It's Friday night and you've had a tough week at work. So you gather a group of friends and hit a bar to 'take the edge off'. What was meant to be a couple of drinks before heading home turns into a pub crawl into the early hours of the morning, a lamb kebab with obligatory garlic sauce on the way home and a monster hangover that just won't go away all day Saturday. You probably still feel lethargic on Sunday before rolling into work on Monday morning wondering where the weekend went!
It's a common scenario, and one I used to find myself in regularly. In fact, during my twenties, every Saturday and Sunday was groundhog weekend, with big nights out and splitting headaches par for the course. It was madness really, but a combination of habit and the Australian culture dictated that every weekend must be spent in a nightclub with a drink in hand, or on the couch hungover.
But does it really have to be like that? Can we go out into the early hours of the morning, not drink alcohol, and still have a great time? Of course we can, but for many of us we either don't want to give it a go, or we're afraid of what people (and by people I mean our friends) will think of us.
If you've thought that taking a break from alcohol, or quitting for good, is right for you, giving up your social life doesn't have to be the price you pay. Here are eight ways you can go out and have a great night without downing 10 pints of Heineken and a late-night lamb sandwich.
If you go out and you're not drinking, be prepared for the standard "why aren't you drinking" questions. There are two ways to handle it -- give a lecture, or explain why with a quiet and dignified confidence. Lecturers usually end up sitting in the corner playing Pokémon GO because no one wants to talk to them anymore, while respect will be afforded to the other guy. There is a third way, to lie, but I wouldn't recommend it because you'll get found out and be in the same boat as the disliked lecturer. Just own the fact you're not drinking, for whatever reason and for however long, and you'll be well on your way to having a successful sober social life.
Get off your soapbox
I never did like a non-drinker telling me why I shouldn't be drinking if I didn't ask for it. My drunken irrational brain would either fire up and defend my right to drink copious amounts of alcohol regardless of what it was doing to my body, or drop a smoke bomb and get out of the conversation as soon as possible. And, of course, I'd join up with my fellow drunken friends and make some less-than-complimentary comments about him or her. Drunk people get offended more easily than sober people, so by all means explain why you're not drinking, just don't tell them why they shouldn't be.
Find a kindred spirit
Around 20 percent of Australians don't drink, and while that percentage will be much smaller at a bar, you won't be the only non-drinker in the room. Turn your sober radar on and find people who aren't drinking, think of a reason to strike up a conversation, and spend the evening with someone on the same wavelength.
The best time to let go of your inhibitions is when you're surrounded by drunk people. Think about it, they're not going to care what you do, and chances are they're not going to remember too much of what you do anyway. So dance like Elaine from Seinfeld, wrap your arms around your friends and join in the totally awful group rendition of American Pie, and laugh at the same dumb jokes that have been told ad nauseam on previous nights out. The reality is, the only person who is going to care about what you look like is you, so get over it.
Show some understanding
What do people do when they've had a few too many drinks in a crowded bar? They put their arms around you and drag you in for a sing-a-long, tell you they love you repeatedly, get a little too close than you feel comfortable with, and probably spill a drink or two in the process. If you choose to be in that environment, don't get angry or upset when these things happen, just laugh it off and go with the flow. Of course there is behaviour that is unacceptable no matter what the situation, and that should not be excused because they've had too many drinks. But relax, understand that there is a difference between harmless fun and inappropriate behaviour, and react accordingly.
Look like you're drinking
I don't mean start slurring your speech and swaying from side to side, but have a drink in your hand that looks like an alcoholic beverage. Don't lie about what you're drinking, but a soda water with a lemon wedge could trick a few people. It may mean fewer people offering to buy you a drink that you have to turn down, then explaining why you're not drinking.
Get in the groove
Relax, take a deep breath and have a look around the bar. There are going to be loads of party-goers in varying states of intoxication, and people watching can be loads of fun as the night goes on. With the sober friend you found earlier in the night, start trying to figure out what conversations people are having just by their body language. It's a much better option than standing by yourself, watching your phone and looking like a fish out of water.
Time to go home
A few inevitables happen when you go out for a night of pubbing and clubbing with people who are drinking. Firstly, you just won't be able to stay on the same wavelength all night. There's going to come a time when the conversation you want to have and the conversation they want to have will be miles apart. Secondly, you're going to get tired. Without all of the energy from alcohol flowing through your veins, at some stage you'll be yearning for the comfort of your bed. As such, there will come a time when you'll be happy to leave the others to get on with their night. You can either 'do a Houdini' and disappear without anyone realising, or spend 30 minutes saying goodbye and fending off the pleas from your friends to stay "for just one more drink". I know which way I'd go, but the choice is up to you.
There really is only one person who can ruin a good night out without drinking, and that's you. You can have a fun night with your friends without drinking, just be open to the fact you'll probably have a drink splashed on you, someone will say something they wouldn't normally, and strangers will give you a hug and act like your lifelong friend. Embrace your sobriety and let go of your inhibitions. You might even come to realise it's the best way of discovering who you really are as a person, but that's an entirely different discussion altogether!