5 Tips for Celebrating Halloween While Sober

With one million flavors of witches’ brew to choose from these days, celebrating Halloween without drinking can feel like a challenge. Maybe you’re trying to stay away from alcohol altogether or you’re simply not in the mood to drink this year. Whatever your reasoning, there are plenty of ways to celebrate that don’t involve hitting up the bar.

From visiting haunted houses to hosting a scary movie marathon, Halloween can mean so much more than an excuse to brave the crowds and go out drinking. Between pandemic concerns, campus closures, and standards for social distancing, Halloween will definitely look different for many of us this year. If you’re trying to celebrate the 31st without booze, trust that you’re not alone. Here are five tips for celebrating spooky season while sober.

  1. 1. Plan fall festivities that don't require alcohol

    First thing’s first: make your plan. Don’t get stuck in a crowded bar surrounded by intoxicated partygoers if that’s not where you want to be. Get creative, and plan to do something that doesn’t necessarily revolve around drinking, like a fall-themed photoshoot, baking fun cookies, or even hosting a virtual pumpkin carving competition. If you want to feel festive without the next-day hangover, try some apple cider, a Halloween mocktail recipe, or of course, the classic pumpkin spice latte.

    Zoe Leary, LMSW, a New York City-based therapist who helps clients manage substance use, understands how tough it can be to stay sober during special occasions. “Holidays can bring up a lot of added pressure,” she says. “If someone suggests [an activity] that feels substance-centered, and you do want to see them, suggest something that feels less risky, like meeting during the day for coffee.” Brainstorming these “sober alternatives” in advance can be helpful for when friends and family suggest bar-hopping all night.

  2. 2. Celebrate with people you trust, or bring a friend who can support you

    Two women laughing and laying in leaves

    Community is everything. Whether you’re simply taking some time off from drinking or cutting out alcohol altogether, it’s important to have people around you who will respect your boundaries and values. Consider the people in your life who will be supportive, and on the flip side, be aware of who may push your limits in a party setting. “Having a friend that is — or will be — sober with you is always helpful,” Leary says. “Ideally, this is someone you’d be comfortable with sharing how you’re feeling.” 

    Katie*, who took a few months off drinking during college while dealing with a health issue, remembers how tough it was to come to terms with the idea of a sober holiday. “At the time, I was prescribed a very strict diet of bland foods so my stomach could heal,” she says. “Seeing ‘no alcohol’ listed on the diet plan made me really sad, and made me start to think about the holidays I considered alcohol to be a big part of.” 

    When it came time to celebrate Halloween, Katie says she realized the importance of self-worth and feeling comfortable without alcohol. “I realized my confidence in talking to new people and wearing fun costumes was suddenly daunted by the prospect of being sober while doing those things,” she says. “I also learned that people will ask constantly why you’re not drinking at a party, but will generally accept ‘I’m just being sober tonight,’ which surprised me,” Katie mentions. “I was expecting to have to give my full medical history to everyone.”

    Apart from having a good support system around you, it can also help to prepare a script of exactly what to say if you’re offered a drink. Leary suggests something like, “I’m not drinking tonight, I’m actually taking a break,” or mentioning to friends that you’ll be driving. Sorting out your responses beforehand can help you manage tricky moments if and when they arise. 

  3. 3. If you're going out, set some limits

    How many times have you gone bar hopping, then woken up the next day to a neverending list of charges from cocktails you forgot you purchased? Chances are, you’re not alone in that. This Halloween, if you do plan on drinking moderately or going somewhere where alcohol is present, set a limit for yourself. This may include the number of drinks you’re going to have, or setting your phone alarm to remind you to head home early.

    “Say, ‘I’m going to stay until 10 p.m. then leave,’” suggests Leary, who often helps clients prepare for holidays when there may be added pressure to drink. “Setting a boundary helps given the evening structure,” she says, which can lead to more peer pressure as the night goes on. “Also, plan something for afterward. Have something at home that you can look forward to.” Going out to see friends then cozying up at home with a movie? Sounds like the perfect Halloween to me.

    Andrea Metivier, a digital marketing associate in Raleigh, North Carolina, plans on doing “Sober October,” AKA a month of sobriety, for a full-body reset this year. “In the last six months since the pandemic hit, I’ve found myself coping with stress by drinking more,” Metivier says. “This month, I’m taking a step back to recover mentally, physically, and financially.”

    While it can be tricky to hang out with friends while maintaining personal boundaries, Metivier says it’s been worth it for her. “There are definitely times I feel like I’m missing out by not participating in drinking with friends,” she says. “But I continue to remind myself that the benefits of taking a pause greatly outweigh the small joy of drinking...so far, my body and my wallet has thanked me.” 

  4. 4. Get active in your community

    Volunteering help

    While the idea of drinking is at the forefront for many partygoers this year, Halloween is also a great time to volunteer and help out in your community. This can be a safe and rewarding alternative to taking shots with your neighbor who is dressed as a clown. This year, ditch the drinks and volunteer for a local shelter, food bank, or service organization. For the go-getters out there, you may even celebrate by running a Halloween-themed 5k or virtual race to get your heart racing and fundraise for a good cause. Bonus points if you run in costume!

  5. 5. Take a breather

    Fall Inspired Outfit

    Between scary stories, creepy costumes, and tempting festivities left and right, navigating Halloween is stressful enough. Plus, the chaos of 2020 is making many people reevaluate how to actually celebrate safely. Luckily, you’re in charge, and you don’t have to do anything that’s outside of your comfort zone. Whether you want to dress up as Catwoman and have a Vogue-inspired photoshoot or watch Hocus Pocus in silk pajamas, this is your time.

    Leary reminds us to be aware of extra pressures during the holiday season. “With the holidays come shorter, colder days, and often people feel cooped up or notice increased depression.” That being said, it’s more important than ever to take care of yourself, find what feels good, and take a (literal) step away from celebrating if you need to. “Give yourself permission to take a break,” Leary says. “If you’re feeling overwhelmed, let yourself step outside for a moment and collect yourself.” 

    For anyone considering a sober Halloween this year, Katie encourages people to feel comfortable celebrating without booze. “I would say go for it! Holidays are going to look different this year anyway, so make it what you want it to be!”

At this point, I hope you’re feeling more confident about tackling Halloween sober. Remember, there are tons of options out there that don’t involve drinking, and if you plan it out, your Halloween can still be a blast. Above all, the most important thing is to be patient and kind to yourself in the process — navigating this stuff can be hard.

“Honestly, just be gentle with yourself,” Leary says to anyone who is struggling. “It’s been a hell of a year, and it’s normal to feel sad, mad, lonely, tired, stuck — you name it — it’s normal. What we’re going through is something no one knows how to cope with. Do what you can, and try to do it with self-compassion.” 

*Name has been changed.