Tips from a Psychologist for managing social events when you are choosing to avoid alcohol

Tips from a Psychologist for managing social events when you are choosing to avoid alcohol

The first quarter is often marked by a period of reconnection and building new client relationships. However, with that, comes alcohol. 

You might have your own reasons for wanting to reduce your alcohol intake. Perhaps it’s for health or religious reasons? Or perhaps you're tired of waking up the next day anxious about that embarrassing thing you said? Or maybe it’s because you're living with an addiction. 

Reducing alcohol can be tricky in Australia as there is such a strong drinking culture.

I’ve even heard people say they don’t trust someone who doesn’t drink. The reality is that we don’t need alcohol to be trustworthy… right?

Be that as it may, it can feel uncomfortable to say no to a drink when it’s offered to you. Or perhaps you’ve become known as the “fun one” in the office and you’re worried people won’t like you if you choose to change your relationship with alcohol or other drugs. 

Here are my top 6 tips for managing social events when you are choosing to avoid alcohol:

1. Practice setting your boundaries 

I am often asked how you can build your confidence to say no even when you’re in a social situation and you feel pressured to join in. Events like Friday Night Drinks are a great example. 

Here’s the thing. If you struggle to set boundaries with others or ask for your needs to be met in a day to day environment, then saying no in a social setting will feel super hard. The best way to get ready for these situations is to practice the tools when you don’t need them (such as saying no to a biscuit handed to you in the office), so that when you do need them (being offered a drink at a bar) it is easier to do. 

I recommend clients to practice saying no to the small things more often, and do so by focusing on what they are actually saying yes to. Let me explain… When you say no to the cookie, even though you really want it, you are actually saying yes to practicing a helpful tool that will make Friday easier. When you say no to the drink at the bar, you are saying yes to waking up hangover free and excited for the relaxing Saturday ahead.  

The most important aspect of saying no is starting with a “No”. For example:

Suzie: “Hi Tom, would you like a cookie? They are delicious and you look like you could use a 3pm pick me up!”

Tom: “No thanks Suzie. I appreciate the offer though.”

Suzie: “Oh come on, Amanda baked them especially for the team and I know how much you loved them last time!”

Tom: “No, I am not in the mood for a cookie right now. All the more for the rest of the team!”

In this example, the first thing that Tom said in each response was “No”, and they also didn’t leave room for Suzie to push for a yes. When we set boundaries, it is important to be clear on what we are saying, so say no clearly :) 

2. Have A Plan

There are three things to be clear of when you are setting a goal:

  1. Know where you are now
  2. Know where you want to get to
  3. Set a plan on the practical steps you will take in order to get there.

Know where you are now 

Let’s start with knowing where you are now. 

For us to have any chance of changing our behaviours we have to acknowledge that there is an issue that needs to be resolved. Without that, why would you bother?

Know where you want to get to

Knowing where you want to get to is being clear on the outcome you are after. Is the outcome to have no alcohol at all? Or is the outcome not to have a hangover the next day? Without being clear on what you are wanting or needing as the end point there’s no way you can get there. 

Set a plan to get there 

Setting a plan on the practical steps you will take to reach the outcome you want is the part that can be fun! You can be as creative as you want when coming up with ways for achieving the outcome. Perhaps you will choose to reschedule to a different time of the day, change the venue or recommend a new activity that doesn’t involve alcohol. Perhaps you will choose to bring someone with you that can buffer the conversation and help remind you of your goals. 

There are loads of practical steps we can take to reach our desired outcomes. But you have to be clear on where you are now, and where you want to go, in order to be successful in creating an effective plan. 

3. Communicate Often And Early.

This is a game changer! Once you have your plan, share it with someone who has your best interest at heart. Whether that is the person you’re meeting with, or someone close to you, sharing your plan and asking for your needs to be met ahead of the event makes everything easier. 

The uncomfortable part is often when you’re in the moment and being offered a drink. You can even call the restaurant ahead of time and let them know you’re an alcohol-free seat, you no longer need to deal with the questions or refills. 

4. Plan Something Exciting Early The Next Day

When we have an exciting reason to stick to your plan, it’s called Intrinsic Motivation. Intrinsic Motivation (motivation that comes from within you rather than the ‘carrot or the stick’) is the best motivator to actually reach your goal. Instead of having to go home on time, you get to go home on time because you are so pumped for the next adventure! 

5. Little White Lies Are Ok!

In my book, as long as the lie doesn’t hurt anyone then it is alright to use. A great example for wanting to avoid alcohol is telling the person offering you the drink that you’re on antibiotics. Now we can both blame the external thing (the antibiotics), chat about how much “that sucks” and then get on with the rest of the event. 

6. Emergency Escape Plan

In any office there will be an emergency fire escape. This is the stairwell or door that is always accessible and the quickest way out in the event of an emergency. There’s a lot to be said for a safe word! Whether it is in the bedroom or out and about, having a clear safe word that you can text or say which prompts the emergency doors to open can help you to feel comfortable in any situation. The safe word only works if you have shared it with someone who has the willingness and capacity to support you in the moment you need it. Plus, we have to have a plan in place to follow when the word is said. 

The plan could be order an Uber directly to your home and brush your teeth, or your support person will come to pick you up, or perhaps it could be to excuse yourself and call the Alcohol and Drug Information Service (ADIS – a 24/7 phone line) on 1800 250 015 to have a professional help you through the moment. 

Events don’t have to be uncomfortable any longer. You can feel confident in your actions and regain control of your choices! 

About the author: Tara Hurster is a psychologist (BPsych, PG Dip Prof Psych, MAPS) and the founder of The TARA Clinic. Many people misunderstand addiction. The TARA Clinic, where TARA is an acronym for Therapeutic Addiction Recovery Assistance, supports busy and successful people to regain control over substance use and addiction while leaving the guilt and shame behind. 

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