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5 Ways You Can Support Your Sober Friends

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For many adults, maintaining sobriety can be a difficult task. So much of our modern social culture revolves around alcohol consumption that many of us don't think twice about heading into bars or inviting coworkers for post-shift cocktails.

But alcohol isn't for everybody. A large portion of the populations opts to maintain sobriety. For some, it's a life-saving measure that can prevent severe medical complications, such as relapse or diabetes-related glucose spikes. For others religious or ethical concerns, a family-history of alcohol abuse, or health reasons can make social drinking unappealing. Additionally, an exceptionally large portion of folks choosing not to drink simply don't want to always feel pressured to drink– having your ability to socialize tied to the amount of alcohol you drink is not only rather unhealthy, but it also tends to lead to shallow relationships.

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If you have friends who prefer not to partake in alcohol consumption, or if you're looking to connect with more folks who also don't drink, consider these five ways that you can support sober-friendly behavior.

1. Choose Hangout Spots that don't Center on Alcohol

Sure, you can order a Coke or a water at a bar, but when your friends want to meet up at a bar as their hangout spot and you’re the only one not drinking, it’s easy to feel left out. You become the constant designated driver and often feel like you’re more of a tool for your friend group than an integral part of it. Besides, babysitting drunk friends can be fun for a little while, but after a while, it just gets old.

Places like cafes, coffee houses, and parks can be a great alternative to the go-to bar. Like bars, they provide a comfortable atmosphere for hanging out and relaxing, but being there doesn’t come with the cultural pressure to drink an alcoholic beverage- the sober members of your friend group and those who drink will be able to order whatever they want without anyone feeling like the odd man out.

The need for more spaces that cultivate both socializing and sobriety has even spurred entrepreneurs to carve out new locations that meet that need.

In Louisville, Kentucky, for example, a local entrepreneur, Arielle Clark, is in the process of choosing a brick-and-mortar location for her tea shop, Sis Got Tea. Fueled by her experiences as a black, queer woman who came from a sober home and often felt like she was on the outskirts of the queer community, so she decided to do something about it.

“When I look around at LGBTQ life now, it’s super alcohol-centric, super white-centric, and revolves around a party lifestyle,” Clark said. “I want to create a safe space not just for black LGBTQ but for sober people as well, and people who may not necessarily go to bars.”

Places like Sis Got Tea ensure that your sober friends can be as much a part of the fun as any other member of the friend group. Sis Got Tea recently concluded a Kickstarter campaign to raise operating capital for the business with a target goal of $6,000. Driven by local interest and support in having a sober space, they surpassed their goal ahead of the campaign's end date and ultimately raised a little over $10,000. 

2. Be Their Wine-Free Wingman

One of the most frustrating aspects of being sober is feeling constantly pressured to explain or justify your sobriety to those around you.

So many people will make assumptions as soon as someone says that they're not drinking or that they don't drink. If you're out at a business dinner and wanting to get to know your coworkers, it's not ideal to have to suddenly navigate conversations about topics like addiction and religion, which are generally considered too heavy for informal gatherings. Even if not drinking is just a personal preference, that's usually where the conversation goes.

Because of this, if you're in a situation in which someone you know to be sober is with others who aren't as familiar with them, it can be exceedingly helpful to intervene when those conversations arise. Frankly, it's nobody's business if you or your friend is a recovering addict but folks will feel inclined to pry anyway. There are a couple of ways you can prevent those kinds of conversations from occurring when they're not appropriate.

Of course, you can always just change the subject if someone starts to say, "Oh, so why don't you drink?" or something more rude. But one of the best ways you can intervene, especially if you're at a bar, is to just offer to be the one to get your friend's drinks whenever you get one for yourself. If you're drinking a cocktail and hand your friend a soda, people are less inclined to ask questions or instigate an uncomfortable probe.

3. Avoid Over-Drinking Around Them

As I mentioned before, it can be fun to babysit your drunk friends but only for a little while. Eventually, when you're one of the few sober people in a room or in a group of friends, everybody else's alcohol-induced antics can get to be a bit too much. While you're drunk, you may think you're a fun drunk... everybody thinks they're a fun drunk. The truth? Well, beer goggles can be quite powerful, even when you're looking in the mirror.

Additionally, if your friend is recovering from a substance addiction and needs to maintain their sobriety to avoid relapsing, drinking around them– especially excessive drinking– can be a big challenge for them. Seeing someone drinking and partying and indulging in the kind of life that once drove them to making destructive decisions, the fear of missing out can prove to be a dangerous temptation.

Even for friends for whom drinking isn't a serious medical issue, seeing the people you love and admire partaking of something that you can't can be disheartening and may motivate them to isolate from the rest of the group. Practicing moderation when you're with them, or joining them in not drinking, can give them a much-needed boost of confidence.

4. Listen Closely and Don't Be Judgmental

One’s reasons to remain sober may be deeply personal and tied to trauma. They may just be a matter of personal preference. There are as many reasons to be sober as there are sober people.

Despite this, sobriety can come with an unexpected stigma. As discussed before, sobriety often opens the door for strangers to ask very personal, probing questions.

With strangers at a bar or in a crowd of drunk friends aren’t usually the places where someone is going to feel inclined or comfortable with discussing their sobriety. So, if you have a friend who wants to discuss their sobriety or reasons for being sober with you, listen and avoid passing judgment. Especially if they are motivated to stay sober due to addiction, a simple “thank you so much for trusting me enough to talk about that” and an offer to support them in any way you can will go a long way in helping them feel comfortable. Knowing that they’re supported and appreciated can be a very helpful tool in sustaining their sobriety.

5. Don't Pressure them to Drink

It may sound completely obvious, but avoid pressuring your sober friends to "just try a sip" of something you're drinking. Especially in situations where you don't know why somebody is sober, encouraging someone to have a drink can be a fast way to ruin a friendship or, at the very least, undermine their trust in you.

Keep in mind that pressuring someone to drink isn't always as blatant as directly offering them alcohol. Making broad, sweeping statements like "we're all wasted" or "everyone is getting lit" at a social gathering will imply exactly what you're saying– that everybody is going to be drinking, including the people who in fact won't be drinking. These kinds of generalizations lump your sober friends into the same category as your non-sober friends, which only adds more pressure and potential discomfort when they decline to have a drink.

Drinking can be a fun activity when hanging out with your friends, but it's far from a necessary one. By supporting your sober friends, you can have a direct impact on their mental well-being and wellness. 


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