How to become a non-drinker?
August 17, 2009 4:46 PM   Subscribe

I just started a long-term medication (bupropion, for ADD) that interacts very, very badly with alcohol. I don't miss the booze itself, but not being able to drink throws all sorts of monkey wrenches into my social life. I need advice on how to be a non-drinker in the drinkingest town in the United States, New York City... where the default activity for any occaision is going out for a drink.

  • What do I tell people? I've tried being vague ("I'm taking some medication... it's a long story.") but people always ask what I'm taking. You might say that's rude, but telling every new friend or date that they're rude isn't a viable option. How can I handle the question while hopefully communicating these points:
    • I'm not judging you for drinking. I wish I could drink, too!
    • It's not because I have a terrible secret. It's not because I'm "crazy". It's not because I'm uptight.
    • I don't want to get into too many details.

  • What are some non-alcoholic drinks that won't draw undue attention to themselves?

  • I often hear things like, "I must seem so drunk to you!" or, "You must think we're all so drunk and sloppy!" How can I put people at ease?

  • Bonus question: I'm on the fence about attending Burning Man for the first time this year. If you've been, how much would being stone-cold sober affect my experience?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (42 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I went totally sober to Burning Man. I'm not a real frequent drinker/drug taker, but situations didn't conspire to have me drinking &c. at the event. There are a lot of people who are also not drinking though they may be taking drugs or who knows. Generally speaking -- and this was a while ago so times may have changed -- I found it to be an easier place to not be drinking than just hanging around at home. You could even bring alcohol and swap it for something you would like, like ice cream or some interesting trinket. While there is some social pressure to be doing something interesting, no one pays too much attention to what you're imbibing, I've found.

people always ask what I'm taking.

"Something that helps my brain work better" or something. You don't have to tell people that they're being rude, but on the other hand you're under no obligation to answer them either. It's also totally okay to even be more vague and say you've decided to lay off drinking for a while because it tends to invite fewer invasive questions.

As far as what you can drink: tonic with lime is decent, basically anything in a highball glass with ice [ginger ale, club soda, cranberry juice] is a decent substitute.
posted by jessamyn at 4:51 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

1) If you volunteer to be the designated driver (or if taking public transport, the designated thinker/navigator) people will generally be too grateful to hassle you.

Also, you can just say, "Alcohol makes me ill" and leave it at that. Most people won't persist, if they do, change the subject (drunks are easily distracted).

2) Nonalcoholic beer, soda and lime, cranberry juice, etc. all look like alcoholic drinks but aren't.

3) Act a little happy/sloppy too. Just because you're sober doesn't mean you can't still let their mood and frivolity rub off on you.
posted by Jacqueline at 4:53 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

What are some non-alcoholic drinks that won't draw undue attention to themselves?

Cranberry juice, OJ, ginger ale, coke, mineral water, water, and on and on. Jessamyn's suggested drink is right on the money.

I often hear things like, "I must seem so drunk to you!" or, "You must think we're all so drunk and sloppy!" How can I put people at ease?

Loosen up and have fun. If they're saying that, it's not because you're not drinking. It's because you're acting like you're not drinking.
posted by The World Famous at 5:02 PM on August 17, 2009

What do I tell people?

Tell them you're pregnant.

This works especially well if you're male-- people tend to get the "Oh, I guess that was none of my business" hint.
posted by dersins at 5:04 PM on August 17, 2009 [16 favorites]

I don't drink, thanks.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:06 PM on August 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

This is one of those situations where I feel like being vague/mysterious makes it a bigger deal than it is. I wouldn't say anything, but when/if it came up, I'd go with a low-key version of the truth. i.e. "I'm taking a new ADD med, so I'm not really drinking right now."

If your circle of friends is rowdy/citified enough that most social events revolve around drinking, I can't imagine that taking an ADD med would put you at all outside the norm (either prescription or recreationally.) I can't imagine there would be any stigma or raised eyebrows.

My only worry is that people would want to discuss what me they're on, compare it to their own, and argue about whether the drinking prohibition was absolute.

Still, though, I think understated, accurate disclosure is the right answer, especially, for dates. I'd much rather know that my date is taking ADD meds, than (rightly or wrongly) wonder what was up because of non-drinking and vague allusions. Schizophrenia, Hepatitis, mange, rabies, swine flu, etc. It would make me nosy/nervous.

(Alternatively, you can just tell people that you don't drink, but that might be a little more complicated with people you already know, or with people you're getting to know, but want to explain that your not-drinking is temporary/not a moral choice.)
posted by mercredi at 5:09 PM on August 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'm curious about the buproprion and alcohol mix for you. When I took buproprion in the past, I could drink on it, though it did have some effects and I wouldn't want to get blazingly drunk on the mixture. I was cautioned by my doc that mixing it with alcohol can increase the risk of seizure (which would be, um, bad), but two drinks or so is acceptable. Especially if you take the pill in the morning and drink in the evening. Obviously, if you are a wreck after one sip, stay away from the booze, and don't drive until you know exactly how impairing the combination is for you, but you might, in consultation with your doctor, be able to drink in moderation. Being a non-drinker stands out a lot more than being a moderate drinker. And since you want to drink, that might be the best option for you.

IANAD of course. Talk to your doc before you do anything stupid. Be careful. All that good stuff. Just know that, at least in my experience, bupriprion+1 drink != doom.
posted by zachlipton at 5:19 PM on August 17, 2009

I've been taking 100 mg of buproprion in the morning for a few years, and I haven't noticed that I'm any different when I'm drinking, even if I have a few too many.
posted by Evangeline at 5:28 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

What do I tell people?

I don't think what you tell people is probably as important as how you tell them. I've had periods of my life where, for personal reasons that I too did not care to discuss, I stopped drinking altogether. When asked, in social situations, I would usually respond with some variation of, "Meh, I'm not feeling like it," or, "I'm taking a break," but in a way that would impart the idea of, "Whatever, I'm not drinking, but hey, drink up. We're at a bar, aren't we?" Maybe make attempts to move the conversation on after that, basically indicating that you're not drinking, but you don't otherwise think it's worth a second thought.

What are some non-alcoholic drinks that won't draw undue attention to themselves?

In a bar, juice or cola of just about any kind is going to look no different than an alcoholic beverage to anyone else.

I often hear things like, "I must seem so drunk to you!"

This is another situation where you should just be nonchalant and play it off. People who ask those sorts of questions are feeling a bit self-conscious of how you might judge them while they're drinking. Just make it clear to them that you're enjoying spending time with them, and still find them entertaining, etc.

I'm on the fence about attending Burning Man

Burning Man is a pretty intense physical experience (because of the elements), and I've personally found that I don't generally want to be too far off my mental game anyway when I'm there. I know others approach it differently, but either way I can say from my own experience that people are a lot less likely to care what you are or are not doing there than in other social experiences you're describing. Let's face it: when everyone's walking around through a dust storm with goggles and masks on, they're not generally spending too much time trying to ascertain what state of mind you're in.
posted by Brak at 5:32 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've been on buproprion on the past, and am now on Baclofen - and both of those drugs are nonos with alcohol. (Especially the Baclofen.) Consequently, I don't drink at all.

Most of my friends know why I don't drink, and I don't get bothered by them. Others ask, and I'm up front about it - it reacts badly with some meds I'm on. They usually don't press, and I don't volunteer. However, I don't go to a lot of social events at bars, so YMMV.
posted by spinifex23 at 5:33 PM on August 17, 2009

I drink pineapple juice, and act a little more silly than usual. I don't know if it works this way in NYC, but I generally get my non-alcoholic drinks for free. I assume it's some sort of policy to reward designated drivers.
posted by Stylus Happenstance at 5:42 PM on August 17, 2009

funny, i'm with the other people on buproprion (XL 300mg daily) who also drink. i'm petite, female, but can still handle my ~3 drink limit, although sometimes, the *other* effects of alcohol does sometimes counteract the reason for my taking the buproprion. *heh*

but that's not what you're asking.

both the substitute drink and playing it off idea have worked for me before. personal recommendations are the non-alcoholic ingredients of your fav drink (in my case, either tonic and lime, or cranberry and sweet lime). or the "it doesn't agree with me but drink up" line.
posted by vaguelyweird at 5:59 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't worry about New York. There are always tons of people not drinking. Pregnant women, recovering alcoholics, people on medication, people who don't like to drink. It's no big deal.
posted by musofire at 6:03 PM on August 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

In general I'm for being out and disrespecting the stigma against mental health drugs. If it's for a one off occasion, you can always say something silly and obviously not true like, "After the vodka this morning, I really need a break!" It's basically a polite way of saying you don't feel like it that doesn't seem to cast any judgment on anyone else. If they say something about being drunk, just tell them they're getting more charming. But with people you drink with regularly, you shouldn't need to make excuses and it doesn't benefit anyone in the end.
posted by Salamandrous at 6:05 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

As another person very often in bars and at party and very rarely drinking:

1) get whatever you would get with vodka or whiskey, only without the vodka or whiskey -- it will usually come in the same sort of glass and look the same.

2) To people who aren't going to find out (usually random guys, or friends of friends), I lie and tell them it's alcohol, even if it's not. It's just easier.

3) Say "oh, I'm driving", even if by that you just mean in general, you have the ability to, and suppose you might at some point...

4) Act like it's no big deal. Don't say "I'm on medication," say "oh, not tonight," with a shrug and move on. If you don't think it's a big deal, maybe they won't either.

5) It took my friends a little while to learn that it's just what I do, and that I'm not not drinking because of some weird moral thing (frankly, it is almost entirely that I don't especially like the taste), but now that they know, they care less and less. As long are you're not being high-and-mighty about it, mostly people don't care.
posted by brainmouse at 6:10 PM on August 17, 2009

I don't know if it works this way in NYC, but I generally get my non-alcoholic drinks for free.

It depends. Some places will charge you next to nothing, other places will still charge you $3 for a tonic with lime. I'd say it even just depends on the bartender, not on the bar itself.

I was recently at a bar where I ordered a plain soda water because my stomach was feeling funny, and the girl tried to charge me $5 for it. This wasn't a bottle of Pellegrino or anything -- she filled the glass from the nozzle in plain sight. I told her I wouldn't give her more than three, and she looked uneasily over at her boss, who was regarding me cautiously as though I might snap and start tossing chairs at any moment. The manager nodded, I gave them three and no tip, and left five minutes later.

So yeah, it depends.

Generally drunk people won't fixate on whether you're drinking too for more than a few seconds. Just try not to bring attention to yourself, and do what you can to rise to the occasion and roll with everyone else's groove. Whether or not you've been drinking, that convivial spirit of intoxication can be contagious if you allow yourself to relax and enjoy yourself.
posted by hermitosis at 6:12 PM on August 17, 2009

Almost this exact set of circumstances befell me a few months back - new long-term treatment with strong disincentives toward alcohol consumption. Before, I'd been well known in my circle of friends for both my alcohol tolerance and my avidity in testing it. Since stopping, though, if anyone notices, no matter what I say (usually some variation on "on medicine, can't drink" unless it's someone I know well enough to give the full story) it's not an issue at all two minutes later.

What to order? The suggestions above are all solid. I like to order things, when I'm at a friendly bar, that I couldn't otherwise get: ginger ale with sour mix, orange juice on the rocks with a splash of grenadine, etc. Even if they don't charge you, tip - heck, tip double if they don't charge you. That'll make those weird, non-profitable drink requests go a lot easier, and you may soon find that they'll have your drink ready for you once you walk in the door (ymmv).

As far as Burning Man (or any other large gathering with lots of intoxication) goes, if you feel like you'd be more comfortable not-sober, there's plenty of things out there to get not-sober on that are safer and possibly even more enjoyable than alcohol.
posted by jtron at 6:17 PM on August 17, 2009

Well, I'm another buproprion taker who drinks. I've never had any problems with it, minus the whole...uh...counteracting what it's supposed to do...heh...

Obviously IANAD, but the seizure thing, from what I understand, is pretty rare and even rarer if you don't have a history of seizures and 2) mostly it just makes you more drunk...outside of the whole alcohol makes you more depressed thing, I think a lot of the 'don't drink when you're taking buproprion' thing is covering one's ass. Then again, maybe I'm just reckless and nuts. What can I say.

But if you're dead set against drinking, I wouldn't hassle with trying to pretend like you are drinking when your out. Just say you're not drinking. I go out all the time with people who don't drink and they just say so. You don't have to mention the meds at all.

And hey, you're in NYC - so not drinking? Man, you're going to able to like buy a brownstone on 72nd with the money you're gonna save (I'm a former New Yorker who once paid $13 for a red stripe...because it was the cheapest beer there).
posted by Lutoslawski at 6:51 PM on August 17, 2009

You'll have to make light of it rather than deflect the question if you don't want it to be a big deal. I love the male pregnancy idea. Or you could tell them that you just did crack and you don't want to dull your high. Perhaps tell them that your mother was trampled by the Budweiser kleidsdales.

Then when they look at you like you are crazy, smile and say that you don't always drink when you go out. It's nothing personal, and you like drinking, but you are there for the company not the booze!

Also, I concur on the ADD honesty. 99% of people will say "maaaan that sucks" and the othe 1% will say "yeah, I think I have ADD too." were not talking about admitting to serial killer tendencies here.
posted by greekphilosophy at 6:52 PM on August 17, 2009

Just say you're on antibiotics or something. You can't control what people think about you, they might think you're uptight no matter what. Oh well.

Cranberry vodka, sans vodka. Healthy! Or any sort of soda with a cherry. You can usually get mojitos without alcohol, ask them to put sprite in instead of rum. They might get pissy but oh well. It is yummy.

The proper response to "we must seem so drunk" is to laugh and change the subject. They will get over it once they get used to you.
posted by kathrineg at 6:59 PM on August 17, 2009

Oh, and I have the ADD, I wouldn't necessarily be going around telling people about it. I have definitely had mixed reactions.
posted by kathrineg at 7:00 PM on August 17, 2009

And by that I mean that if there's any chance you ever want to use them to get you a job, don't tell them
posted by kathrineg at 7:01 PM on August 17, 2009

"I'm taking some medication that I'm not supposed to drink with."
"Oh, really? What is it?"
"Seriously, I don't want to bore you with my stupid medical chit-chat. Let's save that for when we're 80 or something."
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:16 PM on August 17, 2009

I got a lot of great drink suggestions with my Askme post a few months ago.
posted by saffry at 7:21 PM on August 17, 2009

What do I tell people? I've tried being vague ("I'm taking some medication... it's a long story.") but people always ask what I'm taking.

I've found that "Eh, nothing interesting," with a dismissive hand wave and change of subject usually works.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:53 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you are female, you might want to avoid cranberry juice. There are men out there who think you're drinking it for a reason and never mind that the sugary cranberry juice cocktail you get in bars is only marginally effective for that reason.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 8:41 PM on August 17, 2009

There are men out there who think you're drinking it for a reason

Are you saying that there are men who see a woman drinking cranberry juice and think "Oh, she has a urinary tract infection" and avoid her or lose interest?

Because that seems like an extraordinarily effective douchefilter to me. If I'm ever single again, it's going to be Cape Codders forever.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:48 PM on August 17, 2009 [13 favorites]

I took Zyban (bupropion under a different label, 150 mg , if I recall correctly) for smoking cessation, and while my alcohol use decreased (because drinking makes me want to smoke, so I was less often in bars), I didn't stop drinking.
posted by orthogonality at 9:19 PM on August 17, 2009

I don't drink due to a rather severe alcohol intolerance (glass of wine = woozily hunched over the toilet, praying for a merciful death), and I've found that the non-drinking thing really depends on the crowd you're with. I'd say a good 80% of the time, it'll be a non-issue. The other 20% will kind of suck, because no matter what you say, people will either be too fixated on your reasons for not drinking ("OMG, you poor thing! How do you survive?!"), think you're a recovering alcoholic (Hey, good for you!"), or, probably the most common, think that you're secretly judging them ("Oh, yeah, I don't drink very much either."). These people usually mean well, but they still kinda suck. Just remember, life goes on without booze, but because life can also be awkward, here are some handy tips:

1. Always have a drink in your hand; not imbibing is a good way to call unwanted attention to your "dry" status.

2. Avoid comment by drinking something that looks boozy; I like ginger ale or club soda with a little cranberry and lime if I'm feeling fancy.

3. But do NOT order anything "virgin"; people start jumping to all kinds of weird conclusions (I once had someone ask me if I was Mormon because I had a virgin margarita).

4. Don't make it a big deal; a nonchalant "Nah, I feel like a Coke," can go a long way.

5. Don't act mysterious; if your explanation is too vague, people will morph into the Scooby Gang trying to solve The Mystery of the Non-Drinker. The more bland and straightforward the explanation, the better.

5. A little envy goes a long way, but a little resentment does not; acting like you wish you could have a beer sometimes helps put people at ease if they're acting weird around you, but acting frustrated because you can't does not.

6. Remember to smile; if people are acting silly and happy around you, relax and go with the flow, think of it like a contact high and you'll enjoy yourself more.
posted by Diagonalize at 9:20 PM on August 17, 2009 [3 favorites]

Wow, my inability to count leads me to believe I'd fail a sobriety test.
posted by Diagonalize at 9:21 PM on August 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

As a somewhat picky eater, I have developed a magical all-purpose phrase for situations where I wish to publicly decline a foodstuff: "I'm allergic." I've used it for everything from beer (I just don't like beer - is that so wrong?) to potluck pasta salad of a dubious consistency.

Sometimes people will say "Really?" (Because indeed it may seem improbable that someone could be allergic to their rhubarb casserole which they handmade with such loving care.) I smile sadly, shrug as if to say "Whatcha gonna do?" then change the subject. Works every time.
posted by ErikaB at 9:58 PM on August 17, 2009

It sounds like there are times when you don't want to get into the whole story. If it's a bunch of you someplace where you order at the bar, sending the rest of the party off to grab seats while you arrange for the drinks means you don't have to order in front of people. You can collect money for it afterward or just buy the round. Nurse it for a while, and then switch to something non-alcoholic for the next round or two, and usually after that people aren't paying attention to your drinks any more. Most people assume I'm a lightweight; it helps that I'm Asian and we're pretty famously at high risk for an acetaldehyde dehydrogenase deficiency.

Under no circumstances should you claim not to like the taste of alcohol, as that will immediately precipitate a search for a drink where "you can't taste it". Even people so drunk they need both hands to hold onto the floor, will have no trouble remaining focused on this quest.
posted by d. z. wang at 10:23 PM on August 17, 2009

I'm a native New Yorker and I never drink more than one or two, and way more often than not, I don't drink at all. Part of the reason is that a lot of alcohol tastes absolutely foul to me (a supertaster), but also I have no interest in being intoxicated. I only drink anything (alcoholic or non) for the taste.

Try inviting people out for coffee, to concerts/performances, for ice cream/cupcakes, to a movie -- basically try taking socializing out of the bar a little more. Or just drink juices like cranberry or pineapple. But honestly, like someone said above, nobody will really pay too much attention, especially after they've started drinking.
posted by cmgonzalez at 11:00 PM on August 17, 2009

ErikaB - that's terrible. As someone who has a life threatening food allergy, I hate it when people assume that because they hear this excuse so often, surely I'm not really allergic after all and a little bit of the food I can't eat won't kill me.

I take breaks from drinking now and then. If it ever comes up, I can just say I'm taking a break, detoxing, whatever. But it rarely does. Few people actually care. In my circle, where one 'shouts' the whole group, there may be some enthusiasm, since you'll be costing your friends less!
posted by wingless_angel at 12:00 AM on August 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

I love designated drivers! I wouldn't hide it, I would volunteer. Bound to make you popular, at least in some crowds.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 2:22 AM on August 18, 2009

I live in New York City and I don't drink or very very rarely drink. As long as you're having fun and having an engaging conversation, people almost never notice. Unless they're insecure and need other people to be drunk in order to enjoy themselves.
posted by orville sash at 7:04 AM on August 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

You're driving tonight. And tomorrow night, and the next night...

I've been a teetotaler by preference for my entire adult life here in NYC. And, as long as I'm driving home, no one ever questions why I'm not drinking.

It helps that all my friends know and understand that I don't like alcohol. But, I've been enjoying the role of designated driver for many years now, and no one ever thinks any less of me for it.
posted by Citrus at 9:25 AM on August 18, 2009

I live in NYC and don't like to drink till wasted nearly as much as my friends, but they rarely notice because I always order a soda and lime.

It looks just like a gin and tonic and no one is the wiser.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 10:35 AM on August 18, 2009

As for burning man, I have a friend who doesn't drink at all, or take any other drugs because of a complicated past with him+drugs. He still goes to burning man, volunteers in their post office, and has a great time.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 10:38 AM on August 18, 2009

I'm not much of a drinker, so that's what I say. "I'm not much of a drinker." Or alternatively, "I'm not much of a drinker. " Pause briefly. "Anymore."

As for Burning Man, the entire time I was there last year I only had a puff of this and a shot of that. Combined with the heat and long day, I was dead asleep (and happily so) within a few minutes. Other than that, being sober on the playa 99.9% of the time didn't seem to impact my experience at all.

On my right, Neighbor #1 came stumbling back in the middle of a raging dust storm. I'm not sure what he was on, but he was pretty incoherent, vomiting, and at one point probably unconscious. Frankly, he could probably have used some medical care. Good thing he came with his parents, who took care of him.

On my left, Neighbors #2 & #3 were so drunk they passed out and slept through the17-hour dust storm.
posted by HeyAllie at 12:25 PM on August 18, 2009

Re: burning man

You'd be surprised at how little most people drink there, I suspect. During the day it's incredibly hot, so doing things that dehydrate you is generally not a great plan. Not to say I don't do it, but no one will think you're weird, or probably even ask you why you're not drinking.

I've seen a lot of drug use at burning man, but it would be very unusual for someone to pressure you into doing something. (i've never seen it) The most you'll likely encounter is an offer, to which a simple "no, thanks" will suffice.
posted by darkshade at 3:50 PM on August 18, 2009

I don't know anything about bupropion, and whether it's a pill you need to take regularly for full effect, but I didn't take my ADD drugs at all at Burning Man, except on arrival day and departure day. It's not like I needed to be focused or controlled.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 9:56 PM on April 5, 2010

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