So, one thing you can try is to give yourself a drink total before you head out, so you know to stop once you’ve hit your cap. (If you regularly find yourself making excuses to go past that limit or don’t feel capable of stopping once you reach it, we’ll discuss that later.) Having a full glass of water after each alcoholic drink is another way to be mindful of your pace. You’ll also stay hydrated as a bonus, which can help reduce your risk of a bad hangover.
2. Your drinking tolerance might feel totally different.
Anyone can find themselves in a risky situation if they’re not aware of how drinking more or less has changed their tolerance, which signals the level of “drunk” they’re accustomed to after having a certain amount of alcohol.
“If you started drinking more during the pandemic, your tolerance to alcohol may have increased,” Dr. Fernandez says. “People sometimes rely on their own perception of how intoxicated they are but the more tolerant you are, the less you feel the intoxicating effects that can impair driving.” That’s why it’s more important than ever to have a transportation plan in place if you’re drinking away from home—rideshare, public transit, or a DD—so that you don’t feel tempted to drive if you “feel” OK.
If you cut back during the pandemic, your tolerance may have decreased, meaning you might feel the effects of that second drink a lot faster. In this situation, it’s important to be especially aware when drinking in new settings and to take it more slowly than you normally would so that you don’t accidentally get sick or maybe do something else that you might regret. (Again, going in with a plan for spacing out drinks and imbibing slowly is huge here.)
3. You might feel some anxiety around drinking and socializing.
We’re all so used to staying at home now, so it’s understandable to feel a bit of anxiety in social situations. With that, you may find yourself drinking more than you normally do so you don’t feel awkward making small talk with people you don’t know well or haven’t seen in a while. If that’s the case, then you may want to think about what scenarios you’re comfortable socializing in while sober. For now, maybe you feel better hanging out with just a few friends and going for a bike ride together. Over time, as things continue to reopen, you may feel more excited about going out and seeing more people, diffusing the need to use alcohol as a crutch in those moments.
However, you might completely avoid social situations involving alcohol if you’ve been drinking less for the past year, because it feels awkward being the only one who’s not drinking or having to explain to others why you’re not. But you shouldn’t let that stop you from having fun!
“You don’t want to think about it so much that you paralyze yourself and can’t go out and have a good time,” Alexander Hubbell4, M.D., M.P.H., an assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Minnesota Medical School and program director of Addiction Medicine and Outpatient Substance Use Disorder Services at MHealth Fairview, tells SELF. If that sounds familiar, before going out with friends, try setting the boundary that you will not drink if you don’t want to. You may find it helpful to order seltzer water with lime or a mocktail so you’re holding something and sipping something along with others. Over time, you will hopefully feel more relaxed about it and feel less pressure to drink.
4. You might decide to stop drinking altogether.
If you cut back on drinking (or stopped entirely) when social events hit a halt, it may have come as a surprise that you really enjoy drinking less—or not at all. If you’ve been happier without the bar, then it could be the perfect time to create a new narrative for yourself, says Dr. Hubbell. That can be as simple as: “I can go out and enjoy my friends and not give in to the pressure to drink,” Dr. Hubbell says.