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Drinking and Substance Use at Music Festivals: Tips to Stay Sober and Have Fun

Many people new to sobriety worry that they won’t be able to enjoy the activities they used to after achieving recovery. Music festivals, in particular, can give people pause, as they are often strongly connected to drinking and substance use.

But recovery knows no bounds. When you have achieved a lasting and worthwhile recovery, taken the necessary steps to prevent relapse, and built up your confidence and sense of self-efficacy, you can learn to stay sober in any environment and live your life to the fullest.

Music Festivals and Sobriety

Music festivals are a common concern for people who have just achieved recovery. These festivals can be landmark experiences, providing an enjoyable space to let loose, dance, and enjoy the company of friends while listening to your favourite artists.

But people new to recovery are often hesitant to return to music festivals — and for good reason. Even though the emphasis of a festival is the music itself, it often comes along with widespread alcohol and substance use that can be incredibly difficult to resist when you have only days or weeks of sobriety under your belt.

This relationship gets complicated further when you have a history of misusing drugs or alcohol at festivals. Returning to a space where you’ve used substances in the past can be incredibly triggering, and it often leads people into patterns of past behaviour that don’t align with your sobriety goals.

Still, learning how to stay sober and have fun at a festival is often worth the effort. Having fun in your recovery is a critical element of building a sobriety that lasts. But when you make the decision to return to a music festival sober for the first time, it’s critical that you make a plan to protect your recovery from the beginning.

How to Stay Sober at Music Festivals

When you’re planning to attend a music festival, there are a few key tips and strategies that can help ensure you maintain your recovery in the process. Keeping these few tips in mind, you can return to enjoying music festivals without fear of relapse and continue working towards your recovery goals.

1. Acknowledge the Risk

First and foremost, acknowledging that a music festival can be a high-risk situation is an important component of preparing yourself to stay sober. If you don’t recognize that you may be tempted, experience cravings, or get triggered by drinking and substance use around you, you won’t be prepared to deal with these situations when they occur.

  • Before going to a festival or even purchasing the tickets, ask yourself:
  • What situations may be triggering at the festival?
  • When have I typically started drinking or using drugs at festivals before?
  • How will I handle being around people who are intoxicated?
  • Am I prepared to handle these situations when they happen?
  • Am I confident that I can get through the festival without drinking or substance use?

With the answers to these questions, it’s time to decide whether the risks outweigh the benefits. If you are not confident in your ability to handle substance use and drinking at the festival, then it might not be worth going to the festival in the first place.

But just because a music festival involves risk doesn’t mean that it should be avoided. If you acknowledge the risk, prepare effectively, and believe that you can manage any difficult situations that may occur, then a music festival can still be an astounding and positive experience for your recovery.

Everything in life has some degree of risk. Travelling by car, riding a bicycle, going skiing, or opening yourself up emotionally to a loved one all carry the risk of serious consequences.

But people do these things because they are worth it or because it brings them joy or utility. A music festival in sobriety is much the same — not risk-free, but often worth the preparation.

2. Build a Coping Strategy

Having assessed the potential risks and challenges that attending a music festival may bring, it’s important to build a coping strategy when these events occur. Everyone has different coping strategies that work for them, but common examples could include:

  • Breathing exercises
  • Calling a recovery sponsor or friend
  • Stepping away from the situation
  • “Playing the tape through”
  • Practising grounding techniques

Before you go to the event, think about the strategies you would use in specific situations. What do you do if someone offers you a drink? What do you do when you have a drug craving? What methods will put you back into the recovery mindset and prevent you from experiencing relapse?

3. Check in on Your Recovery Beforehand

Knowing that music festivals often have drugs and alcohol easily available, it’s important to check in on your recovery before you attend. Especially in the early months and years of recovery, it’s common for people to ebb and flow in their motivation to stay connected to the recovery community and continue working towards their treatment goals.

You want to ensure that when you attend a festival, you are doing so on a solid foundation. Going to a music festival when you are considering a return to substance use, losing faith in your sobriety plan, or distancing yourself from the people who hold you accountable to your recovery will often lead to a relapse at the event itself.

It’s normal for people to experience transient challenges in the recovery process. But if you truly want to remain on the path of recovery, recognising when you’re feeling low and changing your plans accordingly is the best way to keep on the sober path.

4. Bring a Sober Friend

Bringing just a single sober friend to a music festival with you can drastically reduce the challenges and temptations you may face.

At an event where drinking and drug use are common, it’s only natural for people to feel left out, unincluded, or isolated when they are the only ones sober. Having a sober friend with you makes sure that you don’t feel alone or unusual and that you have a support source to lean upon.

Ideally, your sober friend should have significant experience in sobriety or experience attending music festivals without turning to drinking or substance use. The last thing you want is a sober friend who is considering relapse and may encourage you to do so with them.

However, a strong, stable source of support can help keep you accountable, remind you of your goal of remaining sober, and help you engage in coping strategies if you experience difficulties at the event.

5. Carry a Non-Alcoholic Beverage

Many people attending social events feel as though others will judge or pressure them for not drinking. They worry that being seen without a drink will lead people to ask uncomfortable questions, to probe you about your sobriety, or to offer you a drink.

While these fears are typically unfounded, they can often be avoided entirely with this simple trick: carry a non-alcoholic beverage with you. It doesn’t matter what drink you choose, but it could include a tonic and lime, a fizzy drink, or even just water.

While people pressuring others for not drinking isn’t as common as you may believe, this simple tip can prevent it entirely. You’re holding a drink. It’s unclear whether your drink may or may not include alcohol. You don’t need another drink because you have one in your hand.

6. Engage in Self-Care Ahead of Time

Self-care practices are any behaviours that help you feel refreshed, restored, and ready to take on the days ahead. While many people use self-care practices as coping strategies, one of the underrated benefits of self-care is helping reduce your stress levels in the future.

This reduced stress makes you more capable of handling the challenges or temptations that you may experience at a music festival.

To make this image clearer, imagine your capacity for stress as a cup. When you experience a stressful situation, such as a triggering event, communication breakdowns with a loved one, or experiencing anxiety, this begins to fill the cup. When the cup overflows, people can begin to experience all of the serious negative consequences of stress, including:

  • Sleep difficulties
  • Trouble regulating emotions
  • Feeling physically worn down
  • Drug or alcohol cravings

The only way to empty your cup is to remove or resolve the stressors. This might be finishing your work ahead of time, resolving emotional difficulties with loved ones, or using the coping methods you’ve learned in treatment.

But self-care practices can help you grow the cup. Practices such as meditation, exercise, spending time in nature, or setting time aside for creative hobbies help people handle more challenging situations and make the stressors they currently have seem less significant and impactful.

Ahead of a music festival, try to engage in the self-care practices that work for you well ahead of time. Growing your capacity for stress and increasing your ability to handle stressors can be valuable tools in this situation.

7. Have a Support Network in Place

There may come a time at a music festival when you feel the need to reach out for help. Whether that be reaching out to a friend, family member, sponsor, or therapist, you should know who you can rely on to take the call before you enter the festival.

Think of this step as an emergency contact plan. If you start to feel like you’re heading towards relapse, call the support network member who is likely available to help — and you’ll have a much easier time staying sober.

8. Have an Exit Plan

Sometimes, even if you’ve taken every step above, the temptation or cravings experienced at a music festival leave you with two options. You stay and relapse, or you say goodbye and head home. If you reach this point, it makes the process much simpler if you have an exit plan in place.

If this is your first music festival sober, it’s often a good idea to drive yourself to the venue or be aware of public transportation options that can take you back home. You don’t want to be “stuck” in this situation because a friend isn’t ready to leave.

Find Support at APN London

Music festivals can be one of the most enjoyable and restorative things you can do in your sobriety, provided you have everything in place to help you succeed. But if you’re unsure of whether you have the strength and support required to stay sober at a music festival, it’s okay to reach out for help to build these structures.

At APN London, our team is dedicated to helping people in every stage of recovery. Whether that means individual therapy, addictions day programmes, or novel treatment interventions, we have everything required to help you make recovery fun, enjoyable, and sustainable at every step in the process.

If you’re ready to reach out for help, call 0203 984 7699 or fill out our confidential online form for more information.

References

Stevens, Ed et al. “Investigating Social Support and Network Relationships in Substance Use Disorder Recovery.” Substance abuse vol. 36,4 (2015): 396-9. doi:10.1080/08897077.2014.965870

Witkiewitz, Katie, and G. A. Marlatt. “High-Risk Situations: Relapse As a Dynamic Process.” Therapist’s Guide to Evidence-Based Relapse Prevention, 2007, pp. 19-33, https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-012369429-4/50032-X. Accessed 9 Mar. 2024.