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Why are drinkers so determined to get non-drinkers drinking?
June 16, 2014 3:41 PM   Subscribe

I occasionally have to work-related social events where there is huge pressure to drink alcohol. I am trying to understand where this pressure comes from.

I do not work in an entertainment-related industry and these are purely social events---staff Christmas party, start of summer barbecue at home of boss and so on. There is always alcohol, and I am always pressured to partake.

I have made is clear, on past occasions when I have been similarly pressured, that I simply do not enjoy the taste of it. I have no moral or religious issues regarding alcohol; I have no issues or problems or discomfort being around people who are partaking; I am quite happy to enjoy the party, with a non-alcoholic drink.

I am baffled by my colleague's continued attempts to try and bend my will on this. To me, this is on par with trying to pressure somebody to eat brussels sprouts or mushrooms or some other food item. I simply do not enjoy the taste of it. It is not fun for me to drink it. If their goal is to get me to relax and enjoy the party, I would actually do that better if I felt I could go and not have to face this assault of peer pressure on the alcohol thing.

I don't understand why this is such an issue. Why do they care so much if I drink or if I don't? Given that this is not a moral issue for me and is merely a taste preference, I don't see where the issue is coming from. Can anyone help me understand this phenomenon?
posted by JoannaC to Human Relations (65 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm so grateful to usually hang out with people where a certain number of non-drinkers, or people just choosing not to drink at that particular moment, is just normal!

That said, I was recently at a convention where the hangout was the bar. And a couple of friends got kinda drunk, and proceeded to have THE DUMBEST CONVERSATION EVER. It was clearly fascinating to them, but from my point of view, it was just ... inane. At that moment, I wondered if some of this pressure comes from people not wanting to be embarrassed in front of sober people, and/or not wanting to feel inhibited by the presence of sober people. In other words, it's about their comfort, not yours. (I can understand this, mind you.) I excused myself from the bar and did something else.

If these people regularly drink to be drunk or slightly drunk, then maybe that's what's happening here.

Also, the "taste" reason is basically viewed as a challenge by a lot of people. Back when I did not drink at all, and for that matter now (when I only drink a little, and rarely), the excuse that got the least pushback was "My doctor said not to" or "It interferes with a medication I take." (And then always having an Arnold Palmer or something in my hand.) Nearly everything else can be argued with, and since drinking is caught up with class and religion and morality and other things, it can be a real sore point for some people. Maybe even unconsciously.
posted by wintersweet at 3:51 PM on June 16 [2 favorites]


There are a lot of explanations for this, but one of them might be this: your saying you don't like alcohol is less like not liking Brussel sprouts and more like not liking vegetables to me, in that alcohol is a really wide variety of possibilities. Can you imagine wanting to entice a non-vegetable eater to try your favourite vegie, which you love, when they've written off all veggies? Maybe you've tried them all or maybe there is something common to all veggies that you don't like, but the desire to share makes more sense from that perspective, I think? They may simply want to to try something they enjoy because they think you will too, if only you tried a particular version.

Also, alcohol is not like Brussel sprouts in that it alters the mind once we drink it. It encourages a loss of inhibitions in most ppl. That can be less fun if you feel like others are still inhibited and observing you, memory intact all the while.

Of course that doesn't trump your right to make your own decisions about what you imbibe, and I'm not advocating putting pressure on you. But it might help explain it.
posted by jojobobo at 3:53 PM on June 16 [21 favorites]


"I cannot drink." rather than "I do not drink." is much more effective. There are a lot of reasons why one cannot drink (medication is an easy out), but generally "I do not drink" leads to questions about AA or some story. "Medication" is a fast way to get people to shut up.

It is the most social thing in work culture, so know they do this because they want you to be one of them, not because they want you to be drunk.
posted by bensherman at 3:54 PM on June 16 [16 favorites]


To me, this is on par with trying to pressure somebody to eat brussels sprouts or mushrooms or some other food item.

And people do that all the time. Meat, as well, for people who don't eat it.

It works like this: I like something. You say you don't like it. I am right and, therefore, you are wrong, and now I am honor-bound to convince you.

It can be worse when the thing you like is a "vice", as then you're judging me for liking it and if I get you doing it too, you can't judge me.

It is absolutely a very immature thing to do, and thoughtful people don't do it (though even thoughtful people may go overboard about mushrooms or brussels sprouts sometimes). One of the best responses I've seen is just to say, "Why are you doing this to me?" in confusion, thus forcing them to answer for themselves.

Or just tell people you have a life-threatening allergy and will die. That's the only way to shut some people up.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:54 PM on June 16 [14 favorites]


It works like this: I like something. You say you don't like it. I am right and, therefore, you are wrong, and now I am honor-bound to convince you.

or like this :

I like something. You say you don't like it. Maybe you'll try it and you'll like it and then we can share in the liking! People often love to share things.

I would have an Arnold Palmer and relax. Generally, I just assume that people mean the best in the absence of evidence to the contrary.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 3:58 PM on June 16 [2 favorites]


Crude answer: They don't especially care if you're relaxing and enjoying the party; it's about them wanting to relax and enjoy the party. Some people feel inhibited by the presence of a sober person in a drinky environment.

It's stupid, but I really think that's 90% of it, maybe with a side of wanting to share/participate in a shared activity.
posted by peachfuzz at 4:00 PM on June 16 [43 favorites]


In my opinion, don't say medication. The next thought (although they might be polite enough to not ask) is "What medication? Are they diseased? Are they taking anti-depressants?" and you now will be facing a (ridiculous) and unnecessary judgement.

I usually order a half-pint and nurse it. I don't really like alcohol either, I don't mind it. I'd sooner order nothing. But unfortunately there is a decorum to uphold. If you go out with drinks and don't drink it's an uphill battle to maintain frame. Part of the reason is when people drink they become looser. But a big part of that 'looseness' is *knowing* the others are loose too. So everyone is chill having a few drinks, feeling disinhibited, but they still feel that you are there fully cognizant and mentally sharp, and you will pick out all and sundry mistakes or slips of the tongue.

Is it rational? A little, to be honest. They are disinhibiting themselves around each other, and know you are there still fully sharp. Of course, it is their own insecurities plaguing them. But lots of situations in life are about navigating the insecurities of others.

By all means stick to your principles and do what you feel is right. But if it wouldn't kill you to order a half-pint or a weak drink, you might find it to be a worthwhile investment.
posted by jjmoney at 4:00 PM on June 16 [2 favorites]


Part of this is just that you are "odd man out." Humans tend to be very conformist and many of them just freak the fuck out if you don't do/like/want the exact same things as them. Since I am routinely some kind of statistical outlier, I get hit with this a great deal, on all kinds of topics. People just have a super hard time accepting anyone who is different.

Also, it sounds to me like you are being pretty obvious/upfront about it. And that tends to turn into an issue. Because I just never seem to fit in, I have gotten pretty good at just not calling undue attention to things like that IRL. Order a soda with cherries. Cover up the fact that you are not drinking alcohol or otherwise downplay it.

I get a lot of flack from people who feel I am judging them. Most people are raised with either a shame or guilt model and if you do not do the same things they do, they feel judged or shamed. They feel you are saying you are better than them. They feel you are saying they also should not drink. So you have to be especially careful to make sure you are in no way saying or implying any such thing. It is extremely easy to imply judgment and they will key in on that and try to prove you are not better than them. Or whatever.
posted by Michele in California at 4:01 PM on June 16 [8 favorites]


When someone says they don't like the way beer tastes, or wine tastes, I can understand that. Different people like different things, and that's no big deal. When someone says they don't like the way alcohol tastes, that sounds weird to me, because alcohol doesn't have one taste. It can taste like all kinds of things, some of which are almost certainly appealing to you (juice, chocolate, coffee?). It's not so much like saying you don't like Brussels sprouts as saying you don't like vegetables.

So when I hear people say this, I'm inclined to think (1) they are hiding a moral objection behind a more socially comfortable taste preference, or (2) they have only tried one kind of alcohol (say, Mad Dog) and may really enjoy a craft beer/mai tai/mudslide/etc., or (3) they have a discomfort or fear around being intoxicated or out of control, or (4) they are in recovery and they don't want to talk to me about it (which is fine).

If I'm pretty sure that items 1-3 (i.e., not 4) is at work, I tend to perceive the person as either uptight or inexperienced, which may be what your coworkers are responding to. HOWEVER, that doesn't make it OK for them to pressure you to drink. Just a window into what they might be thinking.
posted by jeoc at 4:02 PM on June 16 [12 favorites]


Good question. The presence of non-drinkers seems to make some people anxious. I think there are a few flavors of this. I can think of two.

1) They think that people who do not drink are "judging them". This is perhaps related to the idea, mentioned above, that they want to get drunk in a setting where "everyone" is getting drunk, so that they don't stand out.

2) They are concerned that you are not having a good time. Imagine someone throwing a party. What are they on the lookout for? People who don't have a drink, and people who are off by themselves, not mixing with others.
posted by thelonius at 4:04 PM on June 16 [12 favorites]


I suspect part of it is a desire to cut loose and have fun on their part -- if everyone's a little drunk, nobody has to behave because there's this layer of 'all in this together' and group forgetfulness that gets built in. But if there's someone not drinking then the drinkers feel like they have to continue to behave.
posted by jacquilynne at 4:10 PM on June 16 [5 favorites]


You said multiple times you don't enjoy the taste, which to me, as a drinker, is where the challenge presents itself. I can make many different cocktails, my fridge is stocked with a wide variety of fermented ales, wines, and even some mead. These things all "taste" very different. If you tell me you've never had anything you liked I'd like to see if I can find something you do.

I suspect it's that you don't like feeling inebriated, which I would be totally fine with. Then say you don't drink. I can't drink because of medication/issue reasoning is not going to help you feel comfortable because there will inevitably be a nosy person who now wants to know about your "medical condition" that may not exist.
posted by Big_B at 4:11 PM on June 16 [10 favorites]


I can't speak as to the reason for it but as someone who is usually a fellow non-drinker I agree that this is really fucking obnoxious. Even if you humor them and have a drink, it's never enough, they just keep pestering you. Half the people in a group can be non-drinkers and the drinkers will still do this. Maybe they think they're being witty and devilishly unorthodox or something? If you are a drinker reading this, please do not do this thing to others.

At least we're at the point where the same "good-natured" arm twisting doesn't happen over smoking tobacco. Any industry marketing firm that can figure out how to induce this behavior for their own industry's consumer products will make a gold mine - the only thing that parallels it for me is when back in grade school other children would try to proselytize their religion to me, and hadn't reached the maturity level yet to temper the "don't take no for an answer" approach a little bit.
posted by XMLicious at 4:14 PM on June 16 [4 favorites]


How old are you? I ask because I have a lot of experience with this in a younger crowd, but I don't know if this generalizes to older people.

Assuming you are young, I have gone through this exact thing basically ever since I started college. I will be honest - it is a power play and a way for them to exert power and show superiority over you. The winkwink-nudgenudge glee they get on getting a NON-DRINKER to DRINK is what they like. This is why they don't let up if you humor them and have just one drink. Then it becomes, "What, that's all?"

It is straight-up, immature, holding power over the "good" person who isn't drinking by "making" them drink and therefore making them just as "bad" as they are. They are trying to take you down a peg.

I don't really go out anymore now that I'm older, so as I said, I have no clue if actual grown-ups do this, or if it is just restricted to the late-teens/early-twenties set.
posted by chainsofreedom at 4:18 PM on June 16 [5 favorites]


I think a big reason for this is that co-workers don't normally drink together, and when there's a work-cocktail event, people are hyperaware that they don't typically drink alcohol together.

So everyone's searching for the social norm. Are we supposed to drink in this situation when it's all these people who typically don't drink together? Clearly, there's alcohol here and we're supposed to be socializing, and when one person isn't drinking, I think it makes other people question whether or not they should be drinking. Like, what are the rules?

So when someone abstains because they say they don't want to drink, it makes coworkers uncomfortable because they start thinking that maybe they shouldn't be drinking either, and then people feel self-conscious and weird around their co-workers.
posted by kinetic at 4:22 PM on June 16 [6 favorites]


They probably just want you to not feel left out (as they see it.)

However, an acquaintance of mine took to drinking club soda with an umbrella after her drinking coworkers accused her of staying sober to spy for executive staff.
posted by michaelh at 4:22 PM on June 16


I am mid-30s; about half the co-workers are slightly older. The others are younger.

You are so right too about one drink not being enough! We had such an event today, which prompted my question, and following my one drink, son of the boss (who had been pulled to chef duty and poured the drink I had already) tried to start a drinking game. When he pressured me to join, I told him he got me my one already, that was plenty for me and I was done, the end.

There is something to the 'not enjoying being drunk' part I guess, mostly because I have a very low tolerance which has never improved because I don't drink often enough to make it improve. But the bigger issue is truly that it just doesn't taste good to me and I would rather drink something else :-)
posted by JoannaC at 4:26 PM on June 16


At least in the crowd I'm in, it's just trying to be sociable and polite. I don't feel like anyone is looking down on people who aren't drinking, though (partially because we've also known enough people who have had issues with drinking or whatever). I usually see it going like this:

"Can I get you a beer or a glass of wine?"
"No thanks, but I'll have a Coke/sparkling water/juice."
"Cool."

If it's anything other than that, these people are being jerks, plain and simple. And that's more on them than it is on you.

Just stand your ground and keep saying "No thanks, I'm good" as dismissively (but as politely) as possible. People will get bored and drop it.

(Very different in some ways, but as a 20+ year vegetarian, you wouldn't believe how HILARIOUS some people think it is to try to put meat on my plate. Sometimes I think it's just a really weird way of trying to connect with them. But mostly, it's annoying. I roll my eyes and just say "No thank you, but I'll have that instead.")
posted by darksong at 4:31 PM on June 16 [2 favorites]


When I was young I thought I didn't like the taste of alcohol, but really I didn't like the type of alcohol that young women are typically given. When I found out, around 21/22, that I actually did like lots of drinks, I spent a few years where if a friend said they didn't like to drink, I'd occasionally say (in hopefully a nice way) "Just try this drink, it's good" or whatever. Because i always hated not being able to drink, and wanted to help them not feel like I had. Then I realized that was rude and stopped. So if the person is under 25 or new to drinking, that's one possible explanation.

Otherwise, they may feel guilty about their own drinking and dislike the fact that you're making them look bad (in their mind) by standing there avoiding extra calories and not getting drunk.

Or they're just a bully.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 4:34 PM on June 16 [2 favorites]


I also just do not like the taste of alcohol. And I tend to not tolerate it well, probably for reasons other than the alcohol (like I have to limit yeast in my diet, so that may be why I find beer loathsome, and sulfur allergy runs in the family and that may be why I have never met a glass of whine I liked). I did find I could tolerate Kahlua drinks, especially if they were iced (because it numbs my tongue and that dulls the taste -- I honestly just do not like the taste of alcohol).

But I really think a big piece is that most people feel judged if you do anything that could be construed (by someone, somewhere) as "morally superior" in some way. Like you are doing it to lord it over them. And it really helps if you can find a way to signal that you absolutely are not doing that. Maybe you can volunteer to serve the alcohol? Maybe that would help make it clear to people that no, honest to goodness, you have zero problem with them drinking and are not being judge-y. You just don't like it yourself.

I know this works. It has a proven track record (for other subjects) in my life. If I can successfully signal that I really am not judging other people, they stop having a problem with my weird life choices.
posted by Michele in California at 4:36 PM on June 16


As far as made-up excuses to give people who haven't seen you drink before, "I'm diabetic" is a plausible one. Earlier in the year a single rum and coke I made for myself at home nearly put me in the hospital.

(Possibly because I'd switched from oral medications to injected insulin since the last time I'd drank. I kind of feel lucky that I don't generally like drinking anyways, now that I can't touch the stuff at all - for some people, their entire lives seem to revolve around it.)
posted by XMLicious at 4:37 PM on June 16


The people that I have known in this position generally try to finesse it as much as possible, e.g. quietly ordering a Virgin Mary, or a Coke on the rocks. Especially when someone is already imbibing or determined to do so in a big way, there's no real win in getting into a rational discussion with them about the fact.

I like to drink, but not to get drunk, and I'm now diabetic so my drinking is necessarily limited for good reasons now. Fortunately I have good self-control so I just exercise a quiet one-and-done policy for myself and I've honestly never been questioned about it.
posted by dhartung at 4:39 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]


I have a medical condition that prevents me from eating or drinking certain things at certain times, including alcohol and you're damn right it is a thing.

My theory, having endured it for about ten years now, is that it's mostly social. People have mentioned that there's the element of awkwardness having a sober person around. I additionally think there's a kind of hospitality thing as well. If someone's hosting, they want to get you out buy you a drink, they want to feel they are doing something for you. When you reject their offer they feel you are rejecting them, so they think the offer may not be good enough, and need to force, feel subconsciously rejected and want to resolve it. I feel there is a lot going on around social roles and rituals with stuff like this.

Fyi, I find the best way to resolve it is to play along with the role/ritual. Take the drink, don't drink it; say you'll have another when you've finished what you have, but never finish, etc. I've found if people feel you are fulfilling the social contract, they tend to forget. There are exceptions; heavy drinkers who want to get blotto are so persistent and annoying.
posted by smoke at 4:45 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]


nthing that it's for their comfort, not yours. They want everyone in the same state so as to not detract from the fun.

I'm also amused (and not surprised) at the comments showing such resistance/disbelief to the idea that someone would turn down drinking on the basis of taste.

As someone who didn't drink until much later in life than my peers, but then spent a few years partying hard and nursing hang-overs, but who now doesn't drink, I can say with certainty that it is absolutely possible to simply not like the way alcohol tastes. I've tried many varieties of alcohol (scotch, gin, vodka, ect.) of varying quality. I've had alcohol with mixers (juices, soda, premade mixes) and without. I've had them made by friends and have had them made by professionals. I've had them in divey, hole-in-the-walls and 5-star, top-reviewed restaurants. Once, I even threw a 'drink party' where a group of friends and I tested out recipes and chose one as a 'winner'. And despite all that I've yet to have an alcohol-containing drink that tastes good.

And I don't understand why it's so hard to believe. Alcohol is bitter and the fermentation process leaves behind a very distinct taste. You can add whatever flavors you want to the drink - but that familiar alcohol bite is a constant undertone that is very hard to mask to the people who're sensitive to it.

FWIW I think comparing alcohol to coffee is a more fair analogy. There are many different varieties of bean, many ways to roast them and varying levels of quality - all of which will give you a different flavor. And like alcohol, you can dress up your coffee with 'mixers' to make it more palatable - sugar, cream, syrups, chocolate shavings, ect. However, there is always a lingering coffee undertone. So if you dislike the way coffee tastes, not even a Chocolate Caramel Machiatto is going to do it for you.
posted by stubbehtail at 5:25 PM on June 16 [14 favorites]


When you get this kind of pressure at work, it's a sign that drinking has become a rite of initiation--one of the things a group of people expect you to do to go from being 'one of them' to becoming 'one of us.'

Most groups have these rituals, and they're not necessarily bad things in general, but for drinking to become one, usually something has to have gone wrong with that group.

If a group decides they like you enough they may make an exception for you, but you'll probably have to put up with introductions which go something like 'this is JoannaC, our designated driver, haw haw haw!' and so forth indefinitely.
posted by jamjam at 5:25 PM on June 16 [2 favorites]


It sounds like it's just one of those weird micro-cultural things. I work in a segment of the publishing industry with the booziest people ever, and some areas of the company are boozier even then the plain old ordinary booziness. They order booze with their booze and then a booze chaser.

You need a deflect/change the subject move, and try not to be too annoyed, although it's understandable. "I don't drink but OMG I love hamburgers/dancing/professional football/easter egg hunts/shooting pool" or something else that could carry out the message of 'No thank you but I like you and I am one of you' that is being sought. What you need to do is a signal you're part of the group, that you're a known quantity and not secretly hiding in the bathroom furtively eating black jelly beans and judging them or whatever.

People are weird.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:32 PM on June 16


I hear ya: I'm a lifelong nondrinker by choice, yes I have tried alchohol, no I don't like it, no I don't want any. I don't like the taste, and I don't like the feeling; I'm not judging anyone or telling them they should drink x, and I'd appreciate the same consideration. I've even had jerks who think I "need to loosen up" surrepitiously try to add alcohol to my sodas!

On the other hand, I've also got both Mormon and fundamentalist relatives who go to the other extreme and tell me that I shouldn't even be drinking caffienated drinks like tea or coffee or sodas, so I can guarentee it's not just the booze drinkers who try to bully other people. Sheesh.

I would say stick to your guns: don't drink if you don't want to. Don't fake-drink and nurse a glass of alcohol all night, don't lie and say it's because of medication (they'll bug you for the what and why), just keep repeating No Thanks over and over, and don't let them bully you into doing something you dislike just because they're insecure about their own choices.
posted by easily confused at 6:02 PM on June 16 [8 favorites]


Lord yes, I'm 20 years older than you and this still happens to me, especially around work events. People usually seem to assume I'm judging them somehow for drinking if I don't (I'm really not but they don't believe me), or that I'm uptight/unable to relax and have fun (wrong again, but they don't believe that), and yes, initiation rites also sometimes play their part.

I also don't like the taste of alcohol, and have a very low tolerance (runs in my mother's family so it's real). I tend to go from sober directly to sick pretty quickly, bypassing the "fun" stage, so I don't drink much. Also, I grew up with an alcoholic father, so drinking does not equal good childhood memories - at all.

Fortunately, my friends understand completely while I nurse one bottle of hard cider and then switch to soda or non-alcoholic beverages, or just drink soda. Work events and social events with acquaintances are harder.

I sometimes just say straight out that I come from a family of alcoholics, which sometimes shuts down people trying to persuade me to drink more. Depending on the company (does not work too well for work of course), I sometimes just say I like pot much better than alcohol - and go pot legalization initiatives! (this sometimes works to deflect attention on to the efforts to legalize pot and off my not drinking.)

Other times, I just give in and follow the time tested advice of my mother, and order a vodka drink, and then surreptitiously dump most of it and add water, and keep doing that, or "water" the plants with my drinks, or sneak off to the bathroom and dump them, or get the bartender to collude to give me club soda. I wish I had a better option for just not drinking during those events, but sometimes just saying no thanks does not seem to work.
posted by gudrun at 6:07 PM on June 16


Same here. I tell people I don't drink. I've really developed an aversion to alcohol and find it unappealing, in fact. No longer a source of fascination.

They ask why.

I tell them, " I gave it up. I'm no good at it."

They ask more. I tell them, "Among the more entertaining things I did when I drank was to tear the blue lights off a police cruiser after I wiggled out of the handcuffs."

Sometimes, this slows them down. Often, not.

Another thing you can do is insist on things you can't get. Expensive brandy. Heddy Topper IPA. Weller bourbon or Pappy Van Winkle.

But the single biggest thing to do? Just be yourself. You don't need any excuse or permission. Adults do that. Choose and walk any path desired. Your call.
posted by FauxScot at 6:25 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]


As a lifelong non-drinker, I've definitely been there.

I suspect it comes from people's issues around alcohol and guilt. We're taught to be embarrassed by our indulgences, so we describe sugary or rich foods as "naughty" and say we'll only order a dessert if somebody else shares it with us. People want not only to indulge, but to feel free of the pressure not to indulge. Thus, they want you to do it as well, so everybody's sinning together.

Basically, it's adult peer pressure. It might help you to think of it that way, so you can realise how silly people are being, laugh it off, and change the subject.
posted by Georgina at 6:26 PM on June 16 [2 favorites]


Gosh, I am just shocked. If I offered someone a drink and they said they don't drink, I'd never push a drink on them, and in fact I'd be embarrassed that I'd assumed they drink in the first place. With someone I don't know well, I try to remember to offer a range of drinks, alcoholic and non-, because even someone who drinks doesn't always drink. I mean, really, I love Brussels sprouts, but not always.

I'm so sorry this happens to all the people posting here. I'm just flabbergasted that this is an issue. Really bizarre.
posted by Capri at 6:29 PM on June 16


Lots of good answers here. Also I think that saying don't drink because you don't like the way it tastes, will strike most drinkers as insufficient because almost nobody likes the way it tastes. People drink socially for the ritual, the disinhibition, the social lubrication, the enjoyment of the buzz; and put up with the taste because of the enjoyment of the effects of the drink. And they may assume that once you come to enjoy the sensation, you too will get over your dislike of the taste.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:35 PM on June 16 [2 favorites]


One of the things I noticed since I quit drinking is how important alcohol is to many people, people who, as far as I know, do not drink alcoholically. It's like they've fetishized it in the Marxist sense, to where they think that positive things associated with drinking, like sociability, are actually in the alcohol, and that you can't have them without drinking it.
posted by thelonius at 6:37 PM on June 16 [19 favorites]


Beer wine and coffee are all considered "aquired" tastes so it is a bit different than not liking a vegetable. I hated the way beer tastes but now I'm a huge craft beer fan and sometimes I get carried away and want to share that with my non drinking friends who say they don't like the taste expecting they may have the same positive experience I did.
However I don't like to get drunk and I'm very susceptible to the effects of alcohol so that I drink between half and one full beer per outing or often not at all if I'm driving. I haven't gotten too pressured by heading it off and laughing at myself for being such a lightweight. That conveys I'm participating in their social ritual with them to the best of my ability and that I'm not judging them because I make a joke out of it. If you're OK with nursing half a glass of whatever maybe this will work for you. You should be able to not drink without pressure but let's be honest someone saying "oh no I never eat that stuff." When you offer them cake after stuffing your own face always feels off putting and judgemental (rightly or wrongly) and this is an analogous situation so you need to find a less sanctimonious way to phrase it. If you're already being gracious then yeah they're jerks...
posted by Skadi at 6:50 PM on June 16


I totally agree this is about them not being able to relax unless everyone is doing what they're doing.

As a note, I don't drink, it makes me sick. I've found that "It will make me really, really, sick" works better than "I don't drink/can't drink/don't like alcohol."

To be honest, "I don't like the taste" is probably the WORST thing to say in those situations. Because it opens up people to pressure you and ask why. But I bet they don't want you to describe how sick alcohol makes you.

This reminds me of Demetri Martin's joke. "Don't tickle me. I have diarrhea"
posted by Crystalinne at 7:07 PM on June 16 [2 favorites]


Boss' son sounds like a bully.

I've told people that the company is more important than the contents of the glass, whether I was drinking something alcoholic or not.
posted by brujita at 7:23 PM on June 16 [2 favorites]


Alcohol is different than vegetables in that it has ritualistic and spiritual purposes. Many religions (Judaism, Catholicism, to name two) use wine as part of their sacraments. People toast the bride and groom at weddings with champagne, not beet juice. Sports teams spray champagne everywhere and not Coke when they win a big game. While an office party does not have the same spiritual or cultural weight as these examples, alcohol is used as a way to mark an event as special and to bond with others. When you decline to partake, it goes against the grain.

(I'll put in the standard disclaimer here that you have the right to decline. I'm just answering your question of why it can bother some people.)

And I concur with others who've said that your response that you don't like the taste seems odd. People who don't like beer may like wine. People who don't like rum might like vodka or hard cider or whatever. If I heard that someone didn't like the taste of alcohol, it would make me think they hadn't really tried to like it and that they were close minded in this regard.
posted by Leontine at 7:27 PM on June 16 [3 favorites]


Nthing not to say that you don't like the taste, because this just does not compute to anyone who is comfortable drinking alcohol. You're not speaking the same language. Yes, I understand that you can sense the presence of alcohol in your drink using your sense of taste. But what this sounds like to a drinker is that you either think that alcohol itself has one specific distinctive flavor, or that you have not liked the types of alcoholic beverages that you have tried.

Look, there are alcoholic drinks that taste in ways that you can't imagine, that are hard to even describe, but discovering that you would find a Belgian lambic tasty, even though you don't like Czech pilsners, is not the line of argument that you're looking to open up.

It's like someone saying "I don't like the taste of fruits and vegetables. At all. And I don't want anything with fruits and vegetables in it." Uhh, any of them, including things you've never heard of, that are unlike anything you've experienced, prepared/utilized in ways that you've never imagined? "Fruits and vegetables" are not a universal enough thing to be able to write off the whole category based on "taste."

Just say that you don't drink. You don't like to consume alcohol. That's all.

And if anyone tries to split hairs about the taste, or intoxication, or the trace amounts of naturally-occurring alcohol in kombucha, or the time they saw you drink a beer two months ago, don't take the bait to push back and argue the subject, just shrug and repeat "no, thanks, no offense, I don't care of other people drink, but I don't."
posted by desuetude at 8:00 PM on June 16 [2 favorites]


With complete honesty, and with the disclaimer that I think pressuring someone to drink like how you describe is completely out of line: I have a hard time being comfortable around people who don't have a basic need to escape sobriety on at least a semi-regular basis, since whatever your moral convictions are that fact makes it apparent that we likely have basically irreconcilable world views. Maybe that's fucked up, but I think a lot of people feel similarly. It's not something you have any obligation to deal with, it just is, but I think that might be part of what's going on.
posted by invitapriore at 8:06 PM on June 16 [3 favorites]


Honestly, this is how I ended up, as a wee young thing, hanging out with the stoners at parties - because they didn't relentlessly pressure me to join in like the drinkers did.


If you don't want to lie (eg 'medication' etc). The key word is 'want'.

As in, don't say you don't like to drink, because people will try and convince you to 'like' it, because they do.

Just say, "No thanks, I don't want a drink". You can also say don't feel like it, but be pretty persistent in saying you don't want one, then - fill a cup with something vaguely alcoholic looking, and try and change the topic of conversation.
Sigh.
posted by Elysum at 8:08 PM on June 16


Say 'I'm allergic :-/' then change the subject.
posted by Sebmojo at 9:09 PM on June 16


I wouldn't pressure someone to drink (though I am sure I did in University without intending to be a bully), but non drinkers are often "un fun" to spend time with when drinking. Every now and then someone comes along who can dance the fool, listen to a stupid drunk story and laugh so hard at a punch line they spit food, all while sober. Mostly the non drinkers are just sort of THERE. Observing, looking a little bored or annoyed. I am sure they don't mean to, it's just that being around people who are a bit drunk can be tedious and they show it.

My lifestyle has changed and now I am not much of a drinker but I do my best to be as much fun as I can on the rare times I am around drinkers.
posted by saradarlin at 9:11 PM on June 16 [2 favorites]


Lord yes, I'm 20 years older than you and this still happens to me, especially around work events. People usually seem to assume I'm judging them somehow for drinking if I don't

Yep, this. Same with being a vegetarian among omnivores.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:19 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]


Everyone knows you can't trust someone who doesn't have a drink. Or at least that's what some of us are told.
posted by quadog at 12:56 AM on June 17


I have lots of non-drinker friends who are constantly being hassled by other people to drink. I do think it's most common among younger people but yeah, it never completely goes away :(

I think it's because if you're not drinking, you risk people having a nagging question in their minds about why exactly you are there. It's kind of like going to a club but not dancing, or going out for dinner but not eating. Of course drinking is not the sole purpose of social events like the ones you're describing, but for many people it is pretty core, and for a company event it's one of the primary factors distinguishing the event from work itself. Like Leontine said, drinking is ritualistic, it's spiritual, it's celebratory, it's bonding, and it's part of how we understand each other because it's full of rich signifiers. ("She's the kind of woman who drinks scotch," "He's a PBR guy," "she loves craft cocktails.") And it makes for easy smalltalk: where did that wine come from, have you ever been to Napa, yeah I like the ones from New Zealand too.

So I think that when you don't drink, the people who *are* drinking get a little suspicious, like michaelh said upthread about his friend whose colleagues thought she was spying on them for the bosses. It's interpreted as though you're withholding something, you're not willing to relax and unbend and expose more of yourself, you're not there to have fun, and so maybe you have some kind of agenda.

My own experience is that if you don't drink or don't drink much, you can get away with faking it or nursing one drink if you're with people you don't know well or don't see often. But if these are people you're going to be socializing with regularly, you need to resolve the real question in the backs of their minds, which is basically "why are you here." One thing you could do is participate enthusiastically in some other way -- like, by running the barbecue or MCing the gift exchange or bringing some kind of game. If it's a BYOB event it might also help to bring something special/indulgent that you really like --an artisanal soda or whatever-- to underscore that you're not some kind of joyless ascetic.

Also: it's almost certainly true that people are wondering if you're an alcoholic. They won't necessarily care much, but they'll be curious, and that may be why they're pressing you. It'll help them move on from wondering if, when the subject comes up, you talk easily about how you've never drunk much alcohol, never had the taste for it, etc.

I think non-drinkers in drinking cultures just basically need to do a little extra work to show they're not anti-fun, to alleviate other people's anxiety. I don't think that's necessarily fair or sensible. But this is annoying for you, so it's probably worth you doing it. Good luck!
posted by Susan PG at 1:50 AM on June 17 [6 favorites]


I more or less quit alcohol about a year ago - I drink very occasionally, but always on my own terms and when I myself feel like it.

At the same time, I stopped going to all work social functions. If it's an option for you, I recommend the same. They're shit and not at all fun anyway. Your colleagues aren't your friends. If you can swerve them, I say do so.
posted by Ted Maul at 2:36 AM on June 17 [1 favorite]


It's probably a combination of factors. I agree that people might not understand the answer that you "don't like the taste", because although a commenter said above that they don't like gin, vodka, or scotch, they are all liquor. There are many types of alcohol that taste nothing alike, and saying you don't like the taste of alcohol might sound like saying you don't like [country's] cuisine, just because there is such a wide variety, and just because you don't like sushi doesn't mean you can say with certainty rule out yakisoba, for example. That said it's still your choice not to try it if you don't want to and people don't have the right to try to bulldoze your decision.

Another reason might just be that people don't care about what your preferences are. For example, I don't wear earrings and you would be shocked at the number of people that insist that I must wear earrings, just because they say so. You (not) drinking alcohol has nothing to do with them, it doesn't affect them, they just want you to do it because they want you to do it, even if there is absolutely none of their business.
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper at 3:14 AM on June 17


There are a lot of alcoholic drinks that don't taste like alcohol at all. I tell you this not to get you to try them (I don't care if you drink), but to help you understand that people won't accept that reason. There is almost surely a drink out there that you like the taste of, and these people are takings it as a challenge.
posted by J. Wilson at 4:56 AM on June 17


Drinking is considered a vice, and some drinkers may feel defensive and want to justify their drinking, or feel awkward about a non-drinker. People like drinking, and want you to have fun, as they are. Also, some people may see 'I don't like the taste' as a problem to be solved. When you go to events where there's drinking, keep a mental list of topics so you can change the subject. Order whatever you please, don't explain, and if it comes up, "Oh, no, I don't drink" and then introduce a new subject. Sober people may recognize your ploy, that's fine, and not-sober people should be easily led to talk about the local sports team, their new project, whether cilantro is tasty or vile etc. It may take more than 1 try "Oh, lets not discuss my dislike of alcohol, it's not interesting at all, what do you think of the new company logo?"

It's appallingly rude to pressure someone to drink. There are a lot of alcoholics for whom pressure to drink is a major hazard. And even for non-alcoholics, it's just invasive.
posted by theora55 at 5:47 AM on June 17 [1 favorite]


It's interesting when you stop drinking to learn how many relationships are based only on drinking. Those aren't the kids.d of friendships I want and I'm glad to be rid of them. I mostly hang with non drinkers or very occasionally drinkers and am much happier. Then again I actively dislike drinking culture and think requiring people to be tipsy to be part of the club is wrong. in addition I think drinking to the point you're uninhibited causes many people to behave badly or carelessly and excuse it by saying they are drinking. So yeah probably me and drinkers do have irreconcilaBle differences. Some people see fun and I see potential hazards and harmful behavior, crossing people's boundaries, people will be driving themselves home after a few drinks. The whole culture promotes harmful sexual behavior, dangerous driving that costs lives. I know that some people drink without seeking a buzz but that's the point at social situations and I don't respect that kind of drinking unless a person has ensured they and the people they are drinking with are not driving, that no one is going home with some they've never been alone with who might assault them etc etc. So drinkers might think you think like I do that getting buzzed is harmful behavior as commonly practiced. Also it's totally ok for you to not like being buzzed or how others act when buzzed. But many people aren't drinking for the taste so as mentioned your reason for not drinking doesn't make sense to a lot of people. Also I get easily inebriated and taken advantage and when people want to lower my inhibitions I sed them as a potential predator or some ok be who doesn't care about my well being at all. if I'm going to drunk I'm not doing so with people who don't give a scrap about me.
posted by xarnop at 6:11 AM on June 17


I'm of the school of thought that you shouldn't say ANYTHING about WHY you don't want the drink. It just leads to discussion of the matter, and makes them argue with you, and who needs that? Just keep saying "No, thank you," and nothing else, over and over and over and over again. Eventually they'll get bored or fall asleep because they've been drinking so much.
posted by JanetLand at 6:28 AM on June 17 [1 favorite]


Ugh, I hate feeling pressure to drink.

I once worked for a small drinking company with a software problem, and I really didn't fit in with the corporate culture. Their "mandatory weekly engineering meeting" was held every Thursday afternoon and rotated between four different bars near the office. The meeting consisted of talking shop for a maximum of five minutes followed by filling the rest of the hour with social banter and drinking. My boss made it clear that there was "no pressure to drink!" but I truly believe he was saying that merely as a legal CYA should anyone try and claim they were pressured to drink.

I'm not against having *ONE* beer with co-workers as a social thing, but I'm a lightweight, and the pressure to drink more than I know I can handle was unbearable; I hated it. I had co-workers at that company who didn't drink at all, and I really felt bad for them, particularly considering that *I* felt pressure.

These guys would also have at least two drinks if we went out to lunch, there was a mini fridge stocked with beer under my boss's desk, my boss and the IT manager brought flasks on the train home and constantly wanted to share with me... and to top it off, our non-customer-facing servers were all named after different brands of whiskey.

The drinking culture was one of many reasons I left that job.

How I handled it was to just adamantly say "No, thank you" when I was done, as many times as it was necessary (and sometimes to the point of personal annoyance). Eventually they got the hint that I had a one drink maximum. It sucks having to push back, but eventually it works. I think it would have been harder for me had I not drank at all, but I still would have kept to the same strategy.

You do not need to give a reason. "I don't want to" is good enough. Don't lie about medication, or about AA, or about anything like that that makes it so you CAN'T drink, unless it isn't, in fact, a lie.

I've found that people who drink a lot just don't understand how people who don't drink or don't drink much don't enjoy drinking or being drunk. I think they assume "oh, s/he just hasn't had a positive drunk experience yet" and then take it as a personal mission to show you how fun it is. I guess I can understand that. I have hobbies and activities that I enjoy that I find myself sometimes trying to convince other people how fun they are, when in fact the activity holds no interest for them.

I back off when I see the activity holds no interest; I don't understand why drinkers can't seem to take the hint.
posted by tckma at 7:08 AM on June 17 [2 favorites]


I get my own drink and have a tonic water with a twist of lime. It looks just like a gin and tonic.

You have to deal with the 'I'll get you another one' problem, but it's easy enough to nurse the fake g&t along and avoid it.

Honestly I think that the pressure to drink comes from people feeling guilty about drinking. If everyone drinks then it's not bad, so if you don't drink you're bringing the judgement down on the whole group. If you have something they can believe is a drink then you are not causing the Spectre of Teetotalism to hover over their little party.
posted by winna at 7:16 AM on June 17 [3 favorites]


As a non-drinker myself, I know where you're coming from. I usually tell a story on myself, and then change the subject, "Oh, you know, I stop at one now, you're not going to catch me doing shots off the ice sculpture...again! How 'bout them Dawgs!"

I agree that if you say you don't like it, that people will try to find one you DO like. Husbunny didn't grow up around alcohol, so if anyone asks he says, "I grew up in a dry county and I never aquired the taste. I LOVE Mountain Dew though, so clearly my taste buds are shit."

As for drinking games, I think that once you stop wearing Greek letters on your sweatshirt, that those are passe. Just laugh and say, "I wish I could, but I'm driving."

I think some people are concerned you're judging them, so don't say anything negative. Others are just curious because they don't have an issue and can control themselves, and don't get that different people have different capacities and different tastes.

I find that if you don't make a big deal, most people won't either. So be sure to always have something in your hand, so that no one is noticing you actively not drinking. Carry a bottle of mineral water with a cocktail napkin wrapped around the label, ginger ale with lime is pretty good decoy as well. Or just a coke, with a wedge of lime. It's more to keep people from asking, rather than actual subterfuge. An empty hand is an invitation to questions. So have your one when the host offers it, and then be sure to get your liquid refill of choice yourself as the party progresses.

You don't want people to notice you 'not-drinking'. If they don't then no one will say anything.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:28 AM on June 17 [1 favorite]


I have found that this has been less of a deal in my life since I stopped responding with, "I don't drink," and started just saying no thank you to the specific drink being offered. "I don't drink" invites curiosity. A cheerful, "No thanks, I'm good," doesn't seem to in the same way.
posted by not that girl at 7:43 AM on June 17 [6 favorites]


This thread is such a weird read for me. Who are these people who feel so guilty about drinking that they can't stand to do it unless everyone else is?

I don't insist on everyone having a drink, but I'm sure I've pressed the point before when I was drinking something I really liked. Ultimately when you really love a food or drink and think it's delicious, it's natural to want to share it. And it's a little insulting to feel like you've offered someone something really special and they won't even try it because of a prejudice against a whole category of food.

I don't eat meat as a rule, but I will try a bit of anything once. I've eaten lots of really weird stuff that plenty of omnivores I know would never try. And in some cases, I was genuinely glad I tried those things, even if I was sure I'd never eat them again.
posted by town of cats at 10:57 AM on June 17


Just seconding Susan G --- drinking is a social ritual. We gather together as a group to imbibe a drug specifically intending to loosen our normal inhibitions and bond together more closely as a group. That's why there's such a thing as after-work drinks (and why more inhibited cultures can be some of the hardest drinkers). When someone makes a point of abstaining, you're not just rejecting the drug, you 're refusing to participate in the ritual. It indicates to people that you either fear becoming less inhibited in their presence or don't want to bond with the group. It's a snub, a rejection, the same as not shaking someone's proffered hand or refusing to hug someone who opens their arms to you.


With booze there's a number of socially acceptable reasons that can get you out of it, as others have mentioned. But if you just straight reject people are always going to look askance at you.
posted by Diablevert at 12:36 PM on June 17 [1 favorite]


I once had a friend who lived in a remote African village and was the token Westerner. Every sunday he would get woken by housemates trying to get him to go to church. He was bought up in a weird religion and so swung very against religion. No one could grasp the non religion thing so in the end he just caved and said he was part of a religion that was only in his country.

Felt like he was selling he's soul a bit but did the job. Sometimes you just have to give a bit of concrete b.s there isn't a come back to.. especially with very pushy types.
posted by tanktop at 1:36 PM on June 17


I just wanted to say to the disbelievers (even in this very thread!) that this is a real phenomenon. I have sampled all kinds of drinks many times over the years and I can conclusively say that alcohol tastes disgusting to me.

I also agree that anything that invites a conversation or negotiation about why you don't drink will get you nowhere. Be non-specific (i.e. I don't drink) and don't engage in any further discussion of why, or engage in some level of dishonesty.
posted by O9scar at 2:03 PM on June 17 [5 favorites]


Who are these people who feel so guilty about drinking that they can't stand to do it unless everyone else is?

Alcoholic alpha males and their lieutenants, in my experience. I like desuetude's answer -- saying you don't like the taste is a red herring. Nobody likes the taste, at least at first -- you get used to it if you like the effect. But we non-drinkers don't like the effects, in particular the loss of control and inhibitions (and later on, the hangovers.) But the drinkers are all about this loss of inhibition, they like that, they want that, and if you're with them during happy hour, they expect you to become all sloppy and uninhibited as well.
posted by Rash at 2:24 PM on June 17 [1 favorite]


I think this Succeed Socially article might shed some light on this phenomenon. I used to be a teetotaler for a long time and honestly, a lot of it was fear (what if I lose control of myself and look stupid) judgement (these other people need to drink to have fun because they're less interesting than I am, also they're preppy party people and I'm a nerd and smart and responsible) and "not liking the taste" which basically meant I knew nothing about different types of drinks and didn't bother to try to learn. Now I'm not a big drinker- and my boyfriend doesn't drink and I certainly don't give him a hard time about it- so I'm not one of those pressuring people. But drinking is fun and my general opinion of my past self is that I was too inhibited. Drinking responsibly with a group of all nerds probably changed my mind about it more than anything else, TBH.
posted by quincunx at 3:24 PM on June 17


Alcoholic alpha males and their lieutenants, in my experience.

I'd say, not even necessarily full-blown alcoholics (wherever that line actually is), but people who drink a lot as a lifestyle and, at some level, are worried about it, and who want to think that there is nothing out of the ordinary about their consumption. You really see this when people get sober and their drinking friends freak out and try to persuade them that they don't have a problem, though, which is kind of a different situation than OP's.
posted by thelonius at 4:00 PM on June 17 [1 favorite]


Nobody likes the taste, at least at first -- you get used to it if you like the effect.

This is not true. I have witnesses who can attest that I liked my very first sip of beer (non-sweet, grain-flavored soda? Yes please). It took me about two glasses of wine to acquire a taste for it. The effect had nothing to do with it - these are complex flavors and you don't necessarily taste their depth the first time. To many people who enjoy fine alcoholic beverages of all stripes, intoxication is a side effect of the act of consuming something delicious. I've had glasses of wine that I remember years later. It can be a sensory experience rivaling the best meals, music, art, anything.

Sorry, alcohol haters. There is not a vast conspiracy of people choking down things they don't like to taste because they love being drunk. If there were we'd all just be drinking vodka. It's vastly more efficient than wine or beer at achieving the desired effect. Cheaper, too, in many cases.

I get that teetotalers are coming out of the woodwork to participate in this thread. I'm sorry that you feel marginalized and annoyed - again, I don't eat meat and I have experienced this same phenomenon with avowed meat-lovers so many times. But for every jerk who's trying to control you and police your social interactions consider that there may be a wine or beer lover whose heart is genuinely in the right place.

Imagine that you were with a friend outside a museum and wanted to buy them a ticket to go look at a painting you love and how you'd feel if they said, "Meh, I don't care for art." The notion sounds ridiculous. ALL of art?! You won't even look, if I'm the one paying?? How can you be sure you don't like art if you've never even seen this, the best painting ever? Won't you even peek?
posted by town of cats at 4:56 PM on June 17 [1 favorite]


But that's just it: why is someone else's opinion more valid, whether it's about viewing art or eating meat or drinking alcohol? Just as a vegetarian or an artlover has expressed their choice, nondrinkers like me have also made our choice, and --- like the vegetarian and the artlover --- it is rude for other people to basically insist they know better when it comes to our life's decisions.
posted by easily confused at 5:44 PM on June 17 [5 favorites]


But for every jerk who's trying to control you and police your social interactions consider that there may be a wine or beer lover whose heart is genuinely in the right place.

If their heart is in the right place then they won't be nagging a recovering alcoholic to have a drink that will inevitably end in a dozen glasses of drinks.

They may not know that so it's unfair to think they're jerks, you say? Well, just pretend that everyone who says no to alcohol is a recovering alcoholic and quit nagging.
posted by winna at 6:33 AM on June 19 [2 favorites]


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