Alcohol is usually around at special events: a champagne toast at a wedding. A glass of wine at a birthday dinner. Even a mimosa at brunch.
But you don’t need a drink to have a good time. And there are lots of reasons why you might not drink.
Maybe you’re pregnant or need to stay sober for other health reasons. Or you’re the designated driver. Or you just don’t like how booze makes you feel.
So if you’re wanting to stay sober but stlll join in the fun, ask yourself this question: What am I looking to get out of the celebration?
Chances are, it’s not actually about the alcohol.
“It’s probably the social connection, the community, the esteem that it might bring,” says Eric Beeson, PhD, clinical associate professor at The Family Institute at Northwestern University in Illinois. “Does alcohol enhance that? Probably not.”
No matter why you’re abstaining, here are some ways to celebrate without alcohol.
Make Mine a Mocktail
“Sober bars are popping up all over the U.S.,” Beeson says. These spots offer entire drink menus without alcohol. That makes it pretty easy to celebrate in a bar setting without the booze.
Or you can pick up something alcohol-free on the way to a party or event. You might be surprised by all of the options.
Mocktails are an easy choice “for people who want to be ‘sober curious’ or who want to cut back on drinking,” says Melissa Cyders, PhD, professor of psychology at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis (IUPUI). “The key is it has to be something you enjoy drinking.”
You could go for a soda or a virgin daquiri. But why not spice things up with something unique?
Beeson likes to challenge bartenders to make the most creative nonalcoholic drink they can think of.
“When they say things like: What’s your flavor profile? That’s when I know this is a spot I can dig and celebrate along with my friends,” he says.
Use high-quality ingredients. That’s usually not the premade sugary stuff, Cyders notes.
Or Lose the Bar Completely
Everyone is different. That makes it hard for experts to pinpoint the “best” thing to do. But try something where you have to use your hands, like bike-riding or tennis.
Board games are another good choice. “Something where you’re not just standing around talking, but you’re engaged in an activity,” Cyders says.
Or pick something you couldn’t (or shouldn’t) do while drinking.
For example, Beeson says he’s gone whitewater rafting for a bachelor party. “It’s probably best to remain sober when you’re cruising down a river that can kill you.”
If you’re the one in charge of a group celebration, get creative.
You could arrange for massages or “maybe something more competitive, such as paintball or a round of golf,” says Joseph Volpicelli, MD, PhD, addiction specialist and founder of the Volpicelli Center.
Here are some other ideas:
- Jump around at an indoor trampoline park.
- Go to a rock-climbing gym.
- Try indoor skydiving.
- Go for a hike that ends with stargazing.
Get Into an Experience
People often get longer-lasting satisfaction from doing things instead of buying stuff, says happiness researcher Sonja Lyubomirksy, PhD, distinguished professor and vice chair of psychology at the University of California, Riverside.
Most celebrations — with or without alcohol — are already experiences, Lyubomirsky says. “You might go out to dinner or a party, travel, or go to a spa with friends.”
Here are some of her other tips on how to celebrate while boosting your well-being:
- Spend time with others. Pick an activity that’ll help strengthen your relationships. “Anything you can do to connect with other people,” Lyubomirksy says.
- Take on a challenge. Do something that’ll help you grow as a person. Or simply try something new and exciting. “Go learn how to skydive,” she says.
- Pay it forward. This might not be something you normally think about when it comes to a celebration. But we tend to feel good about ourselves when we give back to society or do “an act of kindness,” So, if you’re socializing, reach out to someone who might not feel included. Or buy them a nonalcoholic drink, too.
You might feel relaxed when you drink alcohol. But lots of studies show spending time in nature can ease stress. A celebration outdoors can strengthen your social connections, too.
Here are some ideas:
- Meet your friends at a park.
- Take a group hike to a scenic overlook.
- Make mocktails for a backyard get-together.
Bonus points if you pick something that gets you and your friends moving. Research backs up what you already know from experience: Being active outdoors can boost your mind and body.
Treat Yourself to Something Sweet
While you don’t want to make sugar your only reward, it’s OK to treat yourself on a special occasion.
Seek out a new dessert spot in your area. Or visit an old favorite.
You could also:
- Toast a new job with milkshakes.
- Celebrate your birthday with an ice cream sundae bar.
- Pair fruit with a chocolate fountain at your wedding.
- Have after-dinner s’mores if there’s a firepit nearby.
Bring a Sober Buddy
It can be hard to celebrate without alcohol if everyone around you is drinking. So line up support if you think that would help.
“If you’re going into an environment and you’re intending not to drink that night, tell a friend who can bring you that nonalcoholic beverage or help you choose an activity that’s incompatible with drinking,” Cyders says.