to focus more on others. The simplest way to do this is to focus on physical characteristics. For example, making a mental note of someone’s eye colour can make you less anxious about making eye contact. In conversation, ask questions. Don’t be afraid of banal questions; no one wants to start a conversation with the meaning of life. Try to find something interesting about the other person.
Others won’t notice you aren’t drinking. When you are used to drinking a lot, and being around people who drink a lot, you may feel self-conscious not drinking at first. You might feel like everyone is looking at you and wondering why that weirdo is drinking water. No one is thinking that. If you’re really worried about it, Sprite with lime looks a lot like gin and tonic.
Have a plan. If you are somewhere alcohol is served, even if it’s not a pub, it’s good to plan ahead a little. For example, you may always want to have a non-alcoholic drink in your hand so no one offers you alcohol. If someone does offer, have an excuse ready, like you have to drive, or you have an early morning. Have a plan for cravings. Know who you can call in an emergency, whether you need a ride or need someone to talk you through a craving.
Try new things. Most of what people do does not involve alcohol. That means it should be relatively easy, and certainly possible, to find sober things to do with friends. You can also meet new people. Try taking a class or joining a recreational sports league. Running groups and yoga classes have a low barrier to entry and are an excellent way to meet new people with similar interests.