Alcohol-free at the pub

Laura Willoughby | May 2019 | 8 minutes

Even after seven years alcohol-free, Club Soda founder Laura Willoughby is still surprised that not only does she have a great social life, but lots of that social life takes place in the pub.

When I stopped drinking nearly seven years ago, I was struck by the fact that there was very little online peer support if you wanted to change your drinking. Run a marathon, lose weight, stop smoking – they all have a host of forums, but I drew a blank on drinking.

I didn’t want to go to AA as I felt it wasn’t for me and after talking to other people I realised I wasn’t alone. Turns out there are lots of us out there who want a bit of extra support, but don’t feel AA or other in-person support is right for us at that moment. That’s why I started Club Soda, in an effort to meet other like-minded people.

I am still surprised to this day that I managed to quit drinking. Even more so that I still go to pubs lots. My social life is in fact better than it was before – because I have the energy to do more and remember it the morning after.

I am still surprised to this day that I managed to quit drinking. Even more so that I still go to pubs lots.

We describe Club Soda as a pro-social movement - why? Because we found that many members perceive that they will lose their social life when they cut down or cut out alcohol; which is a barrier to even contemplating that change.

But that doesn’t have to be the case. You can still go to the pub and socialise. You can pack more in to hangover-free days. Going alcohol-free or just cutting down is an opportunity to kick your social life into shape, adding more flavour, texture and excitement in a way that no longer does you harm – but does require a change in thinking and some effort.

So, go exploring. There’s a tonne of stuff you can do without going to a pub. But if you do fancy going to a pub or a bar, here are my top tips for making sure it goes without a hitch.

Plan ahead

We’re taught that the answer to every problem is alcohol. We often find that we reach for a drink when we are stressed, tired, angry and even happy. Other people can be a trigger to drink or even a place or an event. Yet if you plan in advance, you won’t need to rely on just willpower.

We’re taught that the answer to every problem is alcohol. We often find that we reach for a drink when we are stressed, tired, angry and even happy.

I use a handy tool called WOOP (Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan). We often know that we don’t want to drink (Wish) but knowing why (Outcome) really helps strengthen our resolve. Then think about the obstacles and plan what to do to get round them – you may want to drive to an event, leave early or just avoid some things.

Look for venues with great low- and alcohol-free drinks and even call up your chosen night spot beforehand to check out their alcohol-free options and know that you will be getting something you want.

If you stay in by yourself you are not exercising that all important ‘socialising sober’ muscle. With this key skill under your belt, you will feel you have a superpower for life.

Don’t panic

The biggest moment of panic and indecision, whether you are drinking alcohol or not, is when you are asked what you want to drink. Take your time and don’t be afraid to chat to the bar staff about what you want, and what they have on offer.

Fake it

Sometimes you just don’t want another boring conversation about why you’re not having a ‘proper’ drink. So, fly below the radar with these three sneaky tips…

  • Arrange a ‘usual’ with bar staff
  • Or actually my top tip, mainly because it sounds more outrageous than it actually is, take your own! Smuggle in a bottle of your favourite cordial and pimp your fizzy water all night.

Safety in numbers

Everyone else is drinking right? Well, not really. When you start to look around, you realise how many people aren’t drinking. Seek them out and go out together. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by a crowd of people drinking alcohol, a crowd of your own can really help.

When you start to look around, you realise how many people aren’t drinking.

Reward yourself

Good job, congratulations on your sober night out! Don’t you think you deserve a reward? Aside from the one you’re getting anyway: being in control of your relationship with alcohol, feeling better and waking up the next day hangover-free. Oh, and still having a social life.

On top of all that why not treat yourself to something awesome when you get home, maybe a hot chocolate with marshmallows, whilst watching a late-night movie? Don’t be afraid of missing out; stay as long as you want to stay, and then go and do whatever it is you want to do.

  • Check out the Club Soda Guide for the best venues for non-drinkers, or mindful drinkers. There are over 2,000 venues listed. plus details of where to find over 750 low- and alcohol-free drinks. And, if your favourite haunt isn’t listed then please let us know! You can nominate them by visiting clubsodaguide.com or tagging @joinclubsoda and the venue on Twitter or Instagram.