Updated: Jun 29
Have you ever turned down a drink and found that people looked at you like you were crazy?
Maybe it was because you were the designated driver, had an important meeting in the morning, or just didn't care to drink that night. No matter your reasoning, the people around you made you feel weird for saying no.
If this hasn't happened to you yet, you're lucky. I hate to admit it, but it's more than likely that it will happen eventually. Here's why...
According to the NIH, in 2019, over 85% of people in the United States ages 18 or older drank alcohol at some point in their life. Almost 70% reported they drank in the past year, and nearly 55% reported drinking in the past month.
My point is... alcohol is accepted in our society. Based on the statistics, more than half of the population in the US has drank in the past thirty days. The hard truth is that if we decide to say no to alcohol, people tend to question our nonconformity.
I've found that alcohol consumption is so normalized, it's the only drug that you have to justify NOT taking.
When I first quit drinking, I was super nervous about what I'd say to people who questioned my decision not to drink. I didn't want to feel like an outcast, and it created a lot of social anxiety for me.
Looking back, I wish that I would've had a roadmap on what to say. These situations can be extremely nerve racking, so I've listed some of my go-to responses that I use to make these conversations a little bit easier to navigate.
1. The Half-Truth: "I'm taking a break from alcohol"
If you aren't comfortable telling people you've decided to quit alcohol, (or if you really are just taking a break) this is a simple and response. Many people have taken breaks from drinking, and people tend to see it as a rational decision. Besides, plenty of drinkers can relate to getting too drunk or saying something they shouldn't have under the influence, and have decided to call it quits for a while. Be careful with this response, though, because it might lead to people asking more about why you've decided to take a break.
2. The nonchalant approach: "Once I start, I can't stop"
I have to give some credit to my aunt for this one - she uses the phrase "I don't have an off switch to alcohol." This approach gets straight to the point and offers genuine honesty. Using this response calls for some serious courage, but if you're willing to own that your relationship with alcohol is tricky, people will admire you for your truthfulness. This reply can also allow you to squeeze in humor into the equation, which can make it a lot less awkward for both you and the person that you're talking to.
3. Stonewalling: "I'm not in the mood to drink/I'm not feeling the best"
If you're feeling nervous about self-disclosing your decision to quit, answering in this way usually puts an end to the conversation. I've found that when you justify your decision on your mood, feelings, or emotions, people have an innate understanding that as a human, you're entitled to how you feel. Generally, it gets left at that.
4. The Truth: "I don't drink anymore"
Ultimately, this response is straight forward and to the point. Even though this answer is the most direct, it allows for most room for questioning. It's a bold statement, and it invites people to be curious towards the confidence in your decision. If you're comfortable enough to engage in an open conversation about where you're at in recovery, this can serve as a great response. I'm generally an open person and I enjoy getting below surface level with people, so typically this is the response I use.
5. The White Lie: "I have a meeting in the morning"
Sometimes, a straight up lie can serve you just as well as telling the truth. Often, it's really difficult to explain yourself in the beginning stages of sobriety. If telling a white lie takes away anxiety for you, no biggie. If it's what you have to do to get through the day, have at it.
So, there you have it: five ways you can respond to the annoying and invasive question of "why aren't you drinking?" Just remember that if you aren't comfortable with explaining your decision, you don't have to explain yourself at all. You don't have to tell anyone why you aren't drinking if you don't want to. It's nobody's business but your own. However, if you do feel the need to give a response, hopefully these are some approaches that you'll find helpful.
Depending on my mood, setting, and the person I'm talking to, my response changes. I've become more confident in my decision not to drink, so typically I just tell people I don't drink anymore. However, if I'm not comfortable with the person I'm with, sometimes I take the nonchalant approach. I can tell you this: the question doesn't become less annoying, but responding does.
I know that it can be anxiety provoking, but keeping pushing through. There are plenty of people who will applaud your decision not to drink, and it's worth having them around. There's no need to fear that you're a lone sheep. Your herd is out there, I promise.
Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Alcohol Facts and Statistics. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Retrieved March 27, 2022, from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/alcohol-facts-and-statistics