Updated July 18. 2023
New Year’s Eve has long been known for its drug and alcohol-fueled frivolities. It’s not uncommon for party-loving people to spend the last day of the calendar year sipping champagne and dancing the night away with friends or family members. In fact, New Year’s Eve is among the most alcohol-laden of all holidays, with drunk driving accidents increasing 71 percent over an average night.
This trend makes New Year’s Eve a fun time for those who enjoy a drink or five, but those who are sober or who choose not to drink often find themselves feeling left out and alone on the cusp of a new year. It’s not very fun to watch other people get drunk, and recovering alcoholics or drug users can find it hard to resist temptation when surrounded by a previous vice. As such, there aren’t always a lot of options on New Year’s Eve, leaving those who embrace sobriety with nowhere to go.
If you’re abstaining from drugs or alcohol, it’s only natural to be stressed or anxious about an upcoming holiday that once featured drunken good times. Offending friends who offer well-intentioned invitations, turning down parties you’d really like to attend and saying “no” to family can present a lot of pressure. You may even feel sad, depressed or bad about yourself for your healthy choices.
However, this doesn’t mean you have to stay in by yourself and pretend December 31st is just another night. Counting down to a new year can still be a good time, provided you make the right plans. These five fun ideas for a sober New Year’s Eve can help you and your friends enjoy the holiday without a drink in your hand.
Host Your Own Party – Maybe Give It a Theme
Want to be sure your plans won’t include accidental alcohol? Host your own party.
When you’re the host, you can have much better control over a situation. By informing guests beforehand that your shindig will be a dry event, you can be sure no one will arrive ready to get drunk before the ball drops. Those who care about you and understand your journey to sobriety will more than likely be happy to put down the booze or drugs for a night and help support you in your healthier approach to celebration.
Instead of simply inviting people over and hoping for the best, put some plans in place. Pull some board games together, cook a big meal, put together a game of charades or rent a karaoke machine and host a contest. When crafting invites, list your plans so that your guests know what you have in mind. If your budget is tight, consider a potluck-style gathering in which your guests bring dishes, games or even ingredients for mocktails.
Some Ideas for Theme Parties
Sometimes organizing the party around a particular theme can boost the fun and excitement. Why not host a “Dance Dance Party Party,” per the inspiration of Marcy Girt and Glennis McMurray? Their idea—an intentional alternative to the boozy, pricey nightclub scene—only requires two things: a good dance venue and a catchy playlist. (Notice the omission of alcohol here.)
Costume or period-style parties can be fun. So can the more out-of-the-box themes. For this New Year’s, why not host a “Person of the Year” party? To the tune of TIME Magazine’s “Person of the Year” award, guests could dress up as their favorite person of the year. Chances are, more celebrities, politicians, and other big names would be joining Greta Thunberg and Donald Trump in competition for the honor.
Or, consider hosting a “mocktail testing party” where everyone brings their favorite mocktail. In the spirit of a “wine tasting” (only without the wine), guests can sample each mocktail and choose their favorite, most mouth-watering experience. With the rise in popularity in recent years of sober bars and mocktails, there’s really no limit to the fun and creativity that a mocktail party could inspire as participants strive to outdo one another in concocting the winning drink.
A party doesn’t have to be a 100-person rager, either. A few close friends can be even more fun than a drunken bash full of people you barely know, so don’t feel bad if your invite list—or the number that RSVP “yes”—isn’t in the double digits.
Attend an Alco-thon
New Year’s Eve isn’t just stressful for you— every recovering substance user likely has the same feelings. That’s why organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous plan in advance with their own events to support those in all stages of recovery.
Known as an Alco-thon or Narco-thon, these events tend to run for anywhere from 12 to 24 hours and provide a place to be while others are drinking at parties. These kinds of events can make avoiding temptation easy, offering a place to go that isn’t a friend’s house, a party or your couch.
Most Alco-thons are comprised of meetings on multiple topics spanning all or most of the day. Content and structure will vary based on each particular meeting or organizing group, but the general concept exists to hold those in recovery accountable during one of the largest drinking holidays of the year.
Some Alco-thons conclude in a New Year’s Eve party, but others may continue marathoning meetings until midnight. If you are looking for a specific entertainment option, consider checking the schedules of several different meeting groups in your area.
Take a Trip
If being around friends and family feels like too much pressure, take advantage of the winter holiday to get away for a little bit. If you’ve got a penchant for overseas travel, now may be the time to catch a last-minute travel deal or cash in on those frequent flyer miles— then pack those bags and escape to a new and exotic destination.
There’s always the option of exploring a new nook or cranny of this country, too. The United States is a big country, and every state has national parks, major metro areas, and great dining and amazing museums. If you’ve never been to the state next door or another area of interest in your region, a short trip can be the perfect way to escape from the desire to imbibe.
Consider taking a night or two to yourself and hitting the road. While flying is always an option, a road trip can be far cheaper and easier to manage, especially for those on a budget. Plan out your time while you’re away before you go, like making dinner reservations, buying a few books you’ve had on your list or checking movie times at theaters near where you’re staying. Read hotel or Airbnb reviews to find a fun location with plenty of activities within walking distance to make the most of your visit.
Take Part in Your City’s Festivities
If you live in a larger metro area, you may be in luck— many cities host their own New Year’s parties for families, and most are alcohol-free.
Take, for example, Akron’s First Night celebration or Fort Lauderdale’s Orange Bowl Downtown Countdown. In New York City, millions of people from all over the country stand in Times Square to watch the ball drop, and the city of Philadelphia puts on a stunning fireworks display along the Delaware River. Chicago even hosts a late-night party on Navy Pier.
Instead of staying at home, consider looking into what your city has to offer and spend the night enjoying alcohol-free excitement with your community. Even if your city doesn’t have a huge shindig planned, there will likely be a fireworks show for you to enjoy when the clock strikes midnight.
Plan a Fun Activity
Who says New Year’s Eve is best celebrated at a party? If you’re not one for the holidays or don’t want to take part in traditional plans, there are plenty of other ways you can have a fun evening. Some ideas include:
- Grabbing your skates and go ice skating at a local rink
- Attending a late movie with a friend or on your own
- Enjoying a late dinner at a restaurant without a New Year’s Eve party or at home after a day of cooking
- Taking an evening hike around a well-lit park; many city parks are open late, like New York’s Central Park
- Hitting up a local pool or, if you’re lucky enough to live close, a nearby beach for a nighttime swim
Have Fun with Mocktails
Just because you and your guests won’t be drinking alcohol doesn’t mean that you can’t have plenty of fun with non-alcoholic beverages. You could serve mocktails if you and your guests are up for a bit of mixology. The many recipes online make it easy to indulge in delectable and sobriety-friendly drinks.
If you’re worried that mocktails could trigger some addictive behaviors, you could also bring in some party staples instead. Ice cream floats were the go-to party beverage for many kids growing up, but they’re just as delicious as an adult. Even simple options like lemonades and coffee can be made in exciting ways that guests will love.
Make It a Theme
One of the best ways to take everyone’s mind off the traditional New Year’s Celebration methods—and the alcohol that’s typically present—is to do a theme party. Not only can people go all out and express themselves, but it also adds an extra layer to distract from the typical festivities that might test some people’s sobriety.
Some classic favorite party ideas are decade or movie-themed, but don’t be afraid to try some new ones. For example, before-and-after parties, where everyone has to dress as a combined phrase like, “American Graffiti Artist” or “Kevin Bacon And Eggs,” are guaranteed to produce some laughs. Alternatively, just pick something that you and your friends share an interest in. As long as you have fun planning it, it is sure to succeed.
Don’t Be Afraid to Take it Easy
Look, when most people hear “party,” they often think of high energy and non-stop entertainment. But, for a lot of people practicing sobriety, those same elements can feel triggering, especially if they often drank in those environments. However, a party doesn’t have to be a frantic blitz of music and dancing to be fun and memorable. Bad movie nights are perfect for sober New Years with those friend groups who love roasting old B movies. Finger painting parties, while they might seem childish, are a great way to get everyone out of their shell creatively and you might be surprised at just how funny they can get. Just try to find things that you and your party guests enjoy without the pressure of having to make it a “party.”
Learning how to navigate holidays while sober is just one of the many roadblocks that those in recovery must face. However, abstaining from drugs and alcohol doesn’t mean you can’t have fun. Sober celebrations like hosting a party, taking a trip and enjoying local attractions can ensure you still spend the holiday in a fun, safe and sober way, even if your previous vice of choice is no longer available.