Experts in the Media

Sarah Rusbatch – Body+Soul

Grey Area Drinking coach

10 tips for navigating your friendships sober

It’s easier than you think.

Just like the seasons, friendships change. They can evolve in ways you never would have expected. Maybe you enjoy a drink, while your friend has quit the booze? Here’s how to respectfully navigate new territory with your pal.

As we get older, our friendships change. Our circle gets smaller and tighter, and because our time feels more precious, we often gravitate towards people who are in the same life phase as us and enjoy the same things.

That might include walking or going to yoga together, and for many women, it means unwinding with a few glasses of wine. Because let’s face it, catching up for a drink is often how friendships are maintained in our 40s and beyond.

Sometimes friendships that have been built on drinking, mean we only know each other in that setting. It feels familiar, comfortable, and habitual. But what if one of you decides to stop drinking?

What will you do together now? And how will you maintain that connection? If you’ve decided to stop drinking your friends may be confronted by your decision and try and talk you out of it, or they might stop inviting you to social events or casual catch-ups.

As someone who gave up drinking alcohol six years ago, I’ve learnt how to navigate my friendships without drinking and you can too.

Here are my top 10 tips for navigating your friendships sober:

Empathy and understanding

Getting sober is a brave decision that requires immense strength. Be there for your friend with empathy and understanding, as she faces both internal and external challenges during her sober journey.

If you’re the one going alcohol-free, ask for what you need from your friend – understanding, encouragement and support.

Don’t stop talking

Honest and open communication is key to any enduring friendship. Sit down with your friend and have heartfelt conversations about your decision to get sober. Encourage her to share feelings, and fears, while also expressing your own emotions and needs. Ask your friends questions about what you not drinking means to them.

Embrace new experiences

Your socialising dynamics will inevitably shift with sobriety. Embrace new experiences that don’t revolve around alcohol. Try bushwalking, a morning coffee at a local café, art classes, or even cooking together to create meaningful memories.

Respect choice

Peer pressure has no place in true friendship, especially as we get older. Respect your own decision to stay sober, and don’t allow your friend to push you into breaking your commitment. You both deserve respect for your own personal choices.

Inclusivity matters

When planning events or gatherings, consider everyone’s needs. Choose venues that offer non-alcoholic options and create an atmosphere that is inclusive and supportive of everyone’s personal decision to drink, or not.

Educate yourself

Understanding the challenges and triumphs of sobriety can make a huge difference if you are supporting your friend going alcohol-free. Take the initiative to educate yourself about sobriety, addiction, and the recovery process.

Be mindful of triggers

Certain situations may act as triggers for your friend during her sober journey. Be sensitive to her needs, creating a safe space where she feels comfortable and supported. If you are the friend going alcohol-free, be honest about triggers. It’s okay to plan a different catch up if being at a bar or restaurant is too triggering.

Celebrate victories

Sobriety is a process filled with milestones worth celebrating. Celebrate your friend’s progress, both big and small, with genuine enthusiasm.

Patience and forgiveness

Friendships evolve and change over time, especially when facing significant life decisions. Be patient and forgiving with one another as you both adapt to this new phase. A strong friendship will move beyond the bond of alcohol.

Try out your friend’s sober lifestyle

If you find yourself inspired by your friend’s sober journey, join her and keep each other accountable. Turn a bond based on wine into a bond based on sobriety and watch your friendship grow. Or if sobriety is truly not for you, try drinking AF now and then when you’re with her, just to be supportive.

Supporting a friend who chooses sobriety is an opportunity to deepen your bond and exemplify the true essence of your friendship.

By being compassionate, communicative, and open-minded, you can navigate these changes together, fostering a resilient and enduring connection that will hopefully last a lifetime.