How to Make Friends in Sobriety

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One of the difficulties with getting sober is the lifestyle changes it entails. For most drunks, "social activities" means "getting drunk". And we have a hard time breaking that link. And, if we are past the “making friends” time of our lives – teens to early twenties – the result is a feeling of being cut off. Cut off, not just from our current drinking friends, but from the whole spectrum of social activities.

Drinking Friends or Alcoholic Friends

When we are new to sobriety, any exposure to alcohol can seem too much to bear. But that isn’t the case forever, and we live in a society where alcoholic beverages are part of the landscape. We can no more demand our friends stay “dry” that we can demand all alcohol advertising be erased.

Most of us do lose friends over sobriety. But that doesn’t mean we have to lose all our friends, just the ones whose only link to us getting drunk. No more bar friends, but friends who drink aren’t off the table. So, if your friend knows you don’t drink anymore, it’s perfectly fine to go out bowling or to dinner. Even though alcohol is served and you aren’t having any, they can drink if they like. If they come over to spend some time, let them know you don’t keep alcohol around the house anymore. They’ll have to bring (and take away!) anything they intend to drink.

Real friends won’t pressure you to drink and will actually support your sobriety.

This is different if your friend is an alcoholic. For alcoholics, drinking isn’t just “something we do,” it’s “something we are.” There is no circumstance I can see where spending time with an alcoholic who is still drinking – and allowing them to drink – is beneficial. When alcohol is that much of a linchpin in the relationship, it’s just too tempting to slide back in. An alcoholic friend won’t support your sobriety. In all likelihood, they will undermine it.

When you don’t drink, it makes them feel weak and a coward. “How come you can stop and I can’t?” But for non-alcoholic friends, drinking is just something they do responsibly and socially. They don’t have the same relationship with alcohol and drinking.

Sober Friends

But what if you are too fragile in your sobriety to be around any drinking at all?

In the seventy-one years Gallup has been polling people in the US about drinking, the percentage of drinkers has never been higher than 71%. It’s currently hovering just under 70%, with older people about 10% lower than that.

What those figures mean is that about one in three people don’t drink at all. Let’s just abandon that myth about alcohol being needed to have fun or make friendships – a third of Americans don’t need it at all.

So… where do you find these folks?
If you are looking for teetotalers, church is the most likely place to find them. Whatever your denomination, regular churchgoers are the least likely to drink – even when some alcohol is permitted in that religion.

Others who avoid alcohol do so for health reasons. Actually, ex-alcoholics fall into the “health reasons” group. But for our purposes, think holistic, vegan, or athlete. They can be found jogging around the park, in yoga classes or playing sports at the gym. Those that enjoy physical outdoor activities (biking, hiking, even bird watching) are less likely to need a drink for fun.

The Can’t Make Friends Myth

The real difficulty for most in sobriety is poor social skills outside of drinking. We know all the rules at the bar: how to act, who pays for what, etc. What we may not know so well is the terrain for non-drinkers. But the idea that you can’t be just as sociable without alcohol is a myth.

Most of us had to be sober at work. We made friends there. We’ve also been to events where drinking wasn’t allowed. Even when we snuck in alcohol, no one else was drinking and a good time was still to be had. At least in part the link between alcohol and a social life is one we made up in our heads.

Start with work and develop friendships there. It’s easy to tell who is “into drinking” by where they want to go after work. Think dinner and a movie instead of bar/nightclub.

Next, look at hobbies and causes. Are you interested in politics or social issues? What about adult education? Sobriety gives you a ticket to grow in directions your drinking prevented you from pursuing.

One of the best places to make friends is in what I’ll call the “adrenalin sports.” These are activities that produce a shot of adrenaline as part of the event. Skydiving, bungee jumping, rock climbing, rafting, caving – too many to name. Turn the nob down a bit and you get to motorcycles and off-road bicycling. Almost anything you enjoy will get you back in the mix.

An open mind and the same social skills you know from your drinking days will come back. In fact, you are much more likely to be a good friend now. You’ll keep your promises and won’t puke on their furniture.

There’s no way to predict how a friendship will develop. Taking your dog to the local dog park leads to “dog talk” with others there. That leads to someone who agrees to meet up for a walk elsewhere next week. That leads to the discovery that you both went to the same high school and, of all things, are interested in mushroom hunting. Your new friend invites you to a meeting of the local “shroomers” and there you meet a few more interesting people… and so the stories go. Each one different, but each one following a path of shared interest and a willingness to interact.

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