The holidays are coming, and with them, all the holiday festivities. Many people love to be able to be around friends, family, and all the fun, but sometimes, things can make it a bit harder. For those dealing with trying to stay sober, chronic illnesses, loss of a loved one, social anxiety, or other mental health issues, holiday events may be tricky to navigate. I’m going to write another holiday party “guide” specifically for the chronic illness & mental health issues aspect that I will link here when finished, but this one is all about making it fun and comfortable for both your drinking and sober guests.
Why a Sober-Friendly Event?
There are so many reasons someone may need to stay sober, that it really doesn’t make much sense that we don’t make them just as important to the festivities as we do those who are drinking responsibly (because yes, that can be done by some people- just not all.) Some people do have a serious issue with alcohol/drugs, or many factors that could increase their risk; but some are on medication, or have chronic illnesses that make them sensitive to alcohol. Then, you have those who are pregnant, and designated drivers, that should be well-taken care of (ya know, since they are creating life, and potentially saving lives.)
Deciding How Sober-Friendly You Want To Be
Making an event “sober-friendly” can mean different things. It just depends on how affected you’ve been by alcoholism or addiction. Maybe you’re just an individual trying to be conscious of the fact that there may be people on your guest list that have some of the issues mentioned previously. Maybe you’ve been more affected, and have people in recovery that you actively support. The first step in being responsible is deciding what is most appropriate for your situation.
There are some recovering alcoholics/addicts that still cannot handle being around alcohol, so if you have several people you care about in recovery, it may be smarter to go with a completely sober event. For those who just want to be conscious of the potential issue, there are a few fairly easy ways to adjust your party planning, presentation, and activities, to make it comfortable for all guests.
Making your event sober-friendly starts in the planning stages. I often see invitations or event posters that mention a “signature cocktail,” or “come, drink, and have fun,” or similar things, implying that alcohol is the most important aspect, and absolutely needed in order for the party to succeed. Changing the focus from alcohol to socializing can help sober guests feel comfortable accepting the invite.
If you really want to feature a signature cocktail, also create a signature mocktail and have it equally featured on your invitations, and when displayed at the party. This allows you to keep the original element of alcohol without making it only about the alcohol. I suggest putting the non-alcoholic drink first on the invitation to further show that sobriety is perfectly fine.
When budgeting your event, to account for any added expense for keeping It sober-friendly, make sure you are considering all the adjustments that need to be made. This can all depend on how elaborate of an event you are having. It doesn’t have to cost much to make most of these changes.
You can also implement the “putting sobriety first” technique when speaking with guests. Many times, the first interactions with someone will also include offering them a drink. You could say “Would you like a drink/cocktail?” OR you could say “Would you like a mocktail, soda (or whatever you call it where you live,) or cocktail?” That very subtle change in how you offer a drink to your guests can make all the difference in their brain as to whether they believe staying sober is just as acceptable, and fun, as drinking.
Putting sobriety first can also be done with the presentation of the beverages at your event. At bigger events, it’s common for there to be a full bar set up to serve alcohol to guests. That’s great for the guests who want to drink responsibly, but it would be even better to include a non-alcoholic bar, such as a juice, or smoothie bar, or a full-on “mocktail bar.” Place the non-alcoholic option in a way that you would encounter it first, or at the exact same time as the alcoholic option. Do your best to make sure they are equal in size, appeal, and decoration so the alcoholic option doesn’t seem more impressive or important. I’ve included some ideas below to help you make the non-alcoholic options great.
Non-alcoholic Specialty Drink Ideas
9 Mocktails To Spice Up Your Holiday– by Mommy Without Wine
Fall Coffee Bar– by Stephanie Lynn
Sparkling Juice Bar– by Chelsea’s Messy Apron (**Juice bar requires scrolling past the Pancake Bar)
That should give you several ideas of different things you can do for your sober guests when it comes to drinks. You should also make sure there is plenty of good food, if you are offering food at all.
I’ve seen parties where the majority of effort goes into the bar, with just light appetizers, or things like nuts and mints, for food. If you really want to be sober-friendly, you should offer something substantial, or a special treat, so there is something other than alcohol to make it feel like a celebration. If you’re offering alcohol at an event, there should always be food offered, too, to help people sober up. Making that food something good, whether they are drunk, or not, will enhance your guests experience. Now, lets talk about what to do to keep people busy.
Any good event has something to keep the guests busy while they are there. There are many options to choose from while planning your event. What kind of entertainment you choose will depend on the tone you want set at your event.
Some adult parties are more upscale, and not really appropriate for “party games.” In these cases, there is usually some form of entertainment (like a band, magician, or some other individual or group,) that keeps guests occupied, and/or a dance floor.
Some of these groups interact with guests in different ways during the party. Discussing your “sober-friendly” theme with them prior to the event can ensure they don’t try to center those interactions around the alcohol. It may be hard to imagine this scenario, but I’ve actually heard both band leaders, and comedians, encourage drinking. It was all in good fun, and I’m not saying that isn’t fine at an event where they aren’t being sober-friendly, but for our purposes, that wouldn’t be appropriate. Explain this to your entertainment if you want to avoid this issue.
For parties that ARE appropriate for games, drinking games seem to be popular at some events, but that leaves all of your sober guests out of the fun, and can also lead to someone getting too drunk, resulting in drama. Having games everyone can participate in, is better if you want everyone to have fun. The key is finding games that can be played with, or without alcohol, or adapting drinking games to where, instead of taking a drink, you do something else.
There are different options for adapting games traditionally considered “drinking games.” If you are just wanting to have a basic “sober option,” you can do something as easy as provide an energy drink to take shots of instead of alcohol, or some other “specialty” beverage. This may be a bit much for some recovering alcoholics/addicts, though, so using something like a dance, or even food, is how you would take it up to the next “level” of “sober-friendliness.” Make the focus be on the dance that has to be done, or whatever has to be eaten. If guests that are partaking in alcohol want to boost it up a bit and add a drink to their dance, they can, but the point is just to make the replacement action can be something you can do with, or without, alcohol.
Just about any game out there can be adapted using this approach, so I won’t add suggestions for the drinking games, but here are a few games to play that don’t include alcohol, and are still fun.
Non-alcoholic Party Games
Hilarious Party Games For Adults– from Play. Party. Plan.
11 Simple and Fun Party Game Ideas for Adults– from Simple Purposeful Living
The final way you can adjust to be sober-friendly is when you socialize. You want to show all of your guests attention on an equal basis. It can be easy to have your attention taken by the livelier party guests, which can often be those drinking alcohol. Be sure you are including all of your guests.
When chatting, again, remember to put the non-alcoholic option before the alcohol if offering a drink. Otherwise, normal conversation is fine. If someone wants to talk about their sobriety, they will mention it to you. No need to question why they aren’t drinking. Feeling like they have to justify their sobriety doesn’t exactly make anyone comfortable. No need to walk on eggshells, either. Just be normal and find a common interest, or general topic to chat about.
Making the adjustments necessary to have a “sober-friendly” event isn’t hard to do, and does not have to be expensive. Your sober friends will see that you care about including them in your celebrations, and may even be the only one they agree to attend. Even if you don’t have people with a drinking problem, there are still others on medication, or who have religious reasons, and always the designated drivers to think of. Making sure your event is sober-friendly ensures fun for all!