We’re often encouraged to have a few drinks to loosen up and overcome anxiety.
Whether it’s to help us get in the mood at a party, or pluck up the courage to talk to that guy or girl, the message we often hear is: alcohol will help.
When I first quit drinking, the idea of socialising sober seemed unthinkable! I’m a pretty shy person and I used to rely on booze to get me through those situations.
So it was a bit of a surprise to discover that ditching alcohol actually reduced my anxiety. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? But when you look at the science around this, it’s not actually all that surprising. Here’s why:
Science shows alcohol increases anxiety
What if the drug you rely on to calm your nerves actually made them worse? This study by the University of North Carolina School of Medicine shows that long-term drinking can increase our susceptibility to anxiety problems.
These findings tally with my own experience and that of my students. As a drinker, I was a lot more anxious in general, but I’d see a massive spike in my anxiety the morning after a big drinking session. I think the cool kids call this ‘hangxiety’. It was pretty horrible.
Over time you’ll need more and more
Tolerance is not your friend. If you’re convinced that alcohol puts you at ease, you need to be aware that over time, alcohol will stop working so well. Your body will build up a tolerance to booze, so you’ll need to drink more and more to feel any effect.
Alcohol never treats the problem
If your children felt too nervous to join in with the other kids at a party, would you give them a drug in order to help them conquer their nerves? I doubt it. You’d want them to figure out how to socialise on their own.
You’re in the same situation here. Drinking isn’t treating your anxiety – it’s just masking it for a while. That means you’re not getting the opportunity to grow your sober muscles and discover what the real you is capable of.
Tips for dealing with social anxiety, sober:
Flip your perspective
Rather than seeing parties or events as challenges that need to be avoided, try and view them as something to push through and rise up against. It’s like building muscle at the gym – you have to do the work and put some effort in if you want to get stronger.
Make a commitment to show up and give it your all
Promise yourself that you’ll listen, ask questions and be fully present. This makes you so much more interesting than the drunk person who just talks and talks and isn’t having a two way conversation.
View everything as an experiment – you’re simply on a fact-finding mission. You’re giving yourself the opportunity to show up and see what happens.
Celebrate and review afterwards
Observe how things felt. If it was a lot easier to make small talk than you imagined, you’ll want to acknowledge that – don’t gloss over it! So often the beliefs and stories we have about ourselves just aren’t true.
No matter how the event goes, celebrate with an amazing sober treat afterwards. You showed up and pushed yourself outside your comfort zone, and that means you are AWESOME! 🙌
What are your tips for overcoming anxiety and socialising sober?
I’d love to hear what works for you. Let me know in the comments!
Kate, I went to a wedding on Saturday and didn’t drink! First time in years (maybe decades) that Ive done something like that and not drunk through it. I was worried (really worried!) about how I’d manage it, but it was fine – I even did a bit of sober dancing! It was a beautiful wedding and I felt great driving home and remembering it all. So my tip would be just do it!! You dont know what will happen till you try.
I love to hear of your success, Trish. You inspire!
Brilliant! That is fantastic to hear. Good on you for giving it your all and just seeing what happens – that’s an important sober first done and dusted! 🙂
Well done sound advice .
Excellent! Thank you!
Thanks Kate this is useful. I always masked my anxiety with alcohol until i had a total breakdown. I started learning to love myself and forgive myself if i was a bit nervous etc as I am only human. I started off with going to cafes on my own and with a friend and worked up to attending slightly bigger things but I am yet to conquer a wedding or similar, sober! Onwards and upwards though! I will have to do it! 6 months sober and proud. Thanks for the advice x
I think it’s important to tackle this stuff at your own pace, which is exactly what you’re doing. Many congratulations on your 6 months sober! x
OMG the hangxiety is real! I’m 3 weeks sober today and have noticed a real difference in my overall stress levels and anxiety. I went to a BBQ last weekend, that’s been my biggest test so far. I drove there so i could leave whenever I wanted and I ended up staying a lot longer than I expected 🙂
Congratulations on your 3 weeks Kelly! Being able to leave whenever you want is a great tip – it takes the pressure off, right? Well done.
Hi Kate! Great post, as always. I find that the first 15 – 20 minutes can be a little hard, but as soon as you push through that, it becomes as comfortable as if you were drinking, by the end of the night you’re having a way better time than if you drank. And the next morning – you feel like a sober rock star. Can’t beat it. One thing I would add – leave early when you need to. Sometimes I felt obliged to stick around, and it was not a good idea. Come late, leave early – do what works for you.
Thanks Jane, those are great tips! Totally agree about the sober rock star status… I’ve had some of the best nights out since I quit drinking and it is great waking up the next day and knowing that you really did have a good time 🙂
The reason that alcohol makes you anxious is because when you drink the alcohol acts as a sedative (and an anaesthetic) and your body tries to re-balance itself by releasing stimulants into your system (which is why alcohol appears to perk you up) such as adrenaline. The alcohol wears off more quickly than the stimulants leaving you anxious. Also over time your body becomes accustomed to you throwing a lot of alcohol down your neck and becomes really good at countering it, so you only need to drink a little but your body expecting more release huge amounts of stimulants. It’s a vicious downward spiral.
Love the blogs Kate. Thank you.
Kate today I am 1 month 2 weeks sober and I will tell you my level of anxiety is much less. Although Alcohol did make it easier for me to socialize, I am looking at ways to change that.
Congratulations on your sobriety so far! I’m glad you’re feeling less anxious already. The more you socialise sober, the more confident you’ll become. You can do it 🙂
I’m happy to socialise with it without drink as I’m an extrovert so I find it easy to talk to people. Definetly the hangziety after a night on the booze is something I suffer from and it doesn’t feel nice.
Great blog! I found it useful to ask myself why I wanted to go to an event. It might be a wedding and you want to be there to celebrate a friend’s marriage or a party where you can catch up with friends and find out what’s going on in their lives. Thinking like that made me so thankful I could be ‘present’ in the occasion and really listen to what friends were up to or appreciate that a friend was getting married. When I was drinking, my focus would always be on what I was drinking and then just on being drunk. My sponsor (I’m in AA) has a great piece of advice: the first 30 minutes of any social event are awkward. You just have to get through them, then everyone loosens up and has a good time. I always think of this when I feel awkward at the beginning of a work networking thing. Finally, some nights are just dull – we didn’t notice it when we were drinking because on dull nights we would ladle the booze down to ‘make it fun’. I hope this helps somebody. X
Completely agree that some nights are just dull and that’s ok – it’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s actually good information because then you can change what you do next time. I’d far rather go out and be bit bored than numb through everything and not know what I really liked and didn’t like 🙂
Don’t get fooled by the title but The book ‘The fine art of small talk’ by Debra Fine is an amazing book(let) on how to learn to talk with people when you have anxiety. She herself had social anxiety and had to learn this step by step. Then she wrote a wonderful book on it. Love it!
Thank you for the book recommendation!
Hi Kate, just want to say thank you! I’ve been following your blog for 3 years and sobriety finally stuck! Tried a couple times before, gave up, but kept getting your weekly emails. 6 weeks ago I finally took the stand for myself and my husband is doing it with me!!!
Congratulations Risa! Your story is a great reminder that sometimes you just have to keep going and stick with it. Well done 🙂
I am only 12 days sober so early days for me. I always rely on alcohol to calm me and help me relax. I am finding that now I am much less anxious and feel so much better (and have been sleeping so much better – not waking up anxious that I can’t sleep).
It’s great that you’re feeling the benefits already. Congratulations on your 12 days Meg, keep going!
I had the best time at a big family function without alcohol this weekend. I didn’t drink at some family events at Christmas time, but this was the first time since people knew I wouldn’t be drinking, and it felt so good. I didn’t miss wine at all. And everyone seemed comfortable around me, which was reassuring. I don’t want them to feel like they can’t drink around me.
That sounds like the perfect weekend – proof that alcohol free living can feel light and easy!
Amazing to hear the stories and comments, I’m in a cycle at the minute but I won’t give up till I’ve cracked it.
Keep going Sandy. If you’d like some help to get out of that cycle once and for all, do check out my online course. It’s so hard doing it on your own, and it doesn’t need to be that way. My next class starts in July: https://thesoberschool.com/course/
I’ve been socialising for around 6 months now, alcohol free. I drink tonic water, tea or got chocolate. Depends which bar I’m at! My problem is drinking at home, in secret. 2 glasses of wine and I’m a mess. 5 bottles has the same effect. I don’t get worse, I just can’t stop! I am getting help. A lot of pubs do tea and coffee. Just own it. Make it your unique choice. Be that one who drinks tea. Make it a quirk.
Thanks for sharing – it’s miserable drinking at home and in secret isn’t it? If you’d like some help to stop doing that, and fully shift into alcohol free living, do take a look at my online course. The next class is in July: https://thesoberschool.com/course/
I am very nervous about going to our family lakehouse for Memorial weekend. It’s always a big party and lots of alcohol but I DO NOT want to drink. This will be my first event around my family not drinking. I know I can do it, I’m just nervous. Not going is not an option so any advice would be so appreciated!
I’ve a works summer party coming up. I’m suffering with horrendous anxiety at the moment so trying to stop for health reasons, but already getting the don’t be boring comments. Very frustrating. Totally inspired by your comments though ladies. I’m going to go enjoy the evening and remember all of it!
I’m sober a year this December it’s been tough in lockdown but anxiety flourishes on Alcohol it took me 30 years to figure this out or exhaust the benefits of alcohol in my life to realise Alcohol never took away my Anxiety it only hid it for a few hours until the pay back the next day of an awful hangover that would last for days also the shame about the alcohol related situations
I had gotten myself into the night before, as you age these alcohol related instances become more embarrassing and undignified you have to ask yourself where you are going in your life if you keep drinking alcohol in this manner , where will you be in 5 years time if you keep blacking out and getting into drink related situations?
The answer for me was to quit the alternative was not an option !