Getting sober can be one of the hardest challenges to overcome in life. Living sober can be just as challenging.

We experience a new reality where everything looks and feels different. Through this fresh lens of recovery, everything can appear magnified, brighter and louder. And we feel life’s experiences more intensely — because we’re no longer numb. This new intensity means that we have to find ways to cope with stressors and learn how to navigate life without using substances. From the outside, our friends may not see and feel what we do. Just how do you explain this new reality to friends, and how do you respond to their questions?

The Challenges of Being Newly Sober

I asked a number of friends what they’d tell their friends about being newly sober and what that meant to them. Many responded that true friends would just get it and wouldn’t query it — if they did, it was more a reflection of their problem than yours.

Though some friends instinctively know how to be compassionate, considerate and respectful of their friends’ lifestyle choices, what about those who have had no exposure to substance use disorders? Some of my friends (perhaps it’s a British thing) feel very uncomfortable about it and don’t know whether to exclude me from events.

The reality is that when we’re newly sober, we often find that we’re not only coping with trying to stay sober, navigating life without substances and slowly taking on more responsibilities. We’re also finding that we don’t know our identity without being inebriated.

So how do we tell our friends and loved ones what we need, how to support us and what being sober means? It took me about a year of trial and error to figure out what I needed, what I was capable of doing and how I would live my new sober life. Here’s what I discovered.

Explaining Sobriety to Friends

In my experience, the obvious change is adjusting to life around alcohol and drugs and that may also take some adjustment from your friends. A sober life can mean many things to different people, depending on their comfort level and their coping strategies. The main challenges, changes and needs for support are:

Explaining that you no longer drink. It is entirely acceptable to just say that you don’t drink anymore and that you don’t wish to discuss it — unless you feel comfortable doing so.

Changing your playground. For some, that means not going to places that serve alcohol and staying away from friends who use drugs. While not recommended in early recovery, some people are entirely comfortable still going to bars with friends and don’t feel tempted in the least. It has been my experience that you have to do what is right for you, depending how you feel in that moment. For my first year or so, I avoided bars and pubs, but they eventually no longer bothered me because I now go there to see friends or eat, not to drink. I have no desire to sit in a pub or bar for hours on end anymore — that just isn’t my idea of fun.

Sober activities. I want to experience all that life has to offer now. That means new experiences that don’t involve alcohol: days out, arts and crafts, new restaurants, day trips, yoga retreats, meditation classes, concerts, art galleries, cooking workshops, afternoon tea, going back to school and so on. The options are endless. So when friends ask what you’d like to do, have a list ready of things you’d like to try because, frankly, there is a whole world of things to do that don’t involve drinking or using drugs.

We may experience things differently. I remember being more vocal about how much more intensified life is in sobriety. Some friends seemed surprised by this, telling me (essentially) to get over it. What they didn’t understand is that things affected me more now that I was sober — it felt more profound. While it may seem like I’m overreacting, I needed a little more space and support without judgement to process life’s experiences.

We need support and compassion, not judgment. Being sober is incredibly hard and people who haven’t struggled with substance misuse may not understand that. Some even think it is a matter of willpower. While it isn’t other people’s responsibility to understand sobriety, loved ones will take time to try and support you through any of life’s challenges, whether they understand or not. For those who do not support you, it may be time to reconsider those relationships or spend less time in those friendships.

Looking for support to heal from drug or alcohol addiction? You have an ally in The Recovery Village. Contact a representative today to find a network of people who can provide treatment and support throughout your recovery journey.

a man wearing a blue and white striped shirt.
Editor – Jonathan Strum
Jonathan Strum graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha with a Bachelor's in Communication in 2017 and has been writing professionally ever since. Read more
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The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.