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Life Unlubricated: a Guide to Going Out Sober

Updated: Dec 31, 2021 10:44
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By Charles

I recently celebrated my first birthday. Like a lot of recovery metaphors, ‘birthday’ sounds a little dramatic, a little too close to ‘born again.’ Looking back at my first year clean and sober, I get it. This does feel like a second life I’m living, and sometimes I feel like an emotional toddler. Growing up is painful. Truth hurts. One truth I’ve had to face is that I am not and never will be one of the 90% of people who can drink in moderation.

For the 10% like me, getting better means learning to live without lubrication. In the beginning, the hardest part was going out* sober.

Here are some tips on how to have a great night out without a drink. I use a lot of recovery speak, but these pointers are for anyone who wants to take a night off without feeling awkward. This is the guide I wish I had at 60 days.


Going out sober

Like everything in recovery, honesty is the key.  Be real about why you’re there and don’t start making lame excuses to stay in an uncomfortable situation. Watch out if you start admiring binge drinking from afar.

A surprising thing is how moderately most people drink. Even at a rave, the drugs are an accessory to the music and the social scene. It’s really just the addicts, huddled off to the side, who make it about the drugs.

Keep an eye on how this changes as the night drags on. If it’s still about the music, the game, the birthday girl, then no worries. But when the focus shifts to getting fucked up as an end in itself, that might be your cue. Which brings us to our next tip:


They say ‘nothing good happens after midnight…’ Don’t be afraid to leave early. Better yet, use your newfound ability to play well with others to take someone home for that holy-fucking-fuck-this-is-better-than-heroin sober sex.

One thing booze is great for is making boring people interesting. This goes away abruptly in sobriety and with it goes your patience for 3am digressions about new age healing, bad relationships, and The Fountainhead. I tend to walk away when people stop making sense. Some former drinkers like to be reminded of the kind of shit they used to talk. Either way, this is a good time to be selfish.


I got sober in Korea where it’s a gesture of hospitality to force soju on your guests. Refusing a drink isn’t really an option there, neither is being open about your recovery. I alienated the occasional salaryman, but I stayed sober.

In most places, nobody will force a drink on you. People who have issues with you not drinking will usually be too busy forcing drinks on themselves.

It does happen from time to time. I know a guy who was pressured by a coworker to have a beer. He didn’t get why my friend couldn’t just have one. Finally, my friend said, ‘Listen, if I have that one I’m gonna end up raiding your medicine cabinet, peeing in your pool, and trying to shag your wife.’

‘No, thanks’ works too.


Get a drink in your hand as soon as you walk in the door–that’s what you’re used to doing anyway. Mine’s a ‘virgin scotch and soda.’ I specifically ask for a whiskey tumbler and a mixing straw straw so the whole ‘why aren’t you drinking’ thing never comes up. I’m not comfortable saying ‘I don’t drink.’ Mormons and Al Queda ‘don’t drink.’ Left to my own devices, I drink.

You want to befriend the bartender–she might be the only other sober one in the place–and tip well. Make it worth her while to keep topping off your virgin scotch and soda.


If your first 60 days are anything like mine, they’ll be a blur of support groups, relapse dreams, sexual dysfunction, Ekhart Tolle, and crying watching Netflix. I was way too fragile and neurotic for a night out at first. I took baby steps and surrounded myself with a crew when I did hit the town.

Easy does it. Don’t go out before you’re ready, it’s not worth the discomfort, the danger of a slip, and the resentment of those who can drink safely (fucking Stuart…).


Be the opposite of a wet blanket. Get out of your own head. Focus on others and what you can add to their night. Find the fun. Bring the fun. Be the fun. Most of the awkwardness passes in the first fifteen minutes, and after going out sober for a while, you stop feeling it all together. Breathe. This is where something like meditation can pay off.


Here are my favorite non-alcoholic drinks. Leave your suggestions and recipes in the comments.

  • Broke-Ass Stuart has you covered with How to Drink Soda Without Being an Asshole. Unfortunately, as Ashley Lauren points out, there are some ethical problems with our most practical option, Coca-Cola.
  • The best non-alcoholic drink I’ve found is Bruce Cost ginger ale. It’s strong and you can nurse it the way non-problem drinkers do with wine and IPAs.
  • Caffeine is one of the only highs that’s still okay in recovery–along with jogging, nicotine, and fornication. Coffee is a great pre-game or nightcap and the coffee cup sends the ‘none for me, thanks,’ message loud and clear.
  • Peter Spanton, restaurateur and sober person, makes a line of non alcoholic drinks for grown ups. So far they’re just available in the UK.
  • Cigars are good too.
  • If you’re in NYC, after party with desserts from PareUp.


I’ve never met anyone in recovery who would touch non-alcoholic beer. I certainly don’t pop Tic Tacs out of a prescription bottle–Royal Tenenbaum style. I’ve never met a junkie who shoots opiate free heroin–on the contrary, I do know one who’s afraid of needles that aren’t loaded with his drug of choice. The real issue here is that the taste may bring back strong and pleasant memories and next thing you know you’re reaching for the real thing.

We drunks don’t drink because we like the taste, we like the taste because we drink.


I hope this helps. Have fun out there, take it easy.

If you’re worried about whether you or a loved one might be an alcoholic, look no further than Kate Rice’s Ask A Grown Up: How Can I Tell if My Boyfriend is an Alcoholic?

*Let’s define our terms. ‘Going out’ in sober speak means relapsing, and that’s just what we’re trying to prevent here. For our purposes I’ll be using ‘going out’ to talk about a night out, hopefully a sober one.

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  1. George Davis
    August 7, 2015 at 7:39 am

    At a bar, Tonic Water with a twist of lime.

  2. Eunice Park
    February 21, 2017 at 1:42 pm

    Congrats on your first birthday, especially in South Korea. I started my ill-fated drinking career in Seoul, and if you can stay sober there, you can do it anywhere.

    My fave drink these days is cranberry juice with a splash of club soda and lime. And hey, Diet Coke will do in a pinch anytime.