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How to Navigate Happy Hours When You’re Not Drinking

By Olivia Crandall

I quit drinking almost two years ago, and going booze-free completely changed my life in terms of my mental health, relationships with others, and general vibes. I never imagined my future self celebrating sobriety milestones in quarantine, but part of life is accepting the things you can’t control, like the unprecedented, constantly evolving struggle of maintaining sobriety in 2020. 

Lately, I’ve found myself going back to a lot of the basics from my early sober days, especially when it comes to traversing the increasingly blurred line between work and play. As your friendly neighborhood sober person, here are some tricks I still use regularly whenever a happy hour (whether it’s happening on a Zoom date with a Bumble match or IRL) is on the agenda:

Remind yourself why you’re not drinking

Whether you’re ten years sober or just not in the mood today, the reasons we choose to skip the booze are deeply personal. And while you don’t owe anyone an explanation, keeping your eye on how you’re going to feel post-happy hour can help avoid any kind of in-the-moment FOMO. Even as adults, peer pressure is totally a thing. Recognize when it’s happening, visualize your special flavor of “why,” and get yourself something non-alcoholic.

Make your drink special

Just because you’re not drinking doesn’t mean you can’t also have a celebratory beverage. There are so many more options on the market beyond water or Diet Coke. Try out a bunch of substitutes and figure out which you like best, and then keep it on hand. (My current list of faves includes cult classic Mexican mineral water Topo Chico, and Seedlip, a non-alcoholic spirit brand so you can make proper mocktails.)

When the event isn’t a BYOB situation, you can adapt your drink order to the venue. If the bartender already has a bunch of specialty ingredients on the menu, they’d probably be down to make you “something ginger-y and non-alcoholic.” But if it’s more of a draft beer and well cocktails kind of place, I’ve learned that the best bet is usually opting for your favorite soda and calling it a day. 

Don’t overthink it

In general, people are probably wondering about your choices considerably less than you imagine. It’s ultimately no one’s business whether you’re drinking or not, but sometimes it helps to have a response mentally prepared in case someone asks if you want a beer. I usually tailor my answer to my audience. “I’m good on the IPA, but how was your camping trip last weekend?” and “I’ll be two years sober in a few months and it’s absolutely changed my life” start two very different conversations. There’s a time and a place for both, but occasionally, being honest can be a really powerful way to connect — especially if your colleague happens to be sober-curious themselves.

Remember you can leave at any time

It can be helpful to give yourself an out beforehand, whether it be dinner plans or a call with grandma. If you’re not feeling it, excuse yourself and get back to spending time with the people and things that bring you joy. Life is far too short to put up with anyone making you uncomfortable about what’s in your cup.