5 Ways to Make New Friends When You're Sober but Not in AA

By Deanna deBara 08/23/17

How was I supposed to meet and connect with new friends if I a) didn’t drink, and b) didn’t go to groups that revolved around not drinking?

adults chatting on a balcony
There are many options for sober socializing and making friends outside a 12-step program.

As a child, making friends was easy. You shared your snack with the kid sitting next to you or let someone cut you in line at the water fountain and before you know it - friendship formed.

High school was similar. Even though many of us (myself included) went through an incredibly awkward stage during our teenage years, we were bound to find at least a few people at our school who loved us despite (or because of) our awkwardness.

And then college - forget it! College is quite possibly the easiest time you’ll ever have making friends. There’s literally thousands of people to choose from, and the shared experience of being away from home and getting your first taste of independence is a strong bonding experience that often leads to lifelong friendships.

But when college ends, things get tricky. With adulthood comes more responsibility, less free time, and less exposure to potential friends. The older we get, the harder it seems to form real friendships.

Making new friends as an adult can be difficult. But making new friends as a sober adult? It can feel impossible.

I know this because I recently found myself, at the age of 32, living in a brand new city without a single friend within a 500 mile radius. When I was drinking, I used to make friends in bars. Obviously that’s not an option. When I first stopped drinking, I made friends in 12-step meetings. But I ultimately decided that AA wasn’t for me, so that’s not an option anymore, either.

Which left me at a bit of a loss. How was I supposed to meet and connect with new friends if I a) didn’t drink, and b) didn’t go to groups that revolved around not drinking?

Having strong friendships in my life is a non-negotiable for me, so I knew I needed to figure out some creative ways to meet people. And so I did!

Here are five ways to make new friends in sobriety if you don’t participate in recovery groups:

Check Out Local Meetups

One of the best way to make new friends is to surround yourself with people who share similar interests. And the best way I’ve found to track down other people who are into the same things you are is through Meetup.com.

According to their website, “Meetup brings people together in thousands of cities to do more of what they want to do in life. It is organized around one simple idea: when we get together and do the things that matter to us, we’re at our best. And that’s what Meetup does. It brings people together to do, explore, teach and learn the things that help them come alive.”

Meetup groups are run by independent organizers, and there are groups for literally everything under the sun. So far, I’ve been to groups centered around running, authentic relating, and meditation. I also checked out a Meetup group for writers that meets once a week to just sit down and write together.

Meeting people can be hard, but at Meetup groups, everyone is there for the same thing - to meet other people who enjoy the same things they do. This makes starting conversations significantly easier because it gives you common ground to get the conversation going. So, when you’re at a running group, you can start a conversation by talking about running. When you’re at a meditation group, you can spark a chat by sharing about your meditation practice.

If you want to meet groups of people that share your passions and interests - and greatly increase your chances of finding a friend in the bunch - be sure to check out Meetup.com.

Canvas Your Existing Friends

Whether you’ve just moved to a new city or you’re looking to expand your network where you live currently, there’s a huge untapped network for potential friends you might not have thought of: your existing friends.

Think about it: you already know and like the friends you have. And they already know and like the friends they have. So, chances are if you meet their friends, you might like them too!

Reach out to your existing friends and ask them if they can connect you with anyone they think you might hit it off with. Maybe they have a friend from college who lives down the road from your new house or have a friend from yoga class they think would be a perfect running buddy for you. You’ll never know if you don’t ask!

When I asked my Los Angeles friends if they knew anyone I could connect with in Portland, a handful of them put me in touch with friends of theirs. And while it was a little awkward reaching out and making a cold introduction, it was great to meet people in Portland that are also connected to the people I love in Los Angeles.

Get Sweating

Working out is good for you. Making friends is good for you. So why not do both at once?

Fitness classes and workout groups can be a great way to make friends with other people who care about health and wellness (whether they’re sober or not).

As I mentioned earlier, you can find fitness-based groups on Meetup or you can check out local studios that offer classes in whatever type of exercise you love best, whether it’s yoga or cycling or boxing.

If you’re into racing, you can also find training groups for people who participate in similar races (like Road Runners of America, a popular running club with chapters across the nation that offers group training for marathons).

Use Facebook To Your Advantage

Facebook is the world’s most popular social network, with nearly 2 billion active users. Which also makes it one of the world’s largest pools of potential friends.

I used to feel weird about meeting people online. But while I was backpacking through Asia last year, I used Facebook as a way to meet people in the cities I was visiting and found it was an awesome tool for connecting with people I might never have met otherwise.

When I moved to Portland, I decided to do the same thing. I put up a post in one of my women’s travel groups (which is over 300,000 members strong) and shared that I’d just moved to Portland and would love to meet any other travel-loving ladies in the areas. I had multiple people leave comments saying they’d love to get together, and we all decided to set a time to meet and grab dinner later this month.

Join Facebook groups either based on your interests or your location and use it as a tool for meeting potential friends. And like any scenario where you’re meeting someone for the first time, be safe: never tell someone where you live, always meet in a public place, and let someone know where you’re going to be.

Talk To People

This one seems so simple, but if you want to make friends as a sober adult, try talking to people.

I didn’t realize how little I talked to people I didn’t know until I made the move to Portland. In Los Angeles, people aren’t overly chatty. I would have felt weird just walking up to someone and starting a conversation. But here in Portland, people stop and chat all the time. So I decided to start talking to people more. Best case scenario, I’d make some new friends. Worst case scenario, I’d enjoy more pleasant conversations in my day. Not a bad deal.

It felt a little weird at first, but the more I talk to people - people behind me in line at the store, people sitting next to me at the movies - the easier it’s become. I ended up meeting someone while looking at curtains at Home Goods, and we’ve gotten together twice over the past month.

There are so many people out there and you’ll never know which ones are meant to be your friends unless you bite the bullet and talk to them.

Making friends as a sober adult - especially if you don’t attend any recovery groups - can be a challenge. But it’s not impossible! All you need to do is get creative, put yourself out there, and open yourself up to friendship. And with these tips, you’ll be well on your way.

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Deanna deBara is a freelance writer living in Portland, OR. Free from alcohol for nearly eight years, Deanna writes regularly about addiction, recovery, and mental health. You can learn more about her at deannadebara.com.