5 ways to stay sober at a cocktail party when taking a break from alcohol

Once my hangovers hit harder than Mike Tyson in 1988, I decided to take a break from alcohol. Here's how it went

By D. Watkins

Editor at Large

Published September 10, 2023 1:30PM (EDT)

Five fruity cocktails (Getty Images/SimpleImages)
Five fruity cocktails (Getty Images/SimpleImages)

I recently decided to cut back on hard booze and to become a wine guy — both for health reasons and the fact that hangovers beat me down worse than Mike Tyson did his opponents back in 1988. Eventually, I followed that with a decision to cut everything, or at least attempt to see how long I could go without a sip. 

I was feeling great after the first few weeks — I knocked off a few pounds, got better sleep and haven't had a headache since. As I approached a month, I realized that I haven't been truly challenged. How do I know if I can remain sober if I'm only hanging around the house? After all, I was never a even a house drinker. Lucky for me, it was Labor Day weekend and three ultimate challenges were in store: dinner with my friends, which means drinks; a family cookout where I was asked to bring the booze; and my homeboy's house party that seems like it was sponsored by booze. 

And, I won. I abstained from drinking the entire weekend and honestly, I didn't even want to.      

While at these events, I learned five ways to not make your sobriety the subject of the party, therefore allowing you to stay on the wagon in peace as well.

Buy a round

When you walk into a function, the first question that your drinking friends are going to ask you is, "What are you drinking?" Instead of instantly replying, you should just flip the question on them and then go to the bar and get a round. If you are really slick, come back with some water and lime in a rocks glass and you will fit right in. 

Own your problem

There's always an extra-observant friend who may notice you chugging water while everyone else is turning up. I would never recommend running away from any of their questions about your sobriety. After all, these are your friends and friendship is important. So, take the opportunity to own your problem. It doesn't matter if you aren't drinking because of health, or because you're an ugly drunk or you just don't want to drink anymore. Just let them know that it's not for you and they aren't losing you. They are, in fact, gaining a better you. 

Tell a drinking story

We all have the story about the time we drank so much, that we ate those dog biscuits on the countertop because we thought they were cookies. Well, maybe that didn't happen to you, but if you have a history of partying with alcohol, then you know there is a story, or night or an experience that you wish you could take back — proudly laugh while telling that story. 

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Challenge the challenger

Sometimes you'll run into really small-minded people who feel the need to challenge you on your decision to not drink. Understand that their actions have nothing to do with you and everything to do with them. They don't understand how you can kick a habit that they battle with, so the only thing that makes them feel right is attacking you for doing so. You can beat them by simply challenging them every time they challenge you. You will win, because nine out of 10 times they will be drunk and sober you should be able to destroy any drunk person in an argument. They'll get tired and frustrated and switch the subject or tap out. (But also if you bought them a round like I suggested in point one, then they may not challenge you at all, because they will be too grateful for your kind gesture.) 

Promise a comeback

If you think that your break from alcohol will be temporary, telling your drunk buddies that you will be rejoining them at a later time is very safe for two reasons. The first is that it gives them something to look forward to — a glorious night where you return to booze and you all drink to any and every problem you had was washed away (though, for full-disclosure, alcohol actually doesn't wash away problems). And secondly, it takes the pressure off of you. We are human beings not robots, so if you do decide to go back and have a sip, you won't have to worry about 100 people saying, "I thought you quit." 

The biggest realization that came to me after the weekend was that I had a better time without alcohol. I remember everything so clearly and wonder what else have I been missing over the years. 

By D. Watkins

D. Watkins is an Editor at Large for Salon. He is also a writer on the HBO limited series "We Own This City" and a professor at the University of Baltimore. Watkins is the author of the award-winning, New York Times best-selling memoirs “The Beast Side: Living  (and Dying) While Black in America”, "The Cook Up: A Crack Rock Memoir," "Where Tomorrows Aren't Promised: A Memoir of Survival and Hope" as well as "We Speak For Ourselves: How Woke Culture Prohibits Progress." His new books, "Black Boy Smile: A Memoir in Moments," and "The Wire: A Complete Visual History" are out now.

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