5 Tips for Sober Tailgating and Festival-Going

Tailgates, festivals and cookouts seem to be everywhere this time of year. When you’re in recovery, you may worry that you won’t be able to join in any more. But these outdoor events can actually be much more fun when you’re fully present and fully yourself.

So, yes, you can make the most of every event when sober, and you can leave with great memories and no regrets. All it takes is following up professional treatment with some tips and tricks for getting the most out of your tailgating and festival-going.

Tip One: Stay in Touch With Your Treatment Team

Concertgoer at music festivalEven if you don’t plan on going to big parties, make sure you stay in touch with your treatment team after treatment has ended. Choose a program that includes aftercare programming and alumni resources. The Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment explains that aftercare, or continuing care, makes sure you can and do “sustain the positive effects of the initial phase of care.”1 In other words, you’ve put in the hard work, now keep going!

Aftercare will connect you to ongoing therapy, support groups and more once you return home. It gives you immediate support any time you need it: Just call up any member of your treatment team and ask for information or advice. It also gives you great interpersonal resources. Ask another former patient or peer for tips and advice for making the most of your new, sober life. Therapists and friends can offer ideas for best practices and real-world advice for keeping recovery going while navigating tailgates, festivals and more.

Tip Two: Go Prepared

If you’ve followed tip one, you’re already in touch with treatment professionals and peers in recovery. You’re in a great position to start making a plan for staying sober. So before you show up at the game or buy that concert ticket, start preparing.

Talk to your therapist, support group and peers in recovery about your plan. Get advice and tools for staying sober. Practice what you will say or do in certain situations. You may want to just practice saying “no” – something that can be harder than (or maybe just as hard as) you think. Or you can learn tricks like holding a non-alcoholic beverage so others don’t offer you more to drink. Make sure you feel comfortable and ready to handle your particular drinking cravings and triggers. Your therapist can help you put a little space between your first, immediate thoughts — to say yes and take that drink — and your more rational desire to stay sober and have fun.

And make sure you have easy access to supportive friends or phone numbers of support group members. Staying sober is a social activity, not an isolating one. Reach out when you need to.

Tip Three: Find Sober Sub-Groups

You don’t have to miss out on tailgates and festivals, and you aren’t alone if you’re going there sober. You might be surprised to learn that you can even find support at many major events. For example, LA Weekly explains that there are regular 12-Step meetings held during and within Coachella. One group that hosts meetings is called Soberchella. You can attend meetings to find event-specific support and like-minded friends.2
Therapy group in a circleIf nothing else, groups like Soberchella let you know you certainly aren’t alone at an event that can otherwise seem like it revolves around drug and alcohol use. So no matter which festival you’re attending, do a little research beforehand. You’ll be surprised at how many warm, welcoming, fun and sober people you can meet.

Music festivals aren’t the only places you can find a supportive community and alternatives to drinking. If you’re still in college, reach out to campus programming — so many schools now have sober options for tailgates and other events. Some are even hosted by groups of students in recovery. Michigan Daily explains that others may be put on by student governments.

Schools recognize the risks of drinking before and during sporting events. And they recognize the benefits of offering alternatives. The University of Michigan offers free water, pizza and a place to hang out and tailgate for fans who want to stay sober. And they’ve noticed a real difference in alcohol-related incidents since they started doing so.3

If you really want to get involved, you can even volunteer to help at an event like this. You can offer to host, set up or clean up after. It’s a great opportunity to give back and be a part of something good. And at the same time you’re building friendships and community, having a good time and showing others they can have fun without alcohol too.

Tip Four: Find Sober Alternatives

If you aren’t ready, aren’t in the right place or simply don’t want to deal with the added stress and pressure of being around drugs and alcohol, you don’t have to miss out. There are sober, drug-free alternatives to almost any event. For example Above the Noise and Clean & Sober Music Fest are two organizations that put on entirely sober music festivals.

You can throw a pre-game party at your own place, so you can control whether or not there’s alcohol. Or you can work with friends to make their events more recovery-friendly. There are lots of alternatives if you want to tailgate, watch the big game or listen to live music in a drug or alcohol-free environment.


Tip Five: Don’t Go

That’s right. One optional tip for sober tailgating or festival-going is just skipping that event altogether. Maybe the most important thing to remember is that you are just as free to not go as to go. If you don’t want to miss out, consider the tips, tricks, advice and resources above. But if you are new to recovery, struggling at any point in your journey or simply don’t want to go to any event you think might put your sobriety at risk — you don’t have to. Your sobriety is more important than any tailgate or festival. You may feel like you’re missing out on one event in the present, but that could help you be sober, healthy and free to go to many, many others in the future.

And not going doesn’t mean you have to be alone, lonely or bored instead. You get to define fun for yourself now. You will always have peers in recovery, and you’re now free to build connections with others based on more than just alcohol consumption. You’re free to discover and then pursue your real interests. You’re also free to just be with yourself — something alcohol may never have let you do before. So know that the choices are yours, this recovery is yours, and you can make the most of it.

By Alanna Hilbink, Contributing Writer


1 McKay, James R. “Continuing Care Research: What We’ve Learned and Where We’re Going.” Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment. Mar. 2009. Accessed 11 Jun. 2018.

2 Carreon, Mary. “These Folks Come to Coachella to Get…Sober?LA Weekly. 12 Apr. 2014. Accessed 10 Jun. 2018.

3 Cacchione, Amelia. “Central Student Government Hosts Third Sober Tailgate in Five Years.” The Michigan Daily. 18 Sep. 2016. Accessed 11 Jun. 2018.

Articles posted here are primarily educational and may not directly reflect the offerings at The Oaks. For more specific information on programs at The Oaks, contact us today.