Ever since I quit alcohol, one of the questions I get asked all the time is: “What do you do at parties?”. The answer is, I ask for something soft. But that doesn’t make it easy.
Last weekend I went to a festival with my husband and 12-year old son. It was the first festival I’ve been to this year and it was probably the hardest social event I’ve had to deal with since I stopped drinking in January. All my closest friends were there – and there were plenty of reminders of all the festivals I’ve been to in the past. I was desperate for a drink. What could be better than stumbling around in an inebriated state having a giggle with everyone? The worst moment came when we were all sitting in my friend’s camper van keeping out of the rain and someone decided to make some Bloody Marys. My favourite, I thought. I could SO easily have succumbed. But then I thought about how annoying it would be to re-set my sobriety clock back to zero. I’ve done 211 days! My lovely friend was kind enough to make me a virgin version.
Essentially, we are tribal social animals. From an evolutionary perspective, early humans had to form social groups to hunt, gather food, protect each other and survive. As a result, we’ve evolved tendencies to support group cohesion by conforming to group norms and shunning non-conformity. So, if we start doing something that goes against the norm, it challenges the acceptability of that behaviour in the group.
When you make a decision to stop drinking, it can be a bit like you’re holding up a mirror to your friends that says, “I’ve decided my drinking needs to change and maybe you should look at your own drinking”. At an almost unconscious level, they can try and resolve this discomfort by encouraging you to start drinking again. And of course, even if they might be supportive of your intentions not to drink when they’re sober, after they’ve had a few beers, they may be more likely to put pressure on you to join them.
What to do to avoid the peer pressure
Here are some tips for dealing with pressure to drink in social situations:
2. Plan for and rehearse how you’ll respond before you put yourself in a social drinking setting. Sometimes having a cover story, like “I’m on antibiotics and I can’t mix my pills with alcohol” or telling friends, “I’m driving” can help.
3. Remind yourself of the reasons you’re quitting alcohol. A strong resolution to change your drinking behaviour can be an important part of resisting pressure to drink. If you’ve managed to stay sober for a while, think how annoying it would be to have to re-set your sobriety clock and go back to Day 1 again.
4. Think about who in the group might be supportive of your decision and consider making them an ally. If you can, get the ringleaders on side before you meet them in the pub. Take them to one side at work – or explain in person on the phone – all the reasons why you’ve decided to quit booze. When you have their support in front of the group, the rest should follow.
6. Do something different: Arrange go-karting, meet friends for a walk or go to a fitness class together. With a little effort, you can remove all peer pressure with an alternative event to the drinks night
7. Go public: An easy way to smash the social pressure is to let everyone know you’re on an alcohol-free challenge and tell them why. This will also save you explaining yourself every 5 minutes.
8. Be a leader: There will always be people who apply social pressure but often it’s because they’re scared of their own habits. The best thing you can possibly do for yourself and those around you is to be happy, healthy, and alcohol-free. You never know, those who are pressurising you may soon ask you how you did it and if they can take the challenge with you!
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