But, What Do I Do At Parties?

a champagne glass with confetti to show you can have fun without alcohol

But, What Do I Do At Parties?

One of the first questions I get asked early and often in working with clients who are trying to change their relationship with alcohol is “But what about parties?” Here are some of the forms that question takes:

  • What do I do when someone offers a drink?
  • What do I say when someone asks why I am not drinking?
  • What do I say to {insert the name of frequent drinking buddy}?
  • How do I have fun when everyone else is drinking?
  • I don’t want to ruin everyone else’s fun by not drinking.

a party to show how people get together for fun and what to do at a party

With a 3 day weekend coming up, I thought it would be a good time to address this concern. I have written before about how to approach “the holidays” without drinking. In a series of blog posts, I encouraged readers to take an honest look at their current recovery space, to look at people, places, and things and given tools and tips to help. I encourage you to read them or to suggest them to a person in your life who might benefit.

This post is written specifically to address that “what do I do at parties” question.

The most important suggestion I have for you is not going to be comfortable. It requires that you look at yourself, and perhaps family members and friends, with a critical eye. The truth is that most people don’t care if you drink. There are millions of people who don’t drink, or drink minimally, or who choose not to drink on any particular occasion for a variety of reasons. Most people don’t care or don’t notice. The conversation goes something like this:

Host: “Hey, John! Good to see you. Grab a beer from the cooler.”

John: “No thanks, I’m not drinking today.”

Host: “Oh, ok. There’s iced tea in the kitchen and soda in the other cooler.”

Some of my readers are thinking, yea, it won’t go like that in my friend group. I bet it won’t. Here’s why:

Only people with a problem, or a history with people with a problem, care about your drinking status. No one else cares.

Truth bomb: People who over-drink like people who over-drink. To the point where they usually surround themselves with people who over-drink. They attend parties where over-drinking is expected, if not the point of the party. They make their choices of venue based on alcohol. If you don’t drink, their drinking looks conspicuous. They get uncomfortable.

I know that paragraph makes you uncomfortable. Don’t click away. Stay with me and look at this. Think about it. Why would anyone else care whether you drink alcohol? 

Early in my own sobriety (I celebrated 31 years May of 2022), I went on a business retreat with my company. Complete with nightly “happy hours.” I was the *only one* not drinking alcohol. I guarantee you I was also the only one who noticed unless someone else in the room was weird (read: had a problem) with alcohol. 

“No, thank you” is a complete and sufficient answer to “what would you like to drink” or “would you like a drink?” Anyone who pushes beyond “No, thank you” has:

  1. Boundary issues
  2. A problem or history with alcohol

A marqui that says "this is the sign you've been waiting for" to support the idea that it's time to consider help for substance abuse.

I have an older blog post about “What is Normal Drinking” that you might find interesting.

Now, Let’s Look at Other Factors

There are other factors to consider when structuring your early sobriety. One is to consider each setting or invitation individually and with an honest appraisal: Is this event alcohol-centered? If the point is alcohol, it’s best that you not go. But many times people with problematic drinking turn events that are not alcohol centered into alcohol centered events, so be honest. For example, it is not the central point of a wedding. The point of bachelorette or bachelor parties may be. 

Look at the individual invitations. Memorial Day is coming up, and many people will have BBQs and get togethers with family and friends. Is the point *really* to over-drink? Or is the point to enjoy the company of friends and family? Are kids involved? If so, is over-drinking a legitimate option, really?

Finally, let’s be honest about the “how can I have fun without alcohol?” The answer to that is as varied and individual as there are people. Laughter to the point of tears is available, connection with others, sex, sports, good food – literally almost anything except alcohol is available and accessible. But if you attend and only see the event through the lens of “everyone else is drinking, and I am not” rather than the whole of the event and human connection and interaction, you need to do some work on broadening your meaning and values.

Road with "what do you mean" written on it to reinforce the need to speak carefully to children about addiction and substance abuse and recovery

I encourage you to step back and take an honest look at your mental relationship with alcohol and your identity. If you need help with that, let me know and we can work on it together. 

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