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10 hacks for catching up with friends without drinking

Three young woman looking at the routes on an indoor rock climbing wall

Whether you drink alcohol or not, you can sometimes feel pressured to have a drink. Drinking is often seen as a part of Australian culture—and many others.

Birthdays, cocktail parties, celebrations, weddings, a quick drink after work, dinners, watching a game on TV, just hanging out … alcohol is often part of these events.

Most Queenslanders drink alcohol at levels that have few adverse effects, but about one third drink alcohol on a single occasion at levels that put them at risk.  Drinking alcohol can leave you feeling below par, tired, flat, physically, and emotionally.

Alcohol is the most widely used drug in Australia. Drinking too much can lead to anxiety, depression, poor sleep, weight gain, and a weakened immune system. See the Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol for more information.

Drinking alcohol is so commonplace in Australia that you might not notice when you’re overdoing it. Low-level dependence can gradually increase over time until alcohol use becomes a real problem.

On the other side of the table, those who seldom or never drink can get tired of being asked “What’s wrong? Why aren’t you drinking? Let me get you a drink,” and so on.

So, what do you do if you don’t drink or when you want to take it easy on the booze but still catch up with friends?

The good news is there are lots of ways to have fun without drinking. Here are some proven strategies and ideas to get you thinking.

Organise alcohol-free activities with your friends instead of going out for a drink

You could do something outdoors or physically active. Go swimming, hiking, skating, bike riding, indoor rock climbing, pay touch football, basketball, volleyball, putt-putt, mini-golf, tennis, or lawn or ten-pin bowls. Or maybe book a class of some sort together—learn to draw or paint, do pottery, dance, cook, or sail.

If you’re going out for a meal together, make it all about the food, not the drinks. The world is your oyster.

Suggest venues where non-alcoholic drinks are also available

As more people choose not to drink, venues are adapting. You can always call ahead to make sure they have some yummy non-alcoholic drinks for you and your friends to enjoy.

Socialise more often with friends who don’t drink

This can be a good way to learn to enjoy outings without alcohol and to reinforce and normalise the fact that you are far from the only person who chooses not to drink alcohol.

Saying no to alcoholic drinks—prepare and practice your responses before you head out

This is important. It’s always awkward to be put on the spot in front of a group of people who are drinking when someone suddenly yells, “Hey! Why aren’t you drinking?” And someone often does.

Having a simple and practiced response helps avoid any awkwardness. You can say something such as: “No, thanks I’m not drinking.” “I’ve got an early start.” “I want to see what it’s like to not drink.” “Not feeling great.” “I’m giving the liver a night off.” “I’m the designated driver.” It may feel uncomfortable at first, but saying no becomes easier over time

Which brings us to our next point.

Volunteer to be the designated driver

This is self-explanatory. You are now responsible for the safety and wellbeing of your friends, so don’t drink alcohol. They are relying on you to look after them. Do that J.

Drink something non-alcoholic or choose low-strength drinks

Drinks often taste much better without alcohol. You can drink sparkling water with fresh lime. Or make some groovy non-alcoholic cocktails for yourself and your friends—here are thousands of delicious recipes online, or you can create your own. Challenge your friends to bring or make a non-alcoholic cocktail or drink of their own. If people are drinking alcohol around you, it sometimes helps to have a glass of something in hand—even if it’s not alcoholic—to avoid the inevitable question.

If you want to have an alcoholic drink, choosing a low-strength drink can be a great choice.

A group of four people toasting each other with zero alcohol mocktails

Remove temptation by not keeping alcohol in your home

It’s a simple truth: you can’t drink alcohol if you don’t have any to hand. Make some non-alcoholic cocktails or drinks and invite your friends over for board games, or to watch a movie.

Count standard drinks to keep track

Many of us don’t really know what a standard drink is. It’s often less than you think, and it’s easy to think you’re not drinking much when you might be. You may have had the experience of drinking wine in large wine glasses, and when you think you’ve only had two or three standard drinks you look at the bottle to see that it’s almost done.

A standard drink is always 10g of pure alcohol. That seems simple, but remember different drinks have different percentages of alcohol in them.

For example, the average restaurant serving of red wine is 150ml. At 13.5% alcohol that is 1.6 standard drinks. A standard serving of red wine (13.5% alcohol) is only 100ml! A regular can (stubbie - 375ml) of full-strength (4.8%) beer is 1.4 standard drinks!

Find out more about standard drinks, with handy pictures of different drinks and how many standard drinks they contain.

A chart showing what a standard drink looks like for different types of alcoholic beverages

Set yourself a limit and stick to it

If you’re going to drink, decide beforehand how many drinks you are going to have and stick to it. Make a firm determination before you have your first drink. Alcohol lowers inhibition and that can make it hard to form and stick to a resolution once you’re already drinking.

Don’t forget to have fun!

If you think back, you’ll remember many, many times from childhood until the present that you’ve had heaps of fun without drinking. You don’t need to drink alcohol to have fun. Enjoy!

If you are concerned about your drinking (or someone else’s)

You can call the confidential alcohol and drug support service at any time.

Contact Adis 24/7Alcohol and Drug Support

Phone: 1800 177 833 for free, anonymous and confidential counselling, 24 hours a day 7 days a week

More blogs and resources about drinking alcohol

Last updated: 19 July 2021