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Friends in Recovery: Do I Have to Drop Everyone Who Drinks?

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Getting sober can be one of life’s most difficult challenges. For many people, putting down their crutch can also mean a host of other life-changing actions. You may change how you socialize, not to mention how you cope without your trusted numbing agent. But do you have to drop all your friends if they still drink?

It doesn’t have to be so black and white. And despite some common misconceptions, people who get sober can still have a fun life!


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Changing Your Playground

In 12-step recovery, they often say to newcomers that you have to change your playground if you want to get sober. Meaning, you have to change who you hang out with and where you hang out. 

Let’s think about it for a minute: if you used to do most of your drinking and/or using in bars, it’s highly likely that you’ll associate going to bars with drinking. In the same way, if there are certain friends that you have partied with – we’ve all had those friends – then hanging out with them will also remind you of getting inebriated with them.

Another recovery saying that encourages a change in behavior to accompany recovery is this, “If you always do what you always did, you’ll always have what you always had.” Meaning, if you don’t make any changes it’s likely you’ll go back to drinking if you hang out with drinking buddies in bars.

But it isn’t all doom and gloom. Folks in recovery still party, go to concerts, and hang out with their friends outside of 12-step meetings. You can do all of these things with friends whether they are sober or not. 

Maintaining Friends After You Quit Drinking

It makes sense that, when you find recovery, you might also want to find a new way to socialize. There is no hard and fast rule here. 

Lauren explains her experience: “When I first got sober I didn’t know how to function without alcohol. I’d gone from spending most nights in bars and blacking out to having [what felt like ] very long evenings feeling very sober and not knowing what to do with myself.” 

Asked about how she felt about hanging out in a bar when sober, Lauren explains her perspective: 

“The thought of going to a bar actually turned my stomach, so that was enough of a deterrent for me. But for others, I saw them struggling when it came to socializing and I hear that in meetings all the time. What we did have in common was that we had to find a solution that worked for us.”

While your therapist, sponsor, or AA buddy might suggest dropping your friends, it is a highly individualized choice. As a general rule, it is suggested that you ask your friends to hang out and, if they feel uncomfortable with you not drinking, that’s a pretty good sign they might not be the friend for you. 

If, however, they relish a new and fun thing to do and a night sans booze, then it’s highly likely that the friend is here to stay. In many ways getting sober helps us know who is important in our lives. 

Fun and Friends in Recovery

So how do you approach fun in recovery? How do you go about socializing without alcohol? 

Now that you’re in recovery, it’s worth considering how to spend your time outside of work and school. Again, this is something that is personal. Only you know, or can find out, if you find something fun. And the process of finding new things to do can be quite fun in itself. 

Many folks who are new in recovery find themselves asking, “What does fun look like without drugs and alcohol?” This might seem like a dumb question, but when you first get sober, it is often a difficult question to answer.

“I remember my therapist asking me what I did to have fun. I told her that I have fun writing about recovery and I liked yoga. She stopped me and asked me directly if that was fun, or if I was describing what gave me a sense of purposefulness or relaxation,” explains Lauren. 

“She had me. It took several weeks and lots of conversations with other people in recovery to find out what fun looked like,” Lauren says. 

You might find, like Lauren and lots of other folks in recovery, that fun is also an individual thing and an important part of a well-rounded life in recovery. There are hundreds of things to do for fun that don’t include drinking. 

Here are a few ideas:

  • Going to the movies
  • Going out for ice cream
  • Visiting friends and family in a coffee place or dessert bar
  • Going to a crafting event or hosting your own at home
  • Checking out a concert or music festival
  • Going to an art gallery or show
  • Finding a new restaurant in town to check out
  • Having a cake-baking competition with co-workers
  • Trying a jewelry making or pottery class
  • Taking a new art class
  • Finding a new hobby or skill like going back to school for flower arranging, graphic design, art, or any other interest you might have like playing a new instrument
  • Learning how to code and write an app
  • Going to a recovery event
  • Meet a close friend at a tea shop
  • Check out a local farmers market
  • Research mocktail recipes or check out a new sober bar in town and take a few friends in recovery
  • Go dancing – take a salsa class or head to a club with your sober friends (This can be triggering for some folks, so do what you feel comfortable with.)
  • Taking a cooking class, then inviting close friends or family over for dinner to show off your new skills

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Surround Yourself With Real Friends in Recovery

Whatever you choose, remember: there is no right or wrong way to have fun in recovery and the friends who are worth being in your life will stick around. Recovery has a way of improving all areas in your life, and that might mean removing a few friends that didn’t have your best interest at heart. 

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