Ways To Get Away With Not Drinking In Social Situations
There's nothing wrong with not wanting to drink. However, social events can sometimes be annoying if you're not a big drinker or don't drink alcohol at all. This article will give some practical tips on how you can be in settings where people are drinking, and avoid getting hassled to do it yourself. A related article has some broad advice on how you can have a social life that doesn't involve alcohol to begin with.
Western society is geared toward drinking. It's considered a normal, acceptable thing to do with friends. It's to the point that if someone isn't drinking they often catch a bunch of flak for it.
Here are some negative assumptions people may make about non-drinkers:
- They're lame, boring, and no fun, even if they're otherwise taking part in ways everyone else is, like mingling, joking around, and dancing.
- They're purposely not drinking to be a stick in the mud and kill everyone's buzz.
- They're snobs who think they're better than the drinkers.
- They just don't know what they're missing, and would like drinking if they gave it more of a chance.
- They're sheltered, conservative, and old-fashioned.
Here are some of the immediate hassles people can go through when they tell someone they're not drinking:
- Getting nagging, questioning, and dumb comments about why they're not drinking that night.
- Getting looked at like they're a mutant.
- If they look tired, bored, or annoyed for so much as a second during the evening, being pounced on and being told they wouldn't be feeling that way if they had some drinks.
- Being angrily confronted or insulted about why they aren't drinking.
- Having people well-meaningly, but condescendingly, try to "help" them loosen up and come out of their shell by cajoling them to drink a little.
And here are some longer-term problems you can run into as a non-drinker:
- Having friends who only half-accept you don't drink. They don't blatantly pressure you drink with them, but they also can't resist needling you about it.
- Having invitations turned down by friends because they'd rather hang out with other drinkers.
- Slowly being phased out of your otherwise solid social circle, because your non-drinking is seen as incompatible with the group's style.
People who are known to totally abstain get it the worst, but all these annoyances can afflict someone who just doesn't feel like drinking that night, or who doesn't want to get as drunk as their mates. Sometimes you'll even get a situation where, say, someone who's decided they only want to get buzzed that night will nag their friend who isn't drinking at all. However, at the same time the buzzed group member resents being pressured to do shots from his buddies who like to get completely hammered four times a week.
Younger people can be worse about doing all of the above, but older adults often aren't much better. At least with adults, you'd think they would be a little more mature and understanding of people's different life choices and personalities. In theory adults are also more aware of alcoholism, and realize that if someone isn't drinking at a party, it may be because they're trying to stay sober, and it would be harmful to pressure them. That a classmate might be an alcoholic generally isn't on the minds of the college-aged crowd.
Below are my thoughts on how you can avoid these hassles. Depending on your style you'll likely find certain options speak to you more than others:
Realize lots of people aren't into drinking
This isn't a practical tip so much as something that may make you feel better and strengthen your resolve. It's a point that will often be told to university students who feel they can't relate to the drinking scene on campus. When you don't drink it can feel like everyone else in the world cares about nothing else than getting hammered and passing out on bathroom floors. In reality, a lot of people don't drink at all, or only in moderation. They just don't make as much noise about it, and aren't as represented in the media. A few friends staying in and watching TV while having a glass of wine each wouldn't make for a very exciting scene in a raunchy college comedy.
Just accept that no matter what you do there will be times where you can't win with people
Some people are just biased against non-drinkers. If you're around them there will be times where they're going to force their opinions on you. You can have the most clever lines in the world ready to go, and you can feel totally confident in your decision, but when you explain that you're not drinking the dumb comments are still going to come at you fast and furious. It can help if you accept some of it is going to be inevitable. Don't expect this just from strangers either. Long-time pro-drinking friends may tediously bring the issue up every time you go to a bar or party together.
Stay away from situations that involve drinking
I'll put the most obvious piece of usable advice first. If you're totally not into drinking and that lifestyle, just hang out with a crowd that has other priorities. Don't go to bars on Saturday nights. Have fun in one of the hundred ways other than getting messed up.
That said, it's often pretty hard to avoid alcohol altogether. Whenever you get a group of people gathered for some special occasion, it's probably going to appear. Even the most sophisticated art showing will likely serve wine. And then there are weddings and staff parties. Or you may have to go into a bar, like to see a concert. Overall though, you can keep drinking out of your life most of the time if you try.
Depending on what you want, avoiding alcohol may be all you need. But what if you do find yourself in the occasional situation where it's around? Or what if you have no problem with being around drinkers, or in drinking-related places, but just don't want to do it yourself?...
Set things up so you don't have to drink
If you're the designated driver, or you truly have to get up early the next day, or you're seriously training for a sport, no one can really argue with you that much if you don't drink. The circumstances prevent it. Of course, sometimes you'll still get people who say things like, "You have to drive? Yeah, like in three hours from now! Come'on, one shot won't kill you!" However, having these legitimate excuses will reduce some of the arm twisting.
Use well-tested assertiveness skills
If asked why you're not drinking, a good response is to just politely, but confidently, say that you don't drink (or that you don't feel like it at the moment, or that you're keeping it to two beers this evening). Be totally comfortable with that fact. Be self-assured, but in a casual, friendly way, like your not drinking isn't a big deal at all, and you're pushing their question aside. A mistake some people make when using this approach is they act overly-firm, or over-assertive, which may be seen as rude or confrontational.
If you get challenged, just keep up that cheerful but self-assured tone and restate that you don't feel like drinking. Don't get flustered and defensive. Don't argue with them. If they joke around and bust your balls, take it in good humor. Just kind of nicely brush them off. If they won't let it go, use the classic broken record technique. Don't give them any new material to respond to and just keep repeating something like, "Nah, I'm good, thanks" until they give up.
Being direct takes on a whole different flavor if you actually are trying to cut down your problematic alcohol use, or maintain your sobriety after quitting. If you try to politely and vaguely tell someone you don't want a drink, and they continue to push the point, you can matter-of-factly tell them what your situation is. Only the biggest jerk would still continue to bug you after that.
More info: An Overview Of Assertiveness Skills
Just make something up to get people off your back
Being straightforward and assertive works in a lot of the time. Sometimes we figure it will create more problems than it's worth. In that case another popular strategy is to be mildly deceptive to make everyone leave you alone. This approach isn't for everyone. Some people don't want to be dishonest, and think they shouldn't have to resort to hiding their non-drinking. Others are fine with it, and feel it's just an easy, practical way to avoid getting bothered.
This strategy tends to work best for one-off encounters with people you don't know that well. If you're with a group of old friends, and they all know you don't drink, you can't exactly lie to them.
If you run into an acquaintance at a club and they ask where your drink is, you could say something like:
- "I'm good for now. I just had one a second ago."
- "I'm taking it easy tonight. I hit it hard on Friday."
- "I gotta go catch up with my old friend first, so I'll wait in line to get one after I find her."
You could also pretend a more legitimate excuse applies to you when it actually doesn't:
- "I have to get up early tomorrow."
- "I'm the designated driver."
- "I have to drive home."
- "I'm running a marathon in two days."
- "I'm trying to get in shape and don't want the calories" (This'll only work with a certain crowd, as you can probably imagine).
Sometimes these white lies succeed, the person leaves you alone, and you can continue not drinking and hope they don't notice for the rest of the night. Doesn't always go that way though. They may not believe your excuse, or insist you have a drink anyway.
There are two other types of statements you could try. They're a little more extreme in that it's hard to argue with them, but they involve possibly taking the conversation in an unwanted heavy, serious direction. You can either say you don't drink because some family members struggle with alcoholism, or that you're on a type of medication/have a medical condition that you can't mix with alcohol. (Of course, for some people who don't drink these reasons really do apply to them.)
Imply you're drinking more than you are, or that you're drinking at all
This is the other classic way to be sneaky:
- If you're drinking, but just don't want to get drunk, then nurse a single beer for hours and let people assume it's more than one.
- Order an orange juice or a coke, and don't do anything to dissuade people from assuming you're having a mixed drink. You may need to ask the bartender to serve it the same type of glass as the alcoholic version. On the off chance that someone asks what you've got, you can lie, or simply admit there's no alcohol in it, and turn to one of the other strategies. Nothing wrong with having a Sprite. If you want to drink, just not too much, you could also cycle between mixed drinks and similar-looking alcohol-free ones.
- There's a risk of getting caught, but sometimes people will even do things to discreetly get rid of their drink. Like they may have half a beer they don't want to finish and just leave it somewhere at the bar, or pour it down the bathroom sink at a party. If someone orders a round of shots, and it would be awkward to say no, you could pretend to swallow yours, then quietly pour it on the ground. Or you could take the shot into your mouth, then pretend to take a chaser and spit the alcohol into it. Any drink that's in an opaque cup or bottle, or which is a dark color, will hide the shot that's been spit into it. Then you just have to get rid of the contaminated drink.
Don't use rookie explanations for not drinking
The biggest being, "I just don't like the taste." This immediately brands you as a naive drinking newbie. It sounds so naive because it's not true; a) some alcoholic drinks do taste good, not everything is cheap beer and nasty fire liquor, b) several drinks are acquired tastes, and c) it's obviously about more than just the flavor.
To a certain type of person, "I don't like the taste" basically screams, "I've only drank a handful of times. Please gently push me to drink more so I can learn how fun it can be!!!!" or "Please corner me and tell me about craft beers or cocktails I might enjoy." Also, don't lie and say you're not drinking because of how hammered you got last night, if it's obvious you're not the type of person who would do that.
Don't go out of your way to let people know you don't drink, especially when alcohol is around
Do what you can to avoid drinking, but for the most part be low key about it. Like I mentioned at the start of the article, if some people find out you don't drink, they can get surprisingly defensive and challenging about it. They may feel you have something against how they live their lives, or that you think you're better than them. They may badger you or try to convince you to change your mind. Sometimes they're coming from a well-intentioned place and genuinely think you need to loosen up and give it a chance. At other times you've made them feel insecure about their own habits and they want to get you to back down so they can reaffirm their choices.
It's one thing for this to happen when you're eating lunch with a bunch of acquaintances. It's especially touch-and-go in situations where there's alcohol around. The vibe can suddenly turn from "Everyone is having fun" to "Everyone's having a tense debate about whether drinking is okay" or "Some people are hassling this one person to drink, he's not giving in, and everyone is getting annoyed at each other." Better to avoid that altogether.
There's a counterpoint to this suggestion though: By being vocal about the fact that you don't drink you may unwittingly be inspiring or supporting someone else who is struggling with a drinking problem. By remaining silent, you're supporting a toxic aspect of our culture by omission. This is a valid point. I think everyone should size up their particular context. You may decide the right thing to do is speak up. At other times you may decide it's not necessary.
Be able to be fun
If you don't drink, but you can still have fun while you're out, most people will be a lot more accepting of your being sober. It's just that many drinkers have had the experience of having a non-drinker around, and they seemed moody and didn't want to do anything. Everyone was sure they would have loosened up if they just had a beer or two. If you're not going to drink, still do your best to be in the mix. Or if you find you have no interest in being "fun" in the way drinkers usually define the word, then that's a sign you may be better off avoiding that crowd altogether.
Be able to keep up with the activities drinkers like to do
People who have been drinking are more likely to do certain activities over others. They also like doing certain things for longer than sober people would. When you're sober, sitting around and talking can make you feel a little restless after a while. When you're having drinks you'll happily do it all night. If you like dancing, you'll do it for hours when you've got some alcohol in you. Sober, you often won't last as long. If you don't drink, it's helpful if you can still keep up with these activities. You may have to grow a thick skin for long pub conversations, or develop the guts to dance sober. Or again, you can try your best to avoid these situations.
Develop a tolerance for drunk people
Drunk people are boring and irritating if you're sober. But that's sort of missing the point, since they're not meant to be fun for sober people to be with. You're supposed to be buzzed right along with them. Then they're fine (more or less). If you don't want to drink, you've got to be really good-humored about having your mentally-regressed, careless, giggly friends around. Don't take their behavior personally. They're just being drunk, not purposely trying to get under your skin, although it can sure feel that way.
Possibly strategically compromise now and then
This is another suggestion that won't be for everyone. Obviously, it won't apply if you're trying to be 100% abstinent. However, if you drink sometimes, but just prefer not to on most occasions, you may be in a pragmatic headspace and decide it's more trouble than it's worth to not drink at all in some settings. For example, if a friend offers to buy you a drink on your birthday, and you know turning them down would lead to a tedious argument, you may accept this one time. You won't get totally wasted, but you'll avoid the unwanted nagging that would come from insisting on not having a single drop. Of course, if they insist you have seven more birthday drinks with them, then it's time to go back to saying no. Again, you don't have to do this and could go with another option, but may also decide it's the best choice for that night.