How To Do Halloween Sober, According To An Expert

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If pumpkins and all things fall are your jam, then you might be completely stoked about Halloween. But even if costumes and general autumnal revery aren't for you, you will probably still be invited to your fair share of Halloween parties as October comes to a close. Because when you're an adult, Halloween is often much more about alcohol than it is about candy and costumes. And if you're sober on Halloween, you may be tempted to turn down those invites, since keeping away from alcohol is an important coping mechanism for many sober folks.

As someone who's sober myself, I've found that turning down invites to Halloween parties is certainly a valid option. But if you love all things jack-o-lantern and want to party it up on Halloween without risking your sobriety, there are plenty of ways you can celebrate the season without a drop of alcohol.

Community can be a great key to enjoying the holiday, says Dr. Jennifer Dragonette, PsyD, executive director of Northern California at Newport Academy, a rehab center for teens. "Surround yourself with people who are familiar with what you are going through and won’t push you to do things that may break your sobriety," she tells Bustle.

MJ Gottlieb, co-founder and CEO of the app Loosid, which brings together sober communities, agrees, telling Bustle that being among supportive people can also help you plan ahead for any event that may involve alcohol. "Roll with your sober crew," Gottlieb says, to make the planning most efficient and community-oriented. Committing to keeping in touch throughout the night with people who can help you get your Halloween on and have a great holiday without alcohol can be very helpful as you enjoy the night's festivities.

But even if you don't have a sober crew to roll with, here are 11 ways to handle halloween when you're sober.

1. Gather Your Sober And Supportive Pals

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Making sure you're surrounded by people who support you is always important, but perhaps especially when alcohol abounds. "Go out with other friends who are sober and can identify" with what you're experiencing, Gottlieb tells Bustle. One of the worst things that can happen when you're out is the incessant invitations to indulge in shots with the group, or continuous questions about whether you're not having enough fun because you're not drinking. Surrounding yourself with people who either don't drink or who implicitly understand that you don't can help you focus on whether your Beast Boy fang is glued on correctly instead of defending your drinking needs and choices.

2. Plan Ahead

If you're not sure where to go that doesn't feature either raging amounts of alcohol or hay rides for little kids, rest assured: there are plenty of things for you to do to celebrate Halloween for grownups, minus the alcohol. "Plan activities where the main attraction is not alcohol," Gottlieb advises. Anything from going to pumpkin patches to paying extra attention to all your costume finery can help get the emphasis off alcohol and onto the other cool parts of the holiday.

3. Set Check-In Times

Time flies when you're out and having fun, for sure, but having check-in times with friends who are going to help look out for you can be a big help. Whether those friends are also sober and your check in is mutual, or even if your friend is just watching out for you (either in person or over text), you can definitely enlist and get all the support you need. Sometimes, that support can be vague, in the form of "I'll call or text you if I need to." And sometimes, the check-ins can be more structured: "Please call me if I don't check in by 11 p.m.'" These check ins can help add accountability to your plan to not drink, as well as giving you an easy out from the party you might find yourself ready to leave.

4. Have a Strategy In Place

Slightly different than planning ahead, having a strategy in place means making sure you know what to do and who to call if you do find yourself at a place that will be triggering for you. "Set personal rules for yourself like how late you want to stay out and be prepared to leave if you begin to feel uncomfortable," Dr. Dragonette says. "It can also be helpful to speak with a professional before to discuss your concerns and ways to manage your triggers." If you go to meetings, you might want to plan to attend one right before heading out in all your finest Captain Marvel gear.

Once you get to your Halloween-y destination, have an escape plan in place. Maybe that means having to suddenly go take care of your dog, or take care of a friend, or just go to a cooler party. Whatever your strategy, you might want to include having a friend or sponsor on hand, who you can text or call just in case. There are also apps, like Loosid, that might provide you with a sense of community and relief from your current situation.

5. If You Can, Avoid Your Known Triggers

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Avoiding your triggers is a huge part of having a plan ahead of Halloween. If bars are a place you know you can't be, that is more than OK. Agree to meet up with your friends for dinner before they head out, or invite them to your house afterwards. Or if being around people when they're drunk or drinking is too raw for you, it's OK to kick it at home with a scary movie. "Participate in activities that don’t involve drinking like handing out candy to trick or treaters, watching a scary movie or going to a sober Halloween event in your community," Dr. Dragonette suggests.

Finding a place where you can party like it's October 31st in a way that's safe and supportive should be your priority, even if that means not rocking it out with your friends. Volunteering at events focused on kids might also be helpful, because it can bring you all the Halloween costume joy without any of the alcohol (but plenty of the sugar).

6. Throw Your Own Party

If you're not down to go to a Halloween house party that's bound to be full of alcohol-related activities, feel free to skip out on it entirely. Gather all your skeletons, and bats, and pumpkins, and be on standby with a solid table cloth and some pumpkin carving kits. (Don't forget to roast the seeds for the best snacks on the block.) And if you don't want to do all that pumpkin cleanup yourself, no problem: "Go to a pumpkin carving event or contest" near you, Gottlieb tells Bustle. It'll be a great way to socialize while taking the emphasis off you, alcohol, and clean up.

7. Have A Mocktail Contest

Whether you're hosting your own party or bringing your own contribution to a friend's, Gottlieb suggests having a make-your-own-mocktail contest to help your friends get creative and competitive without involving alcohol. Because let's face it: you've been competitive about who gets the best candy since you were a kid. How about upping the ante to see who can make the best non-alcoholic liquid candy as an adult? And mocktails can be helpful even if you find yourself out at someone else's event, Dr. Dragonette adds. "Hold a mocktail or other beverage that you like to keep others from asking if you need a drink," she tells Bustle.

8. Have A Script In Place For People Who Might Pressure You

You are do not owe anyone your backstory or your reasons for you're not drinking. But when sometimes people feel entitled to demand this of you, practice a script. Maybe you're being the designated driver. Maybe you're the parent-friend who knows their friends are going to get smashed and want to look out for them. Maybe you're working really hard in the gym lately and don't want to interfere with your training. Or maybe a simple, "I don't drink."

That should be enough for anyone, but if you're not comfortable saying it or dealing with with what follow-up questions people might ask, remember that you don't owe anyone an explanation. You just owe yourself a good and healthy time, and you deserve that, no matter what explanations or opinions or 'just trying to help you have fun' attitudes that other people might feel entitled to.

9. Enlist A Bartender's Help

If you happen to find yourself at a bar during Halloween festivities, you can definitely ask the bartender for help. Asking for a diet coke in a regular alcohol-drinking glass will forestall any invasive questions about why you're not drinking, because it will look like you are. Same with club soda — I do it all the time. But if you're not in the mood or emotional space to explain why you're not drinking to anyone from your friends to random strangers, enlisting your bartender's help can be a life-saver. And rest assured: in my experience, many bartenders are used to this kind of request, and won't mind spotting you throughout the night.

10. Find A Festival

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Even if volunteering to work at a festival with be-costumed kiddos isn't your thing, you can still head out to a festival with yourself or a cadre of friends. There are often beer gardens at Halloween-themed festivals, but the good thing about these is that they are cordoned off from the rest of the festival. I know for me, there is nothing more calming than knowing that as soon as I walk by the entrance to those places, I won't have to encounter alcohol throughout the rest of the event. And I can enjoy grilled corn and funnel cake to my heart's content.

11. Be Gentle With Yourself

You are never a burden for not drinking on Halloween, even if someone makes you feel that way. Your need or desire to not drink alcohol is completely valid, and so are you. If you feel the urge to drink, or if you have to reach out for emotional support, that is OK. There is nothing wrong with asking for help, and there is nothing wrong with bowing out of an event early if it all gets too much. Take up all the space you need to get the help you deserve. You are never a burden and your sobriety is more important than other people's conception of a good time. Always.

If you're sober this Halloween, remember that you are far from alone. You can do this, and you can have an autumnal blast doing it. Because Halloween can be about so much more than alcohol: it's a great chance to get in touch with your inner child and celebrate being alive. And after all, Halloween is all about trick-or-treating, so treat yourself kindly. You deserve it.

If you or someone you know is seeking help for substance use, call the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357).