Staying Sober in a “Let’s Grab Drinks” Culture

By the team at Practical Recovery

image of people drinking alcoholSeparating libations from social situations in American culture is about as easy as separating hassle from air travel.  A 2017 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that alcohol consumption is on the rise in the United States, especially among women, older adults, ethnic minorities, and the socioeconomically disadvantaged.  The phrase, “Let’s grab drinks,” is such a staple of US culture that establishing a natural, rich, and fulfilling social life is a legitimate challenge for those who pass on the party scene.  For those who resist liquid luncheons, thirsty Thursdays, not-so-happy hours, and whiskey sours, it is important to have some ways of staying sober in a “let’s grab drinks” culture.

People don’t drink for a variety of reasons.  Some simply don’t like alcohol, others choose not to imbibe for health or religious reasons, others perhaps enjoyed spirits a little too much and determined that life was better without them.  It is helpful for those choosing to refrain to consider situations that promote drinking as well as activities to engage in other than alcohol consumption.

Some situations where turning down drinks might get unwanted attention include:

  • Dating (first few dates) – “Can I buy you a drink?” is pretty safe way to initiate a conversation without rejection.  While drinking on the first date has been known to lead to a few mistakes, sticking with water can also raise a few suspicious eyebrows.  Planning ahead will help a first date go smoothly.
  • An acquaintance you ran into that you haven’t seen in a while. Grabbing a drink has been known to make catching up with an acquaintance a bit less awkward.
  • A good friend you haven’t hung out with in a while and for old times’ sake it makes perfect sense to babysit a barstool for the better part of a weekend.
  • Coworkers – happy hour is often the place where coworkers get to know each other and bond outside of work. Nobody wants to be the co-worker who over does it at happy hour and confesses a crush on a married colleague.
  • Fellow Parent – playdates with kiddos are a prime opportunity for moms to sip chardonnay and for dads to compare notes on the rustic hop undertones of the latest pine-needle infused, micro-brew collaboration IPA.

Instead of sipping sangrias until Saturday becomes sloppy, some people focus on building deeper connections and enjoying quality times that are not cringe-worthy the next day. Here are a few suggestions for activities sans booze:

  • Bring the pets – Puppy playdates might sound like a tactic straight out of the hipster-for-dummies playbook, but bonding over animals instead of booze might be a safer foundation for a relationship.
  • Coffee – stimulate your mind for an hour or two sipping the most socially sanctioned psychoactive substance with someone you haven’t seen in a while.
  • Dine out – Having brunch or dining out for dinner are both relaxing even when the mimosas and malbecs are missing.
  • Happy hour – Happy hour isn’t just for drinks! Most happy hours have deals on appetizers and meals. Suggest coworkers go out for a Taco Tuesdays or to upscale eateries and emphasize the deals on gourmet bites rather than $1 long-islands.
  • Go outdoors – Walking or running outside on trails is not only a better workout than a treadmill, the scenic surroundings actually trigger the release of natural anti-depressants so much so that hiking has been called a “natural zoloft.”  Connect with friends outside for a hike and feel more accomplished than would ever be possible no matter how many shots of patron you managed to hold down.


There are infinite alternatives to grabbing drinks that are more rewarding than stupors and hangovers. Next time someone suggests the ol’ “Let’s grab drinks,” try suggesting something else to do.  Enjoying a social life that does not revolve around alcohol is a recipe for feeling empowered over addiction.

Below are a few suggestions from the community about staying sober in a “let’s grab drinks” culture:

  • “I occasionally go to a bar, but it’s always to eat food. In my nearly 5 years of sobriety (at the time of writing this, in July 2018), I can’t recall the last time I just hung out with people who were doing nothing but drinking.” Ed Latimore
  • “If you notice someone is not drinking at your pinot pilates, work happy hour, or at the bar, do them a favor and don’t ask why. They’ll definitely appreciate it, which will make their happy hour (and yours) even happier.” Gabrielle Kassel on The Goodfest
  • “The wine bars. Wine holder purses. Wine yoga. Wine straws. Wine teacups. Wine is the most accepted drink amongst women and men. Articles explaining how a glass of wine a day is healthy or how wine must be paired with your dinner entree for best taste. The truth is, wine is no safer than any other alcohol; it is the same drug in a different form.” Wonder Mamas on Sober Mommies
  • “If being around alcohol makes you uncomfortable, don’t go to a bar or meet “for drinks” in the first place. At least not early on with a new romantic interest. Instead, go to a bowling alley. Go paint coffee mugs at a Color Me Mine. Go for a walk.” Style Girlfriend