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Surprisingly Simple Tips for a Sober Inclusive Holiday Party

Sam Dylan Finch

Three friends stand on a roof at sunset, their backs facing the camera. Their arms are outstretched in celebration.

Nov 15, 2022

In This Article

For some, the holidays can certainly be the “most wonderful time of the year.” But for the sober among us, this time of year can also present some unique, not-so-wonderful challenges. 

When I first got sober, nothing filled me with more dread than big holiday gatherings. This often meant dozens of drunk adults sloppily singing Christmas carols while I cowered alone in the corner, drinking tap water out of a mug and wishing I could be literally anywhere else.

Being the only sober adult in the room can be a lonely experience! But it doesn’t have to be. If you’re inviting a sober friend to your next holiday party, consider these tips to make your event a more welcoming, sober-friendly space.

1. Set expectations for the party ahead of time — without making assumptions.

When you invite a sober person to your party, consider checking in beforehand about your expectations for the event. If you’re throwing a Christmas rager, be honest about it! Nothing is worse than showing up to an event that you expect to be lowkey only to discover that everyone around you is getting wasted.

Be transparent about how you expect your event to go — including any drug use — so that your friend can decide if this is an environment they’ll feel comfortable in. But be careful not to assume that your friend doesn’t want to be invited to the rager, either! Trust that your sober friend knows their own comfort zone; their tolerance for shenanigans might be higher than you think.

2. Don’t ask invasive questions.

If a friend discloses to you that they’re sober, resist the temptation to play 50 Questions with them. Their drinking (or lack thereof) is their business, and they may not feel ready to share their reasons for why they’re abstaining. Instead, thank them for sharing their sobriety with you and ask if there’s anything you can do to support them.

Part of being a good host is looking out for the comfort of your guests. Keep an eye out for anyone who may be pressuring your sober friend to drink or disclose their reasons for not drinking and gently intervene if needed. You might say something like, “We aren’t pressuring anyone to drink tonight,” or “They said they aren’t drinking. Let’s move on.”

3. Don’t make drinking the main event.

This may sound blunt, but I say it with great care and zero judgment: If the entire point of your party is to get everyone drunk, this might be a good time to reflect on your own relationship with alcohol.

When drinking is the “main event,” it not only excludes your sober friends from participating but also begs the question: Why is alcohol the focal point of your gathering? Are you uncomfortable socializing while sober? Do you have a hard time having fun if you aren’t intoxicated? Is alcohol taking up more space in your life than it should?

If your parties are just a veiled excuse to get wasted, this is important information about how you engage with alcohol. Your parties may be a toxic environment, not only for your sober friends but for anyone struggling with their alcohol consumption — which might include yourself. 

Maybe it’s a hot cocoa and classic movie kind of night this year?

4. Include non-alcoholic drink options.

No one wants to be the friend who’s hunched over the bathroom sink, awkwardly filling a red plastic cup with tap water because you couldn’t find anything else to drink (I speak from experience here). With so many great non-alcoholic drink options, this should never be the case! Consider sparkling water and juices, sodas, and even a specialty mocktail for your sober friend. It will surely be appreciated.

5. Create a designated “panic room.”

If you have the space, sectioning off one room in your home as a “panic room” or “quiet room” can be a welcomed reprieve for anyone who gets easily overwhelmed at gatherings. Simply place a sign on the door explaining that it’s a designated quiet space for anyone to use should they need to get away from the noise. You might even include noise-canceling headphones, a weighted blanket, or fidget toys to play with.

Don’t have an extra room to spare? That’s okay! You could even create a “panic corner” by creating a blanket fort or using a room divider to section off some space.

This is great not just for your sober friends but anyone who’s neurodivergent or introverted and may need a little space from the party when things get rowdy.

6. Allow for a plus one.

When I first got sober, being alone at a party was a nerve-wracking experience — who could I trust to support me in my sobriety, especially with so much temptation around me? This is why allowing for a plus-one can be a huge relief. Ensure your sober friend won’t be alone by encouraging them to bring along a guest who is also sober or supportive of their sobriety.

This can be especially helpful for someone who is new in their sobriety and may be attending an event with alcohol for the first time since getting sober.

7. Offer an alternative event.

If your sober friend can’t attend your party, don’t let that discourage you from spending time together! Providing an alternative, like a coffee date or ice skating, will give you time to connect in a safer, more supportive setting. 

Just because your sober friend chooses not to be around alcohol right now doesn’t mean they don’t want to spend time with you. Don’t take it personally — because it’s not! Instead, invite them to an activity that you both can enjoy.

Sobriety is hard: a little compassion goes a long way.

When I was sober, everything from popping the wine bottle at Christmas dinner to the champagne toast at New Year’s felt daunting. Having a supportive friend can be the difference between a holiday to remember or calling it an early, disappointing night.

Small gestures — the sparkling (non-alcoholic) cider, checking in with me throughout the event, and allowing me to bring along a supportive guest — let me know that my presence was truly wanted and that my sobriety mattered.

Be a good friend by showing up with support, a listening ear, and a willingness to accommodate. Not only will this strengthen your friend’s sobriety — it may even strengthen the relationship between you as well.

About The Author

Sam Dylan Finch is a writer, coach, and mental health advocate based in Seattle, WA. His work has been featured on Healthline, the New York Times, Psych Central, Teen Vogue, Huffington Post, and more. You can connect with him on Twitter and Instagram @samdylanfinch, facebook.com/samdylanfinch or learn more at his website samdylanfinch.com.

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