How to enjoy a night out and stay sober

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Sarah Griffiths, Lead Behavioural Insights Advisor, Bupa UK
21 December 2022
Next review due December 2025

From Dry January to Sober October, there are plenty of alcohol-free challenges for us to take on throughout the year. And being sober doesn’t mean you can’t still go out and enjoy yourself.

But it can be tough to stick to the plan if you find yourself in places that serve alcohol. Whether it’s a drink after work or a date night with your partner, it can be tempting to have a drink or two. Here are my top tips if you want to go out and have fun, without drinking alcohol.

people having a barbeque outdoors

Remember why you’re taking a break

You might find it easier to stay sober if you focus on why you’re cutting back in the first place. Taking a break from alcohol can also give you a chance to think about your drinking habits, which could have longer-term benefits for your wellbeing.

There are many benefits to not drinking alcohol, including better sleep, having more energy, saving money, and losing weight. Cutting out alcohol also means an end to hangovers or not feeling your best the next day.

Make one major lifestyle change at a time

It takes a huge amount of effort to change your habits and replace them with new ones. Trying to make lots of changes at the same time makes it really hard to stick to any of them. With this in mind, if you’re giving up alcohol, just focus on that – don’t try and take anything else on. Then, once you’ve got used to the changes you’ve made, you can start to look at other goals and areas of your life that you want to change.

Think about your existing habits

We all pick up bad habits throughout life. You might have got into the routine of having an alcoholic drink on social occasions. The trick to changing your routine is to figure out when you normally drink. By doing that, you can develop strategies for different occasions.

For example, you might like to go to the pub on Friday after work with colleagues. If you know you’re likely to drink with them, you could suggest alternative plans or tell them you’re not drinking in advance. Why not visit a pub that has other entertainment on offer, such as a dart board or pool table?

Deal with urges head on

Instead of avoiding the cause of cravings, you can try to face them head on. Urges will pass, whether you give into them or not, and ignoring an urge can actually make it harder to ignore in the long run. So instead of trying to suppress one when it appears, why not explore it? This is called urge surfing. If you’re able to confront the urge and deal with it directly, you’re much less likely to give into temptation in future.

Continuing your normal social routines while changing your drinking habits is one potential way of doing this. Rather than avoiding social situations, if you go somewhere you’d normally drink and choose something non-alcoholic, you’re adapting your habits and surfing the urge.

Be consistent in what you say and do

Consistency is important. Stating what you’re going to do has a big influence on your behaviour, because it can be embarrassing to go back on your word. So, if you decide not to drink alcohol during the week or on a night out, tell people your plan. By putting it out there – and putting your reputation on the line – you’re more likely to be consistent and stick to your plan.

Telling others about your plans or having answers prepared can also help reduce peer pressure to drink. Also, talking to people you trust could provide some additional moral support. There might be friends or colleagues who try to encourage you to drink, but others may be more supportive. Being consistent with your behaviour will help you stay strong if you feel peer pressure.

What can I drink instead of alcohol?

Have some non-alcoholic drinks in mind before you head to the bar. Knowing what you’re going to order takes the pressure off having to make a snap decision or resorting to ordering ‘the usual’. And it doesn’t have to be a boring choice either – many venues have a range of alcohol-free options, making it easier to swap alcohol out. Why not order a mocktail or an alcohol-free beer? You could even try an alcohol-free gin and tonic.

What can I do on a night out if I don’t drink?

In the UK, alcohol is a big part of our social culture and is often a big part of socialising. But being sober doesn’t mean you have to give up your social life. With a bit of creative thinking, there are lots of other activities you can do if you don’t want to drink alcohol. Here are a few of my favourites.

  • Take a trip to the cinema. Why not use the money you’ve saved from not buying alcohol and treat yourself to a viewing of the latest blockbuster on a big screen?
  • Go bowling or roller skating. It can be easier to resist drinking when you’re too busy being competitive or trying not to fall over!
  • Go out for dinner. Pick somewhere that’s a new cuisine for you and make that the focus. You’ll be too busy exploring new flavours to think about the wine list. Or you might find that the restaurant has an alcohol-free range of drinks to try.
  • Try a new activity. Ever fancied taking an evening class? Now’s a great time to try it out. An added bonus could be that you make new friends in the process.

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profile picture of Sarah Griffiths
Dr Sarah Griffiths (she/her)
Sarah Griffiths, Lead Behavioural Insights Advisor, Bupa UK

    • Sober October benefits. Macmillan Cancer Support., accessed 12 December 2022.
    • Go Sober for October. DrinkAware., accessed 12 December 2022.
    • What to expect when you stop drinking. DrinkAware., accessed 12 December 2022.
    • How to spot your triggers. DrinkAware., accessed 12 December 2022.
    • Tips for drinking less. Health Service Executive Ireland., accessed 12 December 2022.
    • What is urge surfing? WebMD., reviewed 8 September 2021.
    • Alcohol and mental health. Mental Health Foundation., accessed 12 December 2022.

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