Changing your drinking or drug habits can be difficult at the best of times, but it sometimes feels even harder in Aussie culture, where alcohol seems to form the cornerstone of so many of our social interactions. In fact, for a lot of Australians, weekends can turn into a triangular cycle involving drinks in someone’s backyard, drinks in a pub or bar, or drinks in our own living room, starting all over again the next night.
After a while, it can be hard to think of other things to do, because it’s been so long since we did anything else! So here is a bit of a guide to other ways to spend your spare time. Even if you can’t find anything that appeals, you can use the suggestions below as a bouncing off point for your own!
Drinking on the weekend can be about giving ourselves something pleasurable to look forward to. If that’s what you’re looking for, then scheduling a massage or a manicure or a pedicure could do the trick. These things can seem expensive, but is it any more expensive than a night out?
Physical exercise is a proven way of releasing the same ‘feel-good’ chemicals that the body produces after a glass of wine. Good alternatives include dusting off the bike and riding some of the bike paths and rail trails in your area. Or ticking off the local walking trails.
Failing that, playing a social sport might be a good alternative to the gym if you’re looking to engage with other people while you burn calories. How about shooting hoops at the local court, or organising a game of squash or tennis?
Getting out and about doesn’t have to involve having a drink to send us on the way. A good alternative can be organising an outing with a different focus, which can make us feel just as good. This might involve going to a comedy club and getting happy using the power of laughter.
Doing creative activities can offer us different ways of expressing what we’re feeling. In fact, creative expression happens to be the basis of many art therapies. Not only that but it can also help raise our self-esteem, allow us to release tension and relax.
Why not occupy ourselves with some painting or drawing? Dust off the guitar, or start singing lessons? Even playing video games can tap into our creative centres. If you’re not sure where to start, YouTube and Pinterest have a ton of fun and easy tutorials to choose from.
Remember, you don’t have to be great right away. All that matters is that you enjoy yourself.
Sometimes the main factor that keeps us drinking is the sense of belonging we get when we’re socialising with friends. The idea of losing that social connection can make us reluctant to have a break. Indeed, one of the reasons why Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) groups work so well is because they develop and maintain connection and community. This might be a good fit but you don’t necessarily have to go to AA meetings in your spare time to feel included. You could also join meetup.com and find a Meetup in your area of interest. There are Meetups for interests as diverse as cars, camping, social justice, dog walking, fashion and DIY projects.
Research shows that men in particular struggle with social isolation and often find it hard to make new friends. If that sounds familiar to you, you could think about joining a Men’s Shed. Men’s Sheds are non-profit organisations which offer a space for men to get together to promote social interaction and learning. Shed activities can include things as diverse as card games, woodworking, community work, sausage sizzles and outdoor-activities. Type your postcode into the Shed finder and see if there’s one that could work for you.
Volunteering is another great option which can keep us busy. Being a volunteer can also open up opportunities to meet other people. It can bring us the inner satisfaction of helping out in areas of need. There’s a surprising range of volunteering roles on offer. You can be an eco-volunteer and get out into the bush, planting trees and working towards bush regeneration.
For a more personal experience, you can help individual members of society with their groceries, or by reading them their mail. Or if you’re inclined towards sports, you could volunteer at your local club as a scorer, siren operator or simply by helping prepare the half time sandwiches.
Finally, find other ways to get your friends together without making alcohol the focus of the gathering. The best way to make sure it stays alcohol-free is to host the night yourself. Invite your friends around for a dinner party, movie night, pampering night, or an Xbox night. Catch up with a close friend by cooking a meal together. Or simply get together for an old fashioned cuppa.
If none of these ideas seem quite right to you, use them as inspiration to find the activities that work for you! If you come up with something good or just want to brainstorm ideas, check out the thread in our peer support forum — our members would love to hear about it!