Holiday celebrations often involve alcohol. This can make things difficult for non-drinkers, whether they’re sober for life or are pursuing sobriety for health or other reasons. Even if you plan to drink at holiday parties, supporting sober friends and family can make everyone feel comfortable and included—which is in line with the spirit of the season.
Nick Bodkins, co-founder and CEO of alcohol-free drink retailer Boisson, thinks the greatest approach to encourage sober friends during the holidays is to treat their decision not to drink as a valid default, just as we normalize other people’s decisions to drink.
Abstaining from alcohol at a party is no different from abstaining any other day. “At a societal level, we’re finally beginning to recognize that alcohol doesn’t have to ‘own’ celebration, connection, and socializing,” says Emily Heintz, founder of alcohol-free drink retailer Sèchey.
Read on for seven tips on how to better support your sober/non-drinking loved ones this holiday season.
Offer non-alcoholic alternatives that are comparable to alcoholic ones
Alcohol alternatives have flooded the market in recent years. The hemp-infused liquor Aplós and the functional-mushroom elixir Solbrü are available in bottle shops and on drink menus alongside zero-proof versions of gin, tequila, wine, beer, and canned drinks.
“There are so many amazing zero-proof replacements that can make someone feel like they’re drinking and that maintain the celebratory nature and the ceremony of making or pouring a drink but with no alcohol,” says Heintz. “Nobody wants to toast with water or coffee,” adds Heintz, so stocking your home bar with a few of these options, or buying an alcohol-free sparkling wine for your holiday gathering can make sober friends feel included.
Heintz recommends alcohol-free bitters and syrups for alcohol-free cocktails this holiday season, while Bodkins advises writing in your invitation that “alcoholic and alcohol-free beverages will be provided” to let sober and sober-curious friends know there will be options for them.
Have non-alcoholic drinks that aren’t reminiscent of an alcoholic drink
Heintz asserts that someone who doesn’t drink due to a negative relationship with alcohol or who is permanently sober due to addiction concerns may not want to consume anything that resembles an alcoholic beverage, so it’s also a good idea to have a few booze-free options that function like alcohol alternatives but taste and smell nothing like alcohol.
Hemp- and adaptogen-based drinks and ready-to-drink botanical teas and aperitifs fit the bill.
Encourage a sober loved one’s sobriety journey
Addiction psychiatrist Smita Das, MD, Ph.D., senior medical director of psychiatry at workforce mental-health benefits platform Lyra Health, says it will be “critical for [sober friends or family members in recovery] to have someone in their corner that they can go to and feel comfortable and safe with around the holidays.”
Dr. Das suggests showing you support their journey by creating a strategy with them before a party that will help them find an “out” in a difficult situation.
Don’t default to offering an alcoholic beverage
Even if you’ll be with sober individuals this Christmas season, it’s tempting to offer alcohol as a default. Keep in mind that “saying ‘no’ might be hard for a person who’s not drinking, and some people, depending on their sober journey, may just agree to drink out of politeness,” explains Bodkins. If so, you’re unintentionally making a sober loved one feel like they’re drinking to please you.
Heintz advises saying something like: “We have traditional Champagne and an alcohol-removed version—which would you like?” This way, you’re giving the other person the power to choose.
Don’t ask why someone isn’t drinking
There are so many reasons why someone might choose to abstain from booze, and none of them are anyone else’s concern—holiday hosts included.
Asking a sober individual “why” sets up an unpleasant situation in which they may feel obliged to reveal their poor history with alcohol, a specific health condition, or even pregnancy—all of which may be things they’d rather not tell, especially in the setting of a holiday celebration.
Don’t say things like “it’s just one drink”
Someone else’s decision not to drink alcohol “can make you question your own decision to drink it, which can be uncomfortable,” says Maeve O’Neill, MEd, LPC-S, executive vice president of addiction and recovery at All Sober, an addiction support platform. That uneasiness may then “cause you to make jokes or be unsupportive or even dismissive of their choice not to use alcohol, perhaps by encouraging them to ‘just have one drink,’” she says.
In any context, it’s vital to realize that someone’s choice not to drink, even if it’s at your party, is not a reflection of you, how they think about you, or your own drinking habits; it’s about them.
Don’t make assumptions about how sober people will act
Reality check: “celebrating with people who don’t drink alcohol is not difficult or boring,” says O’Neill.
It’s unfair to presume your sober guests won’t add anything to the celebration. “Sober guests are much more likely to relax and appreciate the night [and yes, be fun] if they don’t feel pressured into drinking,” says Bodkins.