Alcohol often goes hand in hand with socializing. There’s the tailgate before the big game. Holiday parties. A champagne toast at a wedding. A mimosa at brunch with friends.
But there are lots of reasons why you might not drink — at least, not this time. Or maybe ever.
Perhaps you’re pregnant or need to avoid alcohol for other health reasons. Or you’re the designated driver. Or you just don’t like how booze makes you feel.
So if you want to join in the fun but skip the drinks, ask yourself this question: What am I looking to get out of the celebration?
Chances are, it’s not actually about the alcohol.
“It’s probably the social connection, the community, the esteem that it might bring,” says Eric Beeson, PhD, clinical associate professor at The Family Institute at Northwestern University in Illinois. “Does alcohol enhance that? Probably not.”
So lean into that. Here are ideas.
Have you heard of sober bars? They offer entire drink menus without alcohol. That makes it pretty easy to celebrate in a bar setting without the booze. And they’re popping up all over the U.S., Beeson says.
Or you can pick up something alcohol-free on the way to a party or event. You might be surprised by all of the options.
Mocktails are an easy choice “for people who want to be ‘sober curious’ or who want to cut back on drinking,” says Melissa Cyders, PhD, professor of psychology at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis (IUPUI). “The key is it has to be something you enjoy drinking.”
You could go for a soda or a virgin daquiri. But why not spice things up with something unique?
Beeson likes to challenge bartenders to make the most creative nonalcoholic drink they can think of.
“When they say things like: What’s your flavor profile?’That’s when I know this is a spot I can dig and celebrate along with my friends,” he says.
Use high-quality ingredients. That’s usually not the premade sugary stuff, Cyders notes.
Everyone is different. That makes it hard to pinpoint the “best” thing to do. But try something where you have to use your hands, like bike-riding or tennis.
Board games are another good choice. “Something where you’re not just standing around talking, but you’re engaged in an activity,” Cyders says.
Or pick something you couldn’t (and shouldn’t) do while drinking.
For example, Beeson says he’s gone whitewater rafting for a bachelor party. “It’s probably best to remain sober when you’re cruising down a river that can kill you.”
Are you the party planner? Get creative!
You could arrange for massages or “maybe something more competitive, such as paintball or a round of golf,” says Joseph Volpicelli, MD, PhD, addiction specialist and founder of the Volpicelli Center.
Or your group could:
- Jump around at an indoor trampoline park.
- Go to a rock-climbing gym.
- Try indoor skydiving.
- Go for a hike that ends with stargazing.
People often get longer-lasting satisfaction from doing things instead of buying stuff, says happiness researcher Sonja Lyubomirksy, PhD, distinguished professor and vice chair of psychology at the University of California, Riverside.
Most celebrations — with or without alcohol — are already experiences, Lyubomirsky says. “You might go out to dinner or a party, travel, or go to a spa with friends.”
Here are some of her other tips on how to celebrate while boosting your well-being:
- Spend time with others. Pick an activity that’ll help strengthen your relationships. “Anything you can do to connect with other people,” Lyubomirksy says.
- Take on a challenge. Do something that’ll help you grow as a person. Or simply try something new and exciting. “Go learn how to skydive,” she says.
- Pay it forward. This might not be something you normally think about when it comes to a celebration. But we tend to feel good about ourselves when we give back to society or do “an act of kindness,” So, if you’re socializing, reach out to someone who might not feel included. Or buy them a nonalcoholic drink, too.
Do you drink to feel more relaxed? Spending time in nature can ease stress. So maybe take your celebration outside. You could:
- Meet your friends at a park.
- Take a group hike to a scenic overlook.
- Make mocktails for a backyard get-together.
Bonus points if you pick something that gets you and your friends moving. Research backs up what you already know from experience: Being active outdoors can boost your mind and body.
You don’t want to make sugar your only reward. But it’s OK to treat yourself on a special occasion.
Seek out a new dessert spot in your area. Or visit an old favorite.
You could also:
- Toast a new job with milkshakes.
- Celebrate your birthday with an ice cream sundae bar.
- Pair fruit with a chocolate fountain at your wedding.
- Have after-dinner s’mores if there’s a firepit nearby.
It can be hard to celebrate without alcohol if everyone around you is drinking. So line up support.
“If you’re going into an environment and you’re intending not to drink that night, tell a friend who can bring you that nonalcoholic beverage or help you choose an activity that’s incompatible with drinking,” Cyders says.
They can help you stay confident in your no-alcohol choice — and have a good time.