Sage Advice: Non-Drinker Feels Cornered

By Amy Dickinson | November 5th, 2019

How can non-alcohol-drinkers handle the pressure from their drinking counterparts?


Dear Amy: Recently, I decided to permanently forgo drinking. I was a very light social drinker to begin with, and I naively did not expect any issues to arise from my choice.

When I go out and order my water (I never drink soda), it turns into an inquisition. For new people I meet, a simple, “I don’t drink” suffices. I find that people I have met before complete their inquiry with guilt trips and occasional inappropriate questions as to whether I am in recovery or pregnant (I am neither, just trying to be healthy).

In the past I have tried making excuses, but the pressure has been grating on my nerves, so for future gatherings I transitioned into a more definitive, “I am not drinking/I chose to stop drinking” declaration, which then makes the meal, conversation, or other gathering awkward (not on my account), because they become self-conscious of their consumption. They act as if I have blindsided them.

You may agree with me that this seems like an overblown reaction to what liquids I am ingesting. It is ridiculous that others care to the extent that it is consistently affecting my socialization. No matter how discreet I try to be, I cannot avoid this reaction.

What is a script you can recommend that is polite yet shuts down any further inquiry, does not act as an excuse, and does not appear as if I am taking some moral high ground? Also, are there any considerations I can make beforehand that would put others at ease before I order my water?

– Living Sober

Dear Sober: Congratulations! In addition to living healthfully, you are also walking on the cutting edge of the newest (and welcome) trend of people adopting a lifestyle sometimes referred to as “sober curious.” The popular concept of “dry January” (forgoing alcohol post-holiday season), seems to have morphed into more people exploring sobriety as a year-round lifestyle.

More bars and restaurants are offering a variety of “mocktails,” where you can order a non-alcoholic drink that looks, tastes, and overall seems more like a traditional cocktail. You might want to try ordering one — but — if you only drink water, that’s up to you.

Generally, whether the topic is illness or health, if you don’t want to discuss something you consider personal, then don’t offer up any details, excuses or explanations. If people ask, you can say, “I don’t drink alcohol.” If they ask why, you can say, “I don’t like it.”

In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers. Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068

© 2019 by Amy Dickinson

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