What if my friends don’t like me sober?

Lauren Booker | May 2020 | 8 minutes

Lauren Booker has been alcohol-free for over eight years - and she knows that you don't need alcohol to have the social life you want.

This thought goes through the minds of most people who choose to go alcohol-free for a spell. After all, we use alcohol to socialise, to celebrate, to give us the courage to shine in social situations. Even during the lockdown many see alcohol as a vital accompaniment to video chats with family and friends. So, what if we feel less sparkling sober?

I’ve been alcohol-free for over eight years now – and I’ve still got friends, promise. Probably more and better friends than I did back in my drinking days. Trust me: you don’t need alcohol to have the social life you want. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t scary – so here are my tips for getting started.

Alcohol isn’t always good for friendships

I hate to start with a negative, but this one’s important to help you take those rose (or rosé) tinted glasses off: is alcohol really good for your friendships? Think about the flipside: does over-sharing, getting aggressive or feeling paranoid help bring you closer to people? How about having to be put into a cab because you can barely stand up? Missing weekend events because you’re too hungover? Smirks and eye-rolling when you mention that you feel a bit the worse for wear?

Of course, alcohol doesn’t have to lead to all of the above – but what I’m saying is that alcohol and your social life aren’t necessarily a match made in heaven.

Remember: these are your friends

We may think that the boozed up version of ourselves is the best version and that those around us will be disappointed if we’re not that version of ourselves, but is that really so? I mean, would you abandon your friends if they stopped drinking? No? Then why do you think they’d do that to you?

And if they do grow more distant just because you stop drinking, you have another question to ask yourself: are these your friends, or your drinking buddies? It’s true, in some cases you’ll find you have nothing in common with certain friends if you don’t drink. But do you really want to hang around with people who don’t accept you as you are, drinking or not?

Talk to them

These days, if you mention that you’re taking some time off, you’re more likely to hear “Me too!” or “I did Dry January!” than receive looks of horror and disappointment. But if your friends’ response to your announcement that you’re not consuming alcohol for a while is “You’re boring” or “Why?!!!” (in tones of horror) this is actually saying more about them – and about the UK’s drinking culture – than about you.

What might be going on in their heads? Maybe their worry is that you won’t like them when you’re sober. Maybe they’re envious that you can succeed at a challenge that they wouldn’t even attempt. Maybe they’re concerned that this is a criticism of their drinking. Maybe it’s just banter, and they’d be mortified if they thought you were taking it seriously.

Maybe, maybe, maybe. Why not ask them? Most people who care about us, if we talk to them and ask for their support, will come round. Try to make sure that you’re not judgmental when you talk to them: their drinking is up to them, just as yours is up to you.

Find ways to make sure alcohol isn’t the main event

Sometimes we treat alcohol as though it’s the main point of socialising. We ‘go for drinks’ – (or, at the moment, ‘have a drink on Zoom/Skype/insert-your-favourite-video-calling-software-here’). Of course that’s not really what we’re doing – we’re having a chat, at which people happen to be having a drink. But that’s not always how it feels. It can help, while you get used to life alcohol-free, to make sure that there’s another activity to take the focus off drinking.

During lockdown you could do a quiz, cook and eat the same meal, do a virtual exercise class together, watch a film or programme at the same time, or so many other options.

Power through the awkwardness

There’s a skill to socialising when sober, and many of us haven’t practiced that skill regularly since we first discovered cans of cider with our mates when we were fourteen. It’s a shame that we think we have to turn to alcohol to save us from that awkward half hour at the start of an evening. But you know what? Nobody ever died of awkward.

Once you get through the awkward spell, my experience is that deeper, more fun and more real conversations follow. As you get used to not drinking, the awkwardness fades. Before you know it, you’ll have gained a new soberpower: being comfortable in social situations without alcohol.

You will be just as good a friend, if not better, if you cut down or cut out alcohol. This might be an opportunity to build friendships that are based on more than sharing a bottle.