I’ve known for a while that I need to stop drinking, but I’m worried about what people will think. Is it true that you lose friends when you quit drinking? I suspect my friends might not want to spend time with me any more. They might assume I have a drinking problem, and I don’t want them to think badly of me. Laurie
First of all, Laurie, congratulations on your determination to stop drinking. Going alcohol-free can feel like a big decision, but in all my conversations with people who’ve changed their drinking, I’ve yet to meet anyone who regrets it. Life will change as a result of quitting drinking, and sometimes in surprising ways. But overwhelmingly, things get better.
Changing your drinking is about putting yourself first and deciding what you need to do to live well. But people rarely live in complete isolation from others. In our culture, we learn that drinking together is how we should build and sustain our relationships. So as you begin to imagine a life that doesn’t include alcohol, it’s normal to wonder what the impact will be on your friendships.
If you’re taking a look at your friendships, and noticing how many of them centre on getting drunk together, the thought of change can be unsettling. Although drinking with your friends has become a problem for you, it sounds your friendships are also a big part of what makes you happy. So you might end up healthier if you quit, but might you also be more lonely if your friends react badly to your news?
We human beings have evolved to be social creatures. Our general friendliness towards each other is one of our key evolutionary advantages. As Rutger Bregman writes in Humankind: A Hopeful History, we are “ultrasocial learning machines. We’re born to learn, to bond and to play… we are hardwired to relate to the people around us.”
So it’s hardly surprising that your friends’ reaction matters to you. Your concern for their opinion is part of what makes you human. But I wonder if you’ve got things out of perspective. You are balancing your happiness and theirs as if they were equal things. Worse, you’re prepared to prioritise their negative opinions over your positive determination to change.
So I need to ask: Are you using your worry about their opinions as an excuse to do nothing? It seems like a part of you is building a case against change, based solely on your presumption that your friends won’t support you. I wonder what would happen if you imagined that they would?
You’re not alone in being concerned about how your friends will react if you quit drinking. Social drinking is a common issue for Club Soda members. We designed our free introductory course, How to Change Your Drinking, to give you the skills and tools to socialise alcohol-free. Joining the course will also connect you with other people who are changing, so you can ask for advice and share your experiences.
Are your existing friendships are going to survive the transition to you not drinking? Yes, but only if start talking to people about what’s going on for you. The prospect of doing that can be scary. But you can approach it in small steps, to build your confidence.
If you’re not going out with your friends right now, you may not need to raise the issue directly. If you are having drinks together on Zoom, just choose something alcohol-free to drink instead. It doesn’t matter what anyone else is drinking, and you don’t have to make a big deal of it. In fact, why not try it next time you virtually meet up with friends and see what happens?
If you are worried about socialising with friends, have a quiet conversation with someone in the group that you trust. You don’t need to make a dramatic announcement or share your life story. Just let them know you’re laying off the booze for the moment. And ask for their support when it comes to buying rounds or ordering a bottle to share, or whatever else you need.
I can’t promise you that you won’t lose friends if you quit drinking. A few people might react badly, and some might not want to hang out with you any more. People will come to all sorts of incorrect conclusions based on what you tell them. But you’ve never been able to control what other people think of you anyway. Best to let that go.
Your friendships may change as you change your drinking, and you might decide not to see some friends as much as before. But don’t let worry hold you back from doing what’s right for you. You’ll make new friends along the way, and many of your friends will be happy to support you.
Once you’ve spoken to one person, you’ll find your confidence grows. And that will motivate you to keep going. You just need to get started.
Dru Jaeger is one of Club Soda’s co-founders and leads courses for people who want to cut down, stop for a bit or quit, including How to Change Your Drinking. If you’ve got a question about any aspect of changing your drinking, Ask Dru.