The dos and don’ts of hosting sober folk at the function

The founder of the Sober Black Girls Club shares tips on how to ensure that everybody at the party has a good time this holiday season.

Office parties, ugly sweater parties, White Elephant dinners, two separate major “eves” within a week of each other and everything else in between. Let’s face it, so much of the holiday season centers around partying. As well as it should: we’ve reached the end of another year and that’s worth celebrating. However, not everyone on your holiday party guest list is attending with the same vibe — consuming alcoholic beverages — in mind. 

Roughly 43 percent of the American drinking-aged population does not drink. With nearly half of the population choosing not to consume, chances are there will be individuals at your holiday parties abstaining from alcohol and other depressants. According to Khadi Oluwatoyin, founder of the Sober Black Girls Club, supporting them in their lifestyle and partying with them do not have to be mutually exclusive. 

Oluwatoyin provided some dos and don’ts of hosting a soiree in which you know sober individuals will be in attendance. She also shared some advice for those who are sober this holiday season. 

Sober Christmas party,
Experts suggest that hosts and hostesses find out guest drink preferences before the party. (Photo credit: Getty/The Good Brigade)

Do: invite them

You may be tempted not to invite your friends who are in recovery and may even think that’s the best course of action. However, Oluwatoyin said you should absolutely still invite them and allow them the opportunity to accept or decline. 

“Invite people out. Don’t exclude people who are in sobriety. But at the same time, have compassion for wherever they are in their stage of recovery. If they decline, then they decline. You don’t have to take it personally or judge them,” she said. 

Do: get information beforehand

Oluwatoyin said just like you would ask about dietary restrictions before hosting an event, you should also consider asking about drink preferences. Then, you’ll know for sure how to accommodate your guests. 

Do: set ground rules

When you know you’ll be hosting a crowd that includes both those partaking and those abstaining, Oluwatoyin suggests setting ground rules and making them known to the crowd. You can post house rules around your space or give a welcome speech and set the rules then. This will help everyone understand the etiquette right from the start. 

“Some of the rules I have are don’t question anyone’s decision not to drink or not to consume marijuana. Understanding that ‘no’ means no. Not asserting judgment or guilt or shame on those who want to leave early or who want to remain silent. You can really tailor these rules to your personality to reflect your values or your goals,” she said. 

Do: provide drink options for the sober folks 

Whether you know someone sober is attending or not, you should provide non-alcoholic beverage options. Folks may be abstaining for reasons they may not want to share, such as a health condition, new medication, pregnancy, mental health or recovery. 

When you know someone attending is abstaining from drinking, you should not only have soda mixers or a pitcher of lemonade on hand, but you should have something exclusively for the sober individuals at a separate drink station away from the alcohol beverage options. Oluwatoyin noted that it can be aggravating to watch the alcohol-free options dwindle before the sober folks get their fill. 

Don’t: question anyone’s ‘no’

“No” is a complete sentence and a full explanation. Oluwatoyin stressed the importance of respecting it when someone declines to partake. 

“I always tell people just to mind their business. If you see someone doing something, you don’t have to ask. As an adult and as someone in recovery, I know that not everything is my business. I don’t need to figure out or investigate why someone is doing A, B or C,” she said. 

Don’t: peer pressure 

Naturally, we want everyone attending our parties to have a good time. When we see others not partaking we may have a tendency to encourage them to loosen up with something. Oluwatoyin asks that you deny that urge and instead not make anything out of the fact that someone doesn’t want to indulge. 

“Respect boundaries,” she said. 

Don’t: project

Oluwatoyin said projections from others can be among the most challenging aspects to navigate when sober or in recovery. We may be quick to think everyone in our life who is sober did so because they hit “rock bottom.” Or we may be shocked to learn that someone is sober because their drinking doesn’t align with our perception of a problem. Oluwayoyin recalled when she began her journey, friends would say her drinking wasn’t “that bad.” 

“I don’t need you to tell me if I’m bad or not,” she said.  

For those not indulging 

For those on their own sobriety journey this holiday season, Oluwatoyin said to give yourself and others grace. She advised checking in with yourself before accepting any invites and being honest with yourself about whether you can handle attending.

If you attend, Oluwatoyin said having a glass in your hand, whether it’s water or soda will look like a drink to others and could help avoid any conversation about grabbing a drink. She also suggested either disclosing to the host or someone else attending the party that you’re abstaining from drinking and using them for support during the soiree. 

“If you feel confident in someone who is going to be present at the event, tell them what you’re going through. Also, have a pointperson outside of the event,” she said. 

She also added the necessity of having an exit strategy and reliable transportation home. “Honoring our bodies, honoring our own personal boundaries,” she advised. “When we are ready to leave, it’s OK to go. You should be able to leave without any problem, so make sure you know how you’re going to leave.”

Oluwatoyin also suggested that hosts consider hosting functions that are alcohol-free this holiday season.

“We need to do better, especially as a culture at having alcohol-free events. It’s OK to have events without serving alcohol. It’s not the end of the world,” she said. 

For resources or more information on how you can support someone in your life or help the Sober Black Girls Club continue its work, please check out the organization here

Kay Wicker is a lifestyle writer for theGrio covering health, wellness, travel, beauty, fashion, and the myriad ways Black people live and enjoy their lives. She has previously created content for magazines, newspapers, and digital brands.

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