Fun without drugs?

Dear Alice,

I think it would be a good idea for me to stop smoking marijuana and cut down on my drinking, at least during the school year. The problem is, I have been doing it for so long it is almost as though I have forgotten how to have fun without it. Contributing to this problem is the fact that many of my friends smoke or drink to have fun. Many of my other friends just do not seem to have fun at all; they stay in Friday and Saturday nights to do work. I've found it difficult to quit, I think because I'm just not sure of what's out there to do that's fun without being stoned or drunk. Can you recommend anything that's fun whether you're intoxicated or sober, so that I don't have to stop hanging out with certain friends if I want to relax and have fun? I want to finally enjoy life without relying on an altered state of consciousness. What's there to do when you're sick of renting movies? Also, any tips for resisting the urge to take people up on their offer to toke up? (I'm never pressured into it, but it's like the dieter who's offered some chocolate cake — it's there, it looks sooo good, and the fact that other people are doing it makes it seem more "okay.") Thanks so much.

— Baked or Bored

Dear Baked or Bored, 

Kudos to you for taking control of your health and seeking to make changes to your substance use! The good news is that there are several strategies and resources available to help you limit your substance use, and you can choose what feels right to you. Additionally, there are many ways to have fun that don't include alcohol or marijuana. Through this process you may find a new hobby or reengage in a past interest. You also don’t have to do it alone. It’s okay to make a few pit stops along the way to changing your habits and check in with a supportive friend, relative, or professional to help you reach your goals. 

So, what’s there to do besides watching movies and streaming TV shows? As you begin to reduce your substance use, take some time to reflect on what makes you feel happy and fulfilled socially, professionally, academically, or spiritually. This may help guide you towards activities that you'll enjoy without the presence of substances. This could also be a time to explore other activities and hobbies you haven’t tried yet. Is there an activity you’ve always wanted to try but haven’t had the time? Is there something you and your friend group have talked about doing but haven’t gotten around to? 

If you find yourself struggling to think of something, here are some additional tips you can use to get those juices flowing: 

  • Start small. Maybe this means trying out hobbies that are relatively easy and don’t require a significant investment on your end. Some ideas include visiting the library to explore new books, bird watching in a local park, or picking up cooking or baking. This can allow you to experiment with new things without feeling overwhelmed. The best part is many of these activities can be done alone if you’d like to explore some options by yourself before getting your friends involved. 
  • Listen to how you’re feeling. When you’re engaged in a hobby, pay attention to how you’re feeling. Does the activity feel exciting? Do you feel interested enough to continue coming back to it? If so, it might be a hobby that’s a good fit for you. 
  • Reflect on past interests. Sometimes the past can help to inform the future. Think about activities that you enjoyed in the past—even from your childhood—such as painting or drawing, playing a sport, or spending time with an animal. Perhaps these experiences can help spark new enthusiasm over things you once enjoyed. 
  • Search for inspiration. Maybe you’re still feeling a little stuck on where to start (and that’s okay).  You could search for online classes, workshops, or volunteer opportunities related to things you’re interested in. From there you could engage with other folks who share similar interests which can make things more fun. 

That said, there’s no need to force the fun—if something feels uncomfortable beyond just first-time jitters it’s likely a sign that’s not the activity for you. Take that as an opportunity to reevaluate your list of interests and try something else! 

You also mention wanting some tips for resisting the urge to take people up on their offer to “toke up”. It can be helpful in these moments to think about your own personal boundaries and what feels right to you. Boundaries can be a great way to empower you to make decisions that feel good for you and setting these boundaries can often be broken down into two steps. The first step is to reflect on what your wants and needs are. Questions like, “What do I need to be happy?”, “What makes me feel safe?”, “Why do I want to reduce the amount I drink or smoke?” could be a good place to start. The next step can be to communicate these boundaries externally. Being clear and specific about what it is you are and aren’t willing to participate in may help your friends understand where you're coming from. Going back to your chocolate cake conundrum, it's important to explain why you might not want chocolate cake, and that by offering it to you, it's disrupting a boundary or decision that you’ve made for yourself (this same logic can apply to your conundrum with marijuana and alcohol). 

It’s also worth mentioning that reducing any degree of psychological or physical dependence on substances can take time and is often achieved through measured reductions in the use of the substance; in your case, alcohol and marijuana. In addition to filling your time with other activities and interests, you might consider finding support groups or community-based organizations that can assist you in your journey to reduce substance use. 

Substance Use and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has a 24/7 365-day-a-year confidential information service for individuals seeking assistance regarding substance use. They have a hotline you may choose to call or you can visit their website for more information. Marijuana Anonymous also provides a diverse range of support groups for individuals seeking to reduce their marijuana use. You may also consider speaking with a health promotion specialist, mental health professional, or health care provider. They can often help to guide you in defining specific goals regarding your use, including how much you’d like to cut back and at what pace, which may make for a smoother ride. 

Best of luck on the road to personal change! 

Last updated Sep 15, 2023
Originally published Apr 11, 1996