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Substance Abuse and Addiction Health Center

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When You Don't Drink But Your Friends Do

How to stay sober in social situations where other people are drinking.

Avoid Triggers

Maybe you always downed a six-pack while watching football with the guys, so it's challenging to get through a Super Bowl party sober. Or you always drank when you smoked socially, so being offered a cigarette at a party might make you crave liquor. Any activity that you've closely paired with alcohol in the past may trigger the desire to drink, Willenbring says. Turning down a cigarette, an invitation to a Super Bowl party, or another problem activity can help you avoid high-risk situations.

Use the Buddy System

For many recovering alcoholics, it's too difficult to be the only nondrinker in the room. Whenever possible, ask a friend or relative to attend a social event with you sober. Alternately, invite another recovering alcoholic. "Many spouses or partners will voluntarily stop drinking," Willenbring says. "I don't think it's fair to require it, but there's nothing wrong with asking."

Be the Designated Driver

This tactic won't work for everyone, and its success depends on your comfort level around people who are drinking. "Some people do find a positive role in [transforming themselves from the drinking buddy to the designated driver]," Willenbring says. "The group can accept them in a different way; they don't have to expel them."

For others, being the only sober person in the room can be awkward, and being responsible for getting other people home may be too much pressure. "I've been the designated driver before, but I don't like to do that, in case I want to leave early to protect myself," says Elaine from Aurora, Colo., a recovering alcoholic who asked that her full name not be used. "I make sure that I have my own transportation - either my own car or a taxicab phone number."

Accentuate the Positive

Staying focused on the reasons why you've decided not to drink can get you through difficult moments. "Really think about your payoffs for not drinking," Cornett says. "You won't have the hangover in the morning. Maybe when you drink too much you behave like a fool, so your reputation and self-esteem will be intact the next morning."

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