How to do a pub hang sober
Whether you’re sober curious or simply looking to cut back, here’s how to see your friends without drinking alcohol
image Loyle Carner
words Rhys Thomas
The pub is a beautiful, sacred place. A public place in which you and your pals can sit for as long as you want, chatting away, with as many people as you can cram into the area you’ve taken up. It’s not too expensive (usually), there’s a variety of drinks and snacks, sometimes even meals. Often there’s good music on, other people laughing and catching up, and a smoking area where all romantic dreams can come true. Pubs are also one of the few places that’s open in the evenings. A real precious haven for us all to use whenever we like.
The appeal of the pub is especially strong in the sun. The smell of sticky tables and cigarettes and vapes. Ahhh. The pub in the sun is such a popular pairing that often you don’t need to look out of the window to know when it’s sunny, you just look at your phone and see the notifications pop up:
But we can get jaded by wonderful things like pubs if we use them too much. Well, actually, that isn’t quite true. The pubs aren’t what we tire of, it’s the alcohol. Feeling the wifi inside your brain is lagging, your heart fluttering more than normal, being dehydrated and half asleep, a gaping un-fillable hole in your stomach. Being sensitive to bright lights. These are the symptoms we don’t enjoy that stem from booze. But still our friends text us:
This leaves a dilemma: you want to see your mates, but you’ve spent too much time at the pub recently. You could stay home and not see your mates, or you could see them and have to prepare for another morning of feeling a little bit off-kilter. But what if there’s a middle ground? What if - gasp - you can go to the pub and see your mates, but stay sober?
Like all solutions that sound too good to be true, there’s more to this than simply not drinking. Simply not drinking - for those for whom the pub and pints go hand in hand - might sound boring. It could also be that your friends (lads, I’m looking at you) will shame people for not drinking. There’s also the fact that being sober around drunk people can be annoying.
Complications! Ugh! Fear not though, plenty of people sober hang all the time. We’ve spoken to a couple. Let’s start at the beginning:
As in, before you go to the drinks. Not pre-drinking as in, drinking before you drink. The part of the day where you’re sitting at a desk worrying about the party in the evening, worrying about the fact that you know you don’t want to drink and that this is going to have to reveal itself one way or another later. What’s the smoothest way to approach the fact that you’re going out sober?
Life coach Katie Scrafton, who is on a journey of sobriety, says “I wouldn’t tell anyone in advance what I was going to do because I feel that there’s more time for people to potentially try and persuade me to drink.”
Emily Power, founder of Sober Gals Wales, a community for sober and sober-curious women, says that she finds it easier telling new friends that she doesn’t drink, because they’re less likely to try to convince her otherwise. “Generally, I’ve learned that saying ‘I don’t drink’ instead of ‘I’m not drinking tonight’ results in less pushback from people around you.” Despite there still being concerns about people trying to persuade you to drink, Scrafton also feels that “people are more forgiving than they used to be about not drinking”. Given the general trend toward sober curiosity within and beyond gen-z, this makes a lot of sense.
Another practical thing to do before heading out, is to check what drinks the pub has ahead of time especially if you’re looking for alcohol-free alternatives, says Scrafton. This means that “you’re not disappointed or fumbling around when you’re there and end up defaulting to something alcoholic,” she adds.
AT THE PUB
Assuming you’ve prepared by looking at the drinks the pub has, you can make a good decision on what you’ll drink. Power says she found alcohol-free alternatives “a Godsend” in her first year of sobriety. Now, she’s more likely to order soda water and cordial. “I get a bit of a sugar hangover from alcohol-free alternatives, plus soda and cordial is really cheap, looks good, and tastes great”. Scrafton also enjoys alcohol-free alternatives but points out that “you’ll find you won’t be able to drink eight pints of alcohol-free beer, you tend to only want a couple and to then go onto soft drinks. It’s a lot cheaper, too.”
Also, sometimes a pub with bad beer and literally any non-alcoholic option can be best, you’re less likely to be persuaded by alcohol drinks if you don’t like the ones on offer. On the other end of the scale, a really good bartender might be keen to make you a mocktail that’s off the menu. Either way, more and more people are asking for alcohol-free options, so don’t feel shy.
Of course, getting the drink right is only a part of managing (and feeling good about!) a sober pub hang. There’s pub customs to deal with too, like ‘doing rounds’. Here, it’s about sticking to what’s going to make you feel most comfortable. Scrafton says “buying the first round and then dipping out of the rounds is probably going to be a good crowd pleaser”, especially in the earlier stages of friends getting used to you not drinking, this might sweeten them up as they’re basically getting a free drink out of you.
Since becoming sober, Power feels more comfortable not participating in rounds. “This might make me sound like a complete cheapskate but if they’ve all had five two-for-one cocktails, and I’ve had two lemonades, I’m not paying the same amount as them. I want to enjoy the fact that I am saving money along with the other benefits from being sober.”
A “FEW” DRINKS IN
Now that you’re there and seated, and have your drink and the rounds etiquette is all sorted, things are probably nice. The stresses start to loosen, your friends radiate that two-pint high they’re feeling, the conversation becomes the right level of unhinged. Great, relax, enjoy. Open up safe in the knowledge that it’ll be well received, and probably barely remembered in the morning.
So sink into that leather, enjoy looking around at all the people smiling, conversing, laughing, spending time unwinding away from work and the stresses of life. Enjoy the beautiful building that becomes a communal hub of recreation, a haven. A house of fun.
Sure, sometimes, this time in the night (like any) can lead to temptation. “I’ve found a good idea for not succumbing to temptation is remembering that a craving lasts for eight minutes,” Monument, an online platform for those looking to change their relationship with alcohol, says this craving only actually lasts only three to five minutes.
“If you can set a timer and recognise that in mere minutes, this craving will pass, it gives you something to try to aim for. It’s helped me to quit smoking recently as well.” She says. Power also keeps a list of reasons to be going sober on her notes app. “They’re very specific to me, things I know will affect me and help me to stay sober. For instance, I can be a bit of a hypochondriac so I was listing the health benefits of not drinking."
But then, two or three doubles into five or six, some people are too loud, others are annoying. Some just have absolutely nonsensical conversations you cannot tune into, and others still are just a little bit annoying to be around. What then?
Power is thinking those thoughts, and hears the bell in her brain ringing out for last orders, she “takes that as a sign that it’s time for bed, time to go home.” Scrafton too, says “If you’re getting annoyed it’s probably a great time to take yourself home, let them do their thing. It can be tricky saying bye to people, but give it half an hour and they’ll be in the smoking area talking to strangers and not caring too much anyway.”
Whether because people are getting drunk and veering off into a tipsy wavelength that you just cannot access, or they’re just being plain loud and annoying (and repetitive!), it’s sometimes inevitable that you’ll not want to be there. You could stay out and persevere, or you could go home. Both Scrafton and Power have found it easier to leave the night the longer they’ve been sober, so perhaps that’ll come with time.
If you decide to stick it, well: “Staying out all night without drinking is pretty impossible. I tend to just go with the mindset of enjoying my night and as soon as I stop enjoying it I’m going to simply go home.” Says Scrafton. Power meanwhile mentions that the biggest thing they’ve learned in their sobriety “is all that FOMO I used to get was so wrong. You feel like you’re going to miss everything on this big night out, and when you’re there, it’s just people grunting at each other and not even finishing the stories they’re telling.”
In Scrafton’s case, she “tends to have a Diet Coke, a Red Bull if it’s a late one, the caffeine boost will allow me to stay out as long as i want to. But getting comfortable with being able to go home instead of staying out all night is a big part of the process of cutting down on alcohol.”
Power simply does not stay out all night anymore. “I’m 28, and I feel old when I get to like 9pm. I’m tired and ready for bed. I’ve just accepted that’s where I’m at in life, I prefer getting up early and making the most of the mornings now. On the rare occasion that I do stay out late, I will have a Red Bull. Red Bull is my friend, I’m very sensitive to caffeine so I only have one, but it gets me though.”
No, don’t worry, we’re not off to someone’s house at 2am for a dusty bottle of wine poured into mugs. We’re just talking afterwards, after the sober pub hang is complete. And… congratulations! You have woken up feeling pretty good. You’re not all puffy and bloated yet dehydrated, you’re not feeling pangs of anxiety, a headache, nausea, sadness. You’re just fresh, it’s another day (and a morning at that!). Your room doesn’t smell of cheesy chips, the sunlight doesn’t hurt your eyes. Life is good. This is why many people make the pivot to sobriety, or partial sobriety. Nice! Hopefully it’s given you the confidence to approach pub hangs with less trepidation.
But, hey, let’s dream. What if you could see your friends… not at the pub? In theory, it is possible. “Be that person who says let’s get coffee, or brunch, or go hiking or kayaking. Try and suggest activities that don’t centre around booze.” Says Scrafton.
“Getting into hobbies has been amazing for me. In sobriety, your time just expands, you end up with so much more time to fill. Suddenly weekends feel like actual weekends because half of it isn’t spent in bed next to a greasy kebab and crying.” Says Power. Reigniting old passions and discovering new ones can lead you to new social circles, a new sense of purpose and fulfilment.
While it may seem like hobbies aren’t going to help your sober pub trip that much, hobbies might help you to have commitments that drinking would get in the way of. Hobbies can also provide talking points. They might also present you with a couple excuses to miss nights out when you’d rather be doing your own thing.
Nobody wants to lose mates just because they decided to do something that makes them feel good. Though it is evitable that you will find some friends only want to go to the pub, and that you and them drop off a little bit if you decide to move into a more alcohol-free lifestyle. “There are friends who won't be ready to go there yet, but that’s part of a learning curve and general circumstance of moving in a different direction in life.” Says Scrafton.
It’s not always easy. That being said, you’ve read all the way to here, so clearly a life with more sobriety is something you’re interested in. For all you know, some of your friends might be sober-curious too, they just need someone to instigate a new way to socialise for them. That person could be you. You can still go to the pub sometimes, anyway. Especially now you’ve all these tips to help you do so.
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