10 Tips for a Sober 4th of July

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The nostalgia of Fourth of July celebrations and gatherings seem to always have a few things in common.

The smoky aroma of hot dogs and barbecue ribs. American flags on display in neighborhoods. Families and individuals adorned in festive red, white and blue clothing. Parades, fireworks, and the list goes on.

And, of course, lots and lots of booze.

Just think back to those good ole family reunions at the park. If you’re like most of us, chances are you had “that one relative” who drank one too many margaritas and landed themselves in a world of hurt. It might’ve been cousin Jimmy, drunkenly belting out Bon Jovi lyrics atop a wooden park bench; Nana, dishing out illicit gossip over a couple of cocktails; or Uncle Sam (who was anything but patriotic), howling after an errant firework blew off a chunk of his hand.

While most of the family would’ve liked to forget about “that one relative,” not even the rocket’s red glare could pry attention away from their shenanigans. It was enough to make the founding fathers roll in their graves.

Why Do People Drink Too Much on July 4th?

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Each Independence Day, millions of adults engage in similar booze-fueled festivities. But sadly, not everyone drinks to celebrate. 

Many factors could lead to over indulgence. For some, the thrill of visiting family can quickly dissolve into old conflicts and pounding headaches. Throw in heat and stressful crowds, and many of us would be begging for something to take the edge off. Staying sober on 4th of July can feel like a big challenge.

What’s more, Independence Day falls smack-dab in the middle of summer vacation, which is every bit as exhausting for parents as it is exciting for children. A chance to let loose without spending an arm and a leg entertaining the kids could be just what some adults feel they need.

“People are generally under a tremendous amount of stress,” said Claudia Christian, actress, C Three Foundation founder, and Ria Health advisor. “[Fourth of July provides] an excuse to kind of get out of their heads and not really think of the repercussions of it, like hangovers, DUIs, and lost days at work.”

Still, for all the relief alcohol offers, it’s easy to overdo it and come face-to-face with scary consequences. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Fourth of July claims an average of 118 American lives every year due to car crashes—almost half of which are linked to alcohol.1 The number of firework injuries also skyrockets on the holiday (looking at you, Uncle Sam), along with alcohol-induced bike crashes, swimming accidents, and unsafe sex.

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10 Tips to Stay Sober on the 4th of July

So, how can you avoid alcohol if your goal is to maintain sobriety during the 4th of July? During one of the ultimate summer holidays, we know how much commitment it can require to avoid alcohol. The following tips can make it easier to stay sober

1. Bring a Sober Buddy for Support

If you’re able to have a friend attend an event with you who knows your goal is to avoid alcohol and who can help give you encouragement, you may find it easier to stay accountable and committed. If you’re unable to have a sober buddy attend your celebrations with you in person, having a friend who you’ve discussed your sober goals with before your event on speed dial can be helpful if you need additional support. This extra layer of support can make all the difference as you navigate challenging situations on a big drinking holiday. 

2. Carry a Nonalcoholic Beverage in a Plastic Cup

If you need a creative way to ward off those persistent drink offers, carry a plastic cup filled with a refreshing nonalcoholic beverage of your choice. You’ll have a ready excuse when offered a drink, and having a cup in hand will make it less likely that others will continuously offer you alcohol, allowing you to focus on enjoying the festivities without peer pressure.

3. Get Involved in Planning or Running the Event

If you want to stay busy and minimize temptation, get involved in planning or running a 4th of July event. If you’re attending an event someone else is hosting, offer your assistance to the organizers. By immersing yourself in preparing for and running the celebrations, you’ll stay engaged with your tasks and the people at your event. You’ll be less likely to dwell on thoughts of alcohol. Your involvement in the event will also help you have a sense of purpose on the holiday.

4. Have an Exit Plan

If the pressure or environment becomes overwhelming, having an exit plan can be a safeguard to stay sober. While it may not seem ideal, it’s okay to prioritize your sobriety and take care of yourself. Whether it’s leaving early, having a prior commitment, or needing some downtime, having an exit strategy ready can empower you to remove yourself from triggering situations and stay committed to your sobriety.

5. Seek Out Sober-Friendly Events

If you’re feeling really worried about sticking to your sobriety, look for 4th of July events or gatherings that emphasize a sober-friendly atmosphere. Some communities and organizations have intentional alcohol-free celebrations, such as picnics, parades, or fireworks displays. Choosing one of these events can provide a safe and supportive environment where the focus isn’t on alcohol.

6. Bring Your Own Non Alcoholic Drinks

It’s likely that you’ll be craving a refreshing drink at a summer celebration. To help curb the craving for alcohol, bring plenty of your own favorite nonalcoholic options that you love.  Pack a cooler with your favorite alcohol-free beverages, such as sparkling water, iced tea, or mocktails. By having a variety of enticing drinks readily available, you’ll be less tempted to reach for an alcoholic option.

7. Focus on Food and Nonalcoholic Treats

One trick that can be helpful when it comes to staying sober is to try to shift your focus from enjoying beverages to enjoying the food at your holiday celebration. The 4th of July often boasts a delicious array of food and treats. Instead of focusing on not drinking alcohol, focus on enjoying or treating yourself to dishes and flavors you love. By immersing yourself in the culinary experience, you’ll find satisfaction and diversion from not consuming alcoholic beverages.

8. Participate in Activities

Participate in the fun activities happening around you to keep your mind occupied and your spirits high. Engaging in positive games, sports, or other upbeat entertainment will distract you from alcohol-centric conversations and events. Whether it’s playing backyard games, or joining a friendly competition, joining in on fun activities will help you enjoy the day without alcohol.

9. Seek Support from a Recovery Network

Remember that you’re not alone in your journey towards sobriety. If you need to, consider asking a few people to be part of your recovery network. If you already have a recovery network, reach out to them for support before 4th of July celebrations. Whatever your recovery network looks like – a therapist, sponsor or group, reach out to them and develop a plan before the holiday to maintain your sobriety

10. Practice Self-Care and Mindfulness

Although the 4th of July comes with a lot of energetic festivities, prioritizing self-care and mindfulness can help you navigate sobriety. Take breaks when needed, or find quiet moments. Engage in activities that promote relaxation and well-being. A few ideas include: practicing deep breathing exercises, going for a walk, or enjoying a moment of meditation. Taking care of your mental and emotional health will help you navigate the day with resilience and serenity.

Celebrating the 4th of July sober can be a rewarding and empowering experience. By implementing these tips and focusing on your well-being, you can enjoy the festivities while maintaining your commitment to a healthy, alcohol-free lifestyle.

How Can You Drink Less on the 4th of July?

If you’re aiming to moderate your drinking rather than to have a completely sober holiday, we’ve also got tips for you. 

For starters, you should be aware of how much alcohol will actually make you drunk, and how quickly. Most people can process alcohol at a rate of roughly one drink per hour. This means that if you drink more quickly than that, you’re likely to become intoxicated. Also, the definition of moderate drinking is up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks for men. If you wish to drink on July 4th without going overboard, take this into account in choosing your limits.

7 Tips To Control Fourth of July Drinking

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What if you do still want to drink—you just don’t want to get wasted? For many, with the right strategy, this is a real possibility.

“There’s a fine line between relaxing and having a couple of drinks, and getting hammered and humiliated” notes Claudia Christian. “It just takes a little planning, like packing a suitcase.”

Try the following tips to control how much you drink on July 4th:

  1. Drink double-fisted: Alcohol won’t truly quench your thirst—but a cool glass of water will. Sip booze for the flavor and water for the heat, then watch the amount you drink plummet.
  2. Eat, eat, eat: Just like water, a hearty meal can diminish the absorption of alcohol in your bloodstream and dull its mind-boggling effects. Make sure to fill up before and as you drink.
  3. Dilute your drinks: Make your drink last by adding a flavorful mixer after each sip. A bubbly seltzer will also fill you up sooner while giving your drink a pleasurable pop. “Ask the bartender what they’re putting in each drink,” says Katie Lain of Embody Daily. “Maybe ask them to make it light.”
  4. Try an activity: As Christian points out, Independence Day is a time to visit family and friends—don’t make booze the main attraction. Instead, try brainstorming party games, or helping with the event.
  5. Pair up: Ask a friend who shares your drinking goals to be your accountability partner. That way, you’ll have a friend encouraging you to hold back instead of urging you to down another shot.
  6. Deflect peer pressure: According to Katie Lain, it’s easy to fall victim to pushiness at parties. “Be aware of the pressure that exists and don’t succumb to it,” says Lain. Instead, have some good excuses ready. If all else fails, discretely put the drink down when no one is looking.
  7. Consult a professional: If drinking has become a real challenge for you, an addiction specialist can help you slow down and devise a drinking plan for the day-of.

We’ve all seen drunken hijinks on Independence Day that we’d rather forget—and some of us may have even been the ringleaders. But if you’d rather forgo the July 5th embarrassment this year, sticking to the above guidelines and strategies should keep you out of harm’s way.

That said, sticking to moderate drinking isn’t easy for everyone, and there’s no shame in asking for help. Ria Health offers online support that can help you establish healthier drinking patterns year-round, long after the fireworks have faded. Learn more about how it works.

Film and television actress Claudia Christian created the C Three Foundation in 2013, and is a member of the advisory board of Ria Health. Katie Lain is the founder of Embody Daily and co-founder of Thrive Alcohol Recovery.

This article was originally written in 2018 by Kimberly Nielsen, and updated by Evan O’Donnell.

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Written By:
Ria Health Team
Ria Health’s editorial team is a group of experienced copywriters, researchers, and healthcare professionals dedicated to removing stigma and improving public knowledge around alcohol use disorder. Articles written by the “Ria Team” are collaborative works completed by several members of our writing team, fact-checked and edited to a high standard of empathy and accuracy.
Reviewed By:
Evan O'Donnell
Evan O’Donnell is an NYC-based content strategist with four years’ experience writing and editing in the recovery space. He has conducted research in sound, cognition, and community building, has a background in independent music marketing, and continues to work as a composer. Evan is a deep believer in fact-based, empathic communication—within business, arts, academia, or any space where words drive action or change lives.

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