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Sober curious: how to resist the inevitable peer pressure to drink alcohol

This is the week that most people give up Dry January. But if you’re keen to remain sober curious throughout the month and beyond, author Annie Grace has some hard-earned wisdom to help you resist the peer pressure to drink.

Making the decision to stop drinking alcohol comes with a huge amount of pressure. 

There’s the pressure to succeed, the pressure to maintain your lifestyle unchanged and, most of all, peer pressure. Navigating this new world can be challenging and often overwhelming. Even the simplest steps, such as how to tell your friends you’ve stopped drinking, can cause anxiety.

When I decided to stop drinking, I shared the news with my friends and family in a slightly unconventional way. I was so excited that I sent an overzealous email announcing that I had stopped, and preaching all of the reasons that alcohol is bad for you. You can only imagine how well that went over with everyone! 

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Six years later, I have a bit more experience under my belt. Here’s my best advice on how to let others know you’re not drinking, and how to deal with the inevitable social pressure to drink. 

dry january
Sober curious: Your decision to stop drinking is personal and who you share that information with is personal, too.

Who needs to know?

First off, if you decide to stop drinking, then ask yourself who really needs to know. Your decision is personal and who you share that with is personal, too. After all, no one has to know.

Take it case by case

Over time, I learned to share I wasn’t drinking on an ‘as needed’ basis. For example, if someone invited me out for drinks, say: “I’m taking a break from alcohol, but I’d love to join you for coffee instead.” A statement as simple as that took the pressure off for both of us.

Remember it’s about you

My greatest lesson so far has been that it’s important to make the fact you’re not drinking truly about you. Apparently, people do not enjoy listening to a monologue on the evils of alcohol every time they meet you. The biggest hurdle is that others feel like you’re judging their drinking habits when you stop drinking. So make it crystal clear that you are not drinking for your personal reasons: it has nothing to do with what you think of them.

how to stop drinking alcohol
Sober curious: Realistically, how often have any of us gone out and truly had just one drink?

Push back

You can expect push back from friends, family and colleagues. Expect comments from “I didn’t realise you had a problem woth drinking?” to “but you didn’t drink too much!”. You can choose how to respond, or even whether to respond at all. Some great answers are “I wanted to stop drinking before I had a problem” or “I didn’t like the way alcohol was making me feel anymore”. Just remember that you don’t owe anyone an explanation. No one would be questioning your decision to stop smoking, would they?

Just one drink

Ah, that famous request to have just one drink. I’ve heard it so, so many times. After all, one drink won’t hurt, right? It might not, but will one drink help anything, either? And realistically, how often have any of us gone out and truly had just one drink? 

If you get pressured to have just one drink, remember there’s a good chance it won’t be just one drink. Ask yourself, do you want to be dealing with a hangover the next day? Will the alcohol really add anything to your night? 

wedding drink
Sober curious: Don’t forget that there are a million more meaningful ways you can make someone feel special that don’t involve drinking alcohol.

What about work?

Resisting the expectation to drink at work events is one area where many of us really struggle. That was where a huge amount of my drinking actually took place, and I was worried about how I could maintain my position at work without drinking at all of our events. I’ve learned that planning ahead is key. You can arrive early and order your drink before everyone gets there, or offer to be the designated driver for the evening. You could also schedule an early meeting the next morning so you have a ready excuse for why you aren’t drinking.

Special events

Birthdays, weddings, baby showers, hen dos… the list goes on. At all of these events, and so many more, we’re expected to raise a glass in honor of the guest. It would be rude not to, right? But don’t forget that there are a million more meaningful ways you can make someone feel special that don’t involve drinking alcohol. 

rock climbing
Sober curious: There are so many fun alternatives to drinking.

Be selective

If there are certain events that pressure you to drink, remember that you don’t have to attend them. We place the obligation on ourselves to say yes to every invitation that is extended our way, but we always have the power to say no. There’s no shame in placing yourself first and doing what you need to in order to stick to your goals.

Offer alternatives

You don’t need to become a social pariah when you take a break from alcohol, but it can quickly begin to feel like your previous life revolved around drinking. That’s not you, it’s just the way our culture is nowadays. It doesn’t have to be that way though. Show your friends how much fun can be had sans alcohol. Organise activities that are a blast without the booze – you could try rock climbing, go out for ice cream or even do some volunteer work together. Once you stop planning your life around alcohol it’s amazing how interesting it can become!

Finally, always remember that your choice to take a break from alcohol – regardless of the reason behind it – is about you. It’s your choice, your life and no one has the right to try to take that away from you.

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The Alcohol Experiment by Annie Grace is available now (HQ, £9.99)

This piece was originally published on 2 January 2020

Images: Getty, Unsplash

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