No thanks, I don't drink. Um, what's wrong with that?
April 21, 2010 1:53 PM   Subscribe

Why are some people ashamed to say "I don't drink"?

I don't drink alcohol. It doesn't play well with my crazy meds. I say it all the time. I used to drink. I used to drink a lot, but I haven't had a drink in coming on six years. No biggie... I don't drink.

I still go to parties - I have Diet Coke, or coffee, or water, or sumthin'. And bars have no problem serving soda, juice, or water, they make money either way.

If someone asks me why I don't drink, I tell them. I don't understand why some people (friends of mine) refuse to say they don't drink. They pretend the soda has alcohol in it, or they'll order virgin drinks at bars so they'll *look* like they're drinking. I asked them, and they say they're too embarrassed but they couldn't explain why. It's a mystery.

Am I missing something? Is there a social stigma attached to being a non-drinker? I'm a little dense about these things - everyone around me knows I have bipolar too because I don't care what they think. So, someone help me understand.
posted by patheral to Society & Culture (80 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
no one wants people to think they're a stick in the mud square. it's the same reason kids pretend to take drags on cigarettes behind the gym.
posted by nadawi at 1:54 PM on April 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you say you don't drink, people will often times take that to mean you're an alcoholic.
posted by dortmunder at 1:55 PM on April 21, 2010 [11 favorites]

Because of the social stigma. Saying you don't drink makes drinkers uncomfortable and people would rather not have to explain why they don't drink.
posted by gjc at 1:57 PM on April 21, 2010 [7 favorites]

Someone might make the inference from that statement that the tea totaller is Mormon.
posted by yoyoceramic at 1:58 PM on April 21, 2010

It's possible the people drinking virgin actually like what they're drinking, not because they're trying to fool you.
posted by sageleaf at 1:58 PM on April 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Drinking alcohol, versus abstaining, is perceived to be the norm. Many people don't want to be perceived to deviate from the norm. Not everyone is as secure in themselves as you seem to be.
posted by owtytrof at 1:58 PM on April 21, 2010

Might not be shame - could be that there's some advantage to having people thinking that you're drinking when you're really not.
posted by jquinby at 1:58 PM on April 21, 2010

Because there's a ton of stigma against drunks. If people say "I don't drink," people's first thoughts is "Oh they used to have a problem," and all the stereotypes that it entails. You have a sociably acceptable reason to not drink, you're on crazy meds. The implication being that if you're no the meds you'd be drinking.

People hide and fake it for the same reason people stay in the closet.
posted by geoff. at 2:03 PM on April 21, 2010

I once worked for a man who actually said to me, "I don't trust a man who doesn't drink." He had issues.
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 2:05 PM on April 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think the embarrassment stems from the assumption that they're not drinking because they "have issues", and it's embarrassing to know or think that other people are thinking that about you.
posted by amethysts at 2:05 PM on April 21, 2010

Best answer: "Because it doesn't play well with my meds" is a "legitimate" reason to not drink: not many people will respond by teasing you or trying to persuade you to try whatever drink they think would convert you to alcohol.

But for people who just don't, because they don't like the taste, or because they don't like being drunk, or whatever, this isn't the case. For these people (I was one for five or six years), saying that they don't drink means risking yet another tedious conversation where people ask them why, and have you ever had alcohol, and how do you know you won't like it, and what about champagne, and would you like to try a sip, and a whole host of other boring conversations and jokes.

It's tedious and tiring and, yes, a bit embarrassing, because suddenly your behaviour is the centre of attention and you either have to change it, defend it good-humouredly, or come across as hostile and unfriendly.
posted by severalbees at 2:06 PM on April 21, 2010 [39 favorites]

Well supposedly the proper response is "I'm not having any today" because making the statement that you don't drink at all is a) too much information and b) inherently implies a moral judgement in favour of temperance and against all the drinkers present.

A makes sense to me, B doesn't. But that's how drinkers tend to take it IME. Given that drinking is the norm, I don't understand why people are so defensive about it, but there you go.
posted by tel3path at 2:07 PM on April 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

It's almost impossible to say you don't drink without having to sit through a barrage of follow-up questions. It's often not a question of "wrong", but more like "tiresome".
posted by eamondaly at 2:07 PM on April 21, 2010 [5 favorites]

Drinking is a social norm in a bar.
posted by fire&wings at 2:08 PM on April 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

When I took my brother around the town for his 21st birthday, his friends were incredibly angry that I wasn't drinking. Explaining that you're not a former alcoholic and that you just don't want any is an awkward conversation for someone with beer in hand. Still, these guys had inferred some moral judgement against them from my not drinking.

But generally, when someone else goes to the length of pretending to drink, I'd say it's former alcoholism. Society treats addiction as a weakness and sin. Plus, when you consider how hard it is to walk home from the bar in most towns, it's almost an admission of drunk driving which can carry mandatory jail time.
posted by pwnguin at 2:09 PM on April 21, 2010

Best answer: I don't drink, and while I'm certainly not embarrassed about it, there is definitely a social stigma attached to being a non-drinker.

Occasionally when someone finds out I'm a non-drinker, I'll get a look of utterly horrified pity, like all of my limbs have spontaneously fallen off. This is sometimes followed by well-meaning people either giving up their own drinks in a bizarre act of solidarity or obnoxious folks trying to force me to drink. I don't think anyone thinks I'm a recovering alcoholic, so I guess it seems like I'm making some kind of moral choice about it.

This usually means I then have to patiently explain that, no, other people drinking really doesn't offend me, and no, I just can't drink alcohol; it will make me extremely ill due to a genetic liver enzyme deficiency. Both of these are tedious, and not drinking anything tends to call more attention to the fact, so it's usually much easier to just not make a big deal about it and let people assume my plain cranberry juice is something more.
posted by Diagonalize at 2:09 PM on April 21, 2010 [8 favorites]

The above are all great answers, to which I would add this:

People also don't like to say they don't drink for the same reason that I don't like to tell people I don't watch television: They don't want to be perceived as pratty or elitist.

"I don't drink," said to somebody with a drink in their hand, can come off as a subtle rebuke if not careful.
posted by kaseijin at 2:10 PM on April 21, 2010 [10 favorites]

Because people who don't drink are assumed to be:

Uptight or standoffish
Judgmental of other people having a good time
Taking medication for some sort of disease or condition

Take your pick. I didn't drink until after college, and I got lots of strange looks when I'd abstain at a party or club.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 2:11 PM on April 21, 2010 [9 favorites]

Perhaps it's a tactic to not draw attention to themselves?

It might have just been typical college stupidity, but I remember incidents in my college days where drinking friends (most often loud, extrovert males) would NOT let the non-drinkers (mostly introvert females) alone. Passing on a drink at a party would result in a lot of "teasing" and harassment and pranks trying to get her to drink. I always thought this was a display of immature insecurity, as if the drinkers couldn't have a good time unless everyone else was drinking too. That's the reason I always would fill up my beer bottle with water/tea/whatever after only drinking half of it, so drunken acquaintances would leave me alone.
posted by ninjakins at 2:11 PM on April 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

Drinking is often equated with Being Cool and Having Fun. If people know you don't drink, they might assume you're no fun, or worse, are morally against fun.

Additionally, a lot of people assume that "I don't drink" means "I've never drunk," and a subset of those people assume that the non-drinker doesn't know what it's like and is seriously missing out, and will therefore badger him endlessly with "c'mon just try one." It's a common cliché that inside every teetotaler is a wild party guy just waiting to be set loose through the magic of alcohol.
posted by Metroid Baby at 2:12 PM on April 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Some drinkers are big jerks to non-drinkers about their non-drinking status, and some people don't like this much attention drawn to them or being subjected to the adult version of really stupid peer pressure.

In some groups this kind of peer pressure and enforcement of group norms is a big deal; in others it isn't.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:12 PM on April 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

nondrinker here. VERY allergic to alcohol, finally gave up the fight and just stopped drinking altogether after too many very ill nights. i do always feel embarrassed because i feel like i'm putting people out, being a nuisance or not being hospitable. i also don't want to seem like i'm taking some moral high ground from not drinking, sometimes it seems like people think you're looking down on them drunkards or something.

it seems like when it comes to people, there are drinkers versus nondrinkers, i've heard people bitchily say "it's so weird that ___ comes out with us and just sits there and doesn't drink" (though this is about people who don't, like me, explain that alcohol makes them sick- they're just sort of there and don't partage in the drunken times.). i usually get a coke or something virgin to keep those kinds of bitchy comments off my back.

it also seems like so much social culture is built around drinking, with drinking breaking down all sorts of barriers, and not drinking seems to be construed as not wanting to take part in breaking down those barriers, not wanting to have a good time. i still struggle with it as a nondrinker who seems to know predominantly drinkers... nondrinkers are pretty rare. most of the problems i've had related to this has been solved by not socializing as much with heavy drinkers anymore though. i can't tell you how boring it is to be the only sober one at the club or party and having to take care of the people who got too wasted.
posted by raw sugar at 2:12 PM on April 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

I'm interested in this question, because something I've always wondered about is why so many people make a point of saying, "I don't drink," instead of just saying, "No, thanks," when they're offered an alcoholic beverage, which is the opposite of the behavior you're asking about. Maybe we move in different circles or maybe we each have a case of confirmation bias?
posted by not that girl at 2:15 PM on April 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

Other people might not be as comfortable with having to explain their crazy meds.
posted by HFSH at 2:15 PM on April 21, 2010

"I don't drink because I'm allergic. I break out in fights."
posted by Kskomsvold at 2:19 PM on April 21, 2010 [5 favorites]

Ninjakins has a good point. When this issue comes up, it's often in the company of drinking/tipsy/drunk people. People tend to be less tactful when they're drunk, and more likely to tease or follow up with uncomfortable questions.
posted by Metroid Baby at 2:20 PM on April 21, 2010

Response by poster: Hmm. I guess I still don't understand because, for example I don't drink beer. I've never liked beer, or lager, or ale... It doesn't matter the brand or strength. I despise the taste of beer and the smell makes me want to vomit. The only time I drank beer is if I was already falling down drunk and didn't care what was in my hand (signal to my friends I'd had enough to drink). It was the only time I smoked too...

When I did drink, everyone offered me beer. I told them as directly as I tell them now that "I don't drink beer" and, of course, if beer was all there was, I drank water. Whenever they asked me why, I said the above reasons. Most of the time they'd shrug and offer me something else (water or soda) and that was the end of that.

I've never felt that I let people down because I wasn't drinking - heck even when I *did* drink there were times i was the only one not drinking, because I didn't feel like it. I've always had fun at parties and bars... I thought as long as no one makes a big deal about it, it's okay.
posted by patheral at 2:21 PM on April 21, 2010

not that girl: i always go with "no thanks" and politely sip something else but by the 7th offer of the night invariably someone asks what's up i have to explain that i don't/can't drink. sometimes i go with "oh i don't really like beer" or something but when other alcoholic drinks are offered instead eventually i just have to end up saying i don't drink.
posted by raw sugar at 2:21 PM on April 21, 2010

Sometimes women who are not drinking at a party or bar are presumed to be pregnant. That's generally not something I want people presuming about me.
posted by devinemissk at 2:23 PM on April 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

At my office, "I'm sorry, I can't drink" (due to a retinal hemorrhage; I had previously partaken with my coworkers) got me "ARE YOU PREGNANT OH MY *GOD*" once.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 2:24 PM on April 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Most of the time they'd shrug and offer me something else (water or soda) and that was the end of that.

They sound much more civil than some of the people I know.
posted by reductiondesign at 2:25 PM on April 21, 2010

I thought as long as no one makes a big deal about it, it's okay.

I think that what these answers are telling you is that even if the non-drinker doesn't make a big deal about it, sometimes other obnoxious types around the non-drinker will make a big deal about it, which makes things uncomfortable. If you haven't had that experience, you're very lucky.

(I'm female. The few times I've chosen not to drink and told people, "I'm not drinking tonight," I had to put up with incessant questioning about whether I had tiny people growing inside of me. It's annoying. I prefer not to put up with it.)

Also, it's none of anyone's business, and absent a subpoena, I don't have to tell anyone anything about myself that I don't want to tell.
posted by decathecting at 2:27 PM on April 21, 2010

Response by poster: I'm interested in this question, because something I've always wondered about is why so many people make a point of saying, "I don't drink," instead of just saying, "No, thanks," when they're offered an alcoholic beverage, which is the opposite of the behavior you're asking about.

I started with "no thanks" but the follow-up question was always, "what? you don't like..." or "why?" It got easier to say "No thanks, I don't drink. It doesn't play well with my meds." to ward off the second and third question. Sometimes I'll say (instead of all that), "You got any Diet Coke?" and it avoids saying anything else.
posted by patheral at 2:28 PM on April 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm not on medication, but I have a crazy physical reaction to alcohol (plummeting blood pressure, difficulty breathing, etc.) that got exponentially worse the last couple times I tried to have a drink. One shot of Jack was almost enough for my friends to cart me over to the hospital. My doctor didn't have any solutions for me and I've never been particularly attached to drinking so I just quit. I'll try a sip here and there, but I haven't had a whole drink in years.

I'm one of those people who hates saying I don't drink. People tend to react unpleasantly and it's awkwardness that I'd rather avoid. Despite my politest efforts at declining drinks, people seem hell bent on demanding a reason why. Age may be a factor in this, because the people who react the worst seem to be the ones who have yet to outgrow the "OMG, ALCOHOL IS TEH MOST AWESOMES THING EVAARRRR!!!!1!!" phase. In their eyes, I am a stuck-up prude who needs to stop making excuses and loosen up. I can explain that I get a horrible physical reaction from drinking, and they either eye me suspciously or say, "Oh come on, that's just because you haven't drunk enough to build up your tolerance! Have a drink!"

It's just so much easier to order a virgin Caesar and fake it, or say I'm driving, or throw out some other socially acceptable excuse.
posted by keep it under cover at 2:29 PM on April 21, 2010

severalbees nails it on the head for me. I've been to more than one party where an incredulous drunk will announce to the room, "hey, this guy doesn't drink! EVER!" And then the Questions begin.

Still, I'm not a fan of faking it. Though I often nip comments in the bud by stating I'm the designated driver (or, "collecting blackmail material" as I like to put it).
posted by Wossname at 2:35 PM on April 21, 2010

When you drink, you're consciously giving up some self-restraint - it's not called a social lubricant for nothing.

You generally do so with the expectation that others around you will be doing the same thing, because being in an impaired state while someone else is sober creates a slightly weird power imbalance.
posted by ripley_ at 2:40 PM on April 21, 2010 [4 favorites]

Best answer: One reason people don't like non-drinkers is because they break the code.

If everyone else is drinking the non-drinker is there silently remembering the dickish and embarrassing things everyone else says and does. It's a violation of an unwrittten code of drinkers - we all get drunk together and have the same hazy memories of things.

On top of that, the most heinous inference is that the non-drinker doesn't drink because they don't like losing control. Which means either they're an alcoholic or, worse, a control freak.

I rode a scooter for a while and often went out with colleagues for a drink. By the third orange juice and lemonade, everyone remained perfectly polite until I would accidentally remind everyone I was sober by making sense, or not laughing hysterically at a fairly mild gag.
posted by MuffinMan at 2:42 PM on April 21, 2010 [6 favorites]

Depending on your circle, a nondrinker in a situation where drinking is the norm might be seen as a sort of threat. If everyone is drunk, stupid drunken behavior can be more easily written off. A dead sober observer might be perceived as a person likely to have a clear memory of any stupid things the drunken people do or say, and as more likely to bring them up at a later date since they won't even the score by doing stupid things in return. A sober person might be seen as not being in on the fun, and instead perceived as a judgemental observer. This probably applies best in college settings, where doing dumb things while drunk is more common.
posted by MadamM at 2:44 PM on April 21, 2010

I guess I still don't understand because, for example I don't drink beer. I've never liked beer, or lager, or ale... It doesn't matter the brand or strength. I despise the taste of beer and the smell makes me want to vomit.

The problem with this, as a brewer, is that it would make me want to show you somehow what you were missing. If someone tells me they don't like beer, I always immediately assume that they haven't had the right beer. I will then proceed to recommend you beers from my refrigerator. At this point, you'd tell me it doesn't play well with your meds. At which point, I would back off, natch.

There are so many different kinds of beer that when I hear the "I don't like beer" phrase, it sounds like a "I don't like sandwiches" type of phrase. Really? You don't like EVERY KIND OF SANDWICH? Impossible.
posted by King Bee at 2:47 PM on April 21, 2010

"Do you [do thing]?"

"No, I never [do thing]."

"Hey, look, [everyone in the room who is doing thing] -- this guy [is judging us/thinks he's better than us]!"
posted by davejay at 2:48 PM on April 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

Incidentally, that follows for just about any [thing] -- consider that if you were in a room full of people watching wrestling, and someone asked you if you enjoy wrestling, would you feel comfortable saying "I don't usually, but I always have a good time with you all when you're watching"? Not everyone does. So "Yeah, duh" is easier.
posted by davejay at 2:49 PM on April 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Even if the social stigma against nondrinkers that people point to above isn't operating in a specific context, someone might still choose to avoid saying "I don't drink" because it's a bit of clunker to throw into a social situation, and it's hard for other people to know how to respond appropriately to it. Pretty much the only time a statement like that would come up is if: (1) someone offered you a drink or (2) someone asked why you weren't drinking.

In terms of (1): it's not quite rude--but really not socially graceful either--to respond to an offer of a drink with "I don't drink." I'm a drinker, I occasionally throw parties where I serve alcohol, I occasionally will buy my friends and acquaintances a beer during a happy hour, and if someone responded to my well-meaning offer of a drink with "I don't drink," I'd be taken aback and feel like I'd stepped in it without meaning to. The correct response to any offer of hospitality you don't want or can't partake in is "no thanks" with little or no additional information; to say more than that really risks making the offer-er feel bad by (perhaps unwittingly) implying that it was improper for them to have asked.

It also might lead--ironically--to a bunch of questions about *why* you don't drink, which some people don't want to get into. I mean, if you're making a point of announcing you're a nondrinker rather than just politely declining the glass of wine I've offered, it does feel a bit like it's something that requires a response other than silence, but it's awfully hard to know exactly what to say--"congrats"? "oh, that sucks"? "I hope the pregnancy goes well"? (These are all minefields especially if you don't know the person well enough to know why they don't drink.) Giving people the benefit of the doubt, they might end up asking questions about why you don't drink because it's not clear how to respond to a flat statement of non-drinking. Which probably just leads nondrinkers and drinkers alike to be pissed and defensive about the whole thing, because they attribute the worst motivations to the other side.

Anyway, I just wanted to point out that there is a perfectly decent reason why people don't offer this information in social situations that has nothing to do with being ashamed of it.
posted by iminurmefi at 2:52 PM on April 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

The peer pressure on social drinking does start to back off as you get a bit older, and more people are pregnant/breastfeeding/having to get up at 5:30 a.m. with children/can no longer go to work in the morning with a hangover or less than 8 hours sleep/are fighting middle-aged spread. As the reasons for not drinking multiply, and immature people mostly grow up, most people seem to find it less embarrassing to simply say, "No thanks" or "Not tonight" or "one's my limit these days!" I can't remember the last time I saw someone get hassled for not drinking except at a beer tasting.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:02 PM on April 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

I generally offer to be the DD ahead of time and get no heckling from it. "I'm the DD" gets me free drinks in bars too, sometimes.
posted by bookdragoness at 3:03 PM on April 21, 2010

I don't drink.
I'm not ashamed, but sometimes I've, say, bought a bottle of margarita-mix (the sort of lime-ade stuff but without the alcohol) and drank that at my graduation party. None was the wiser.

The reason why? Just so not to get bothered about it.
I don't know why, but for some reason if you don't seem to be drinking something that has alcohol in it, EVERYONE will need to ask you about it.
99.9% won't judge you or anything, but they NEED to ask about it.

So, I'm just saving up myself a bunch of pointless:

"-You don't drink?!?
-I don't drink.
-Ah. Okay."

Or for the more inquisitive people, lengthy questions about driving/medication/personal tastes/etc.

It's all a matter of social drinking. If you don't drink, I guess you don't look like you are socializing.
Silly social constructs.
Oh well. One can always camouflage- after all, apple juice and flat beer aren't that different to the eye... ;)
posted by CelebrenIthil at 3:09 PM on April 21, 2010

Best answer: I despise the taste of beer and the smell makes me want to vomit.

Don't tell this to people who like beer, or at least phrase it a bit less strongly. This will enhance their feeling that you're judging them. It could be like you're saying "You drink gross things, so you're a gross person," even though this isn't what you mean.

Drinking isn't always seen as a positive thing, even by those who are drinking. It seems to me that many people are conflicted when drinking around non-drinkers. Perhaps because they feel like they're putting the non-drinker in uncomfortable situation, or because they (the drinkers) think they're drinking too much.

I had the same issue being a non-drinker in college. I didn't like the taste of alcohol, and my family has a history of alcoholism. Saying "no thanks" or "I don't drink" when I went to parties with friends lead to a rumor that I didn't drink for religious reasons (which wasn't true). It wasn't a rumor repeated in any nasty way, but seemed more like an attempt to make my decision make sense. I was in college, surrounded by free booze and friends, yet I didn't drink.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:17 PM on April 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

Drinking isn't always seen as a positive thing, even by those who are drinking

There's a lot of wisdom in that sentence.

I hope it won't be taken as a derail when I point out that this same kind of dynamic can come up with [tobacco] smoking, and with recreational drug use.
posted by box at 3:26 PM on April 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Telling a group "I don't drink" at the wrong moment can be one of the quickest ways to ruin an evening. Needing to hide your not-drinkingness usually only happens in an area where heavy drinking is expected and so the shared understanding is that "we're going to stop being super-responsible and have some fun. A non-drinker can ruin that because they remind everyone about what they're supposed to be doing. The drinkers feel judged and insecure, and worry that they're going to do something foolish in front of the sober guy. This either leads to everyone not drinking, or an intense round of peer pressure that makes the non-drinker feel extremely awkward. Either way, everyone goes home unhappy and grumbles the next day about how the non-drinker ruined all their fun. The terrible thing is that this is almost never the non-drinker's intention.

Even if you manage to avoid all the guilt/blame as a non-drinker, there are still a lot of people who will judge you poorly for not drinking. This may be unique to the college-aged crowd, but being able to hold your liquor implies you've been to enough parties to have a tolerance -- and going to all those parties makes you interesting and fun! Non-drinkers seem boring because they haven't done any of the stupid shit you do when you're drunk.

The exception to all this are legitimate excuses, "it doesn't play well with my meds" being one of the best. You won't judge them or hold them accountable for the stupid stuff they do because you would be one of them if you could.
posted by lilac girl at 3:40 PM on April 21, 2010

oh, interesting! i don't drink, and if it comes up i explain why: i take meds for my digestion, and alcohol is contraindicated. however, i am also a long-time smoker, so the two balance each other out in an odd way.
posted by sdn at 3:40 PM on April 21, 2010

Everyone's covered this well in this thread. When someone says they don't drink, one sometimes assumes one of the following:

They have a problem with alcohol.
They grew up with someone in their family who had a problem with alcohol.
They have some extreme religious beliefs in which alcohol is considered sinful.
Their tastes in food and drink are very juvenile, akin to someone who prefers drinking apple juice and eating grilled cheese sandwiches made with kraft slices.
They might not just not want to drink themselves but would prefer that no one else drink, either.

None of these sound very "fun." At the same time, I think many of us have aged out of the stage where it's considered a norm to foist drinks on others and then interrogate them as to why they don't want one. At a bar, at a certain point, I'll just drink water or soda and be done with alcohol for the night.
posted by deanc at 3:49 PM on April 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

In a general sense, I drink. But on a particular evening, I might not -- I have to wake up early, or I just don't feel like it, or I'm driving, or whatever. In my teens and 20s, people would give me a hard time for it, all the time, for all the reasons mentioned above -- and it didn't matter whether I said "I don't drink", or "not tonight", or "I'm driving". Now, however, it's been years and years since anyone expressed even basic surprise, much less got in my face about it.

So I agree with those who say that this mellows with time, in large part because the way people many people drink changes with time. As I have aged, I'm finding that alcohol use by my peers has become a lot more nuanced -- there are a lot more social events where heavy drinking is simply not part of the evening, for example, while being a heavy drinker starts carrying more social stigma the older you get. What's cool in high school isn't so cool when you are 50 and have a family, you know?
posted by Forktine at 3:59 PM on April 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

This reminds me a little bit of a conversation I overheard when I was in college while waiting for a bus.

student1: Last night was pretty fun.
student2: Yeah, I was surprised how much fun we could have without drinking.

(both look at each other in surprise and exchange uncomfortable silences)

student2: So we're totally getting trashed tonight, right?

What I found most bizarre (and kind of sad) was that they were aware they could have a good time without drinking, but realized that their peers considered it socially uncool.
posted by Wuggie Norple at 4:05 PM on April 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Hmm. I guess I still don't understand because, for example I don't drink beer.

Yeah, but again, you have an easily explained reason for it: you just think it's gross. Whereas other people might not drink because they have a history of alcohol-related problems, or grew up with an alcoholic parent, etc. Stuff they probably don't want to talk about and probably don't want people thinking about them. Can you understand why someone might not be comfortable about explaining something like that? If you simply can't drink alcohol because it'll interfere with your meds, no one's going to argue with you or judge you for that.

As for virgin drinks, I for one prefer a good Virgin Mary over a Bloody Mary, and I'll always take that at, say, a brunch, rather than the alcohol-containing version, if the brunch comes with an alcoholic beverage. So don't assume people who order a virgin drink are trying to pull a fast one on their drinking buddies - they might actually like it.
posted by wondermouse at 4:12 PM on April 21, 2010

Huh, I don't drink alcohol and never have. (No special "excuse", it just doesn't seem appealing to me.) When someone offers me alcohol, I just say "I don't drink."

I've never, ever had anyone make a big deal out of it. I've never felt any stigma attached to my non-drinking, even though most of my friends drink at least occasionally.

For all those who report negative reactions to non-drinkers, maybe it has something to do with the crowd you hang out with?
posted by tdismukes at 4:29 PM on April 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've been through a few phases in which I didn't drink, or drank very little; never any particular reason, it just didn't really appeal to me at the time.

Occasionally, I'd run into people who seemed to think that, because I don't drink, I must be looking down on everyone who does. I think the assumption was that I had some moral stance against drinking and therefore against drinkers themselves.

I also used to run into some people for whom socialising and group bonding necessarily involve drinking. Anyone who doesn't drink a) is boring and b) has no interest in being part of the social group. So if I wasn't drinking with them I wasn't properly socialising with them. One or two actually took personal offense, on the grounds that by not drinking alcohol I was deliberately choosing to snub their group and/or celebration.

So I've been one of those people who pretend to have an alcoholic drink or stress that "I'm not drinking tonight". Not because I was embarrassed or ashamed, but just because explaining it to people several times a night is tedious ("Yes I'm having a good time, no I don't look down on drinkers, yes I've tried it before, no there's no big reason it's just a preference..." etc) and there's always a risk that someone is going to get offended and/or try to pressure me into drinking. Which, again, is tedious. I'm lucky (?) in that I'm sufficiently socially maladroit that this sort of peer pressure never had much effect on me, but I can easily imagine more social people becoming embarrassed or ashamed by all the attention and by being perceived as boring/judgemental/alocoholic/etc.

Almost all of these people were men in their late teens (i.e. just into drinking age here) or early twenties, mostly in university, i.e. at the stage in their lives when they had the time, cash and income for lots of drinking to become a big part of their social activity.

These days I just spend time with far cooler (by which I mean nerdier) people, who are generally very good at not making the same assumptions or judgments. Any of us could spend an evening anywhere from teetotal to smashed on hard drugs, and my circle of friends wouldn't bat an eyelid as long as they seemed happy, safe and unlikely to upset anyone else.
posted by metaBugs at 4:53 PM on April 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Maybe that's it. Since I didn't go to college until I was well into my late twenties and now (I'm in my forties) I didn't have the young college crowd to pressure me. I drank in my twenties, but not all of the time, and when I didn't it wasn't a big deal - even among strangers.

And now, well being surrounded by young people... it would be like making their mom try to drink. Somehow I think they just can't do it.

The thing is, why is it a big deal? I mean, it's like being a vegetarian. As far as I know, people don't hassle vegetarians to eat meat. Or maybe they do. I dunno, I'm omnivorous, and as long as vegetarians don't make a big deal out of it, I'm quite accommodating when they come over.
posted by patheral at 5:11 PM on April 21, 2010

When someone says they don't drink, one sometimes assumes one of the following:
They have a problem with alcohol.
They grew up with someone in their family who had a problem with alcohol.
They might not just not want to drink themselves but would prefer that no one else drink, either.

As someone who does not drink, to this I'd add:
They are passing judgment on the drinkers right now, and think they're morally superior to others.

This is why I usually just say "no thanks." Just imagine you're at a party and someone offers you heroin. Would you say: "no thanks" or "I don't do heroin"?
The latter implies that you have some sort of physical repulsion or moral judgment against it that's leading you to distance yourself from it that much more, and don't want to be offered again. Interestingly enough, there always seems to be a direct correlation: the harder a time someone gives me about not drinking (the more questions they ask, the more defensive they get, the more they insist that there is a kind of beer I'd like when I really do hate all beer), it's usually someone who shouldn't be drinking at all. It's pure projection.
posted by blazingunicorn at 5:13 PM on April 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

People don't hassle vegetarians to eat meat.

Yes they do. Or at least, the ones who are carnivores/don't understand/are freaked out by it/have no respect for vegetarians and shove bloody steaks into others' faces. Old school grandparents who think their grandkids are going to die for want of protein. Jocks who think that people who don't eat meat are pussies. People who grew up in meat-loving cultures and are convinced they just haven't had a decent steak yet.

Maybe you're a gruff type who intimidates, or doesn't invite these kind of gestures and comments. But for a slight female who is easily approachable, I can tell you that these people are out there. And they are so obnoxious that you'd rather just say 'no thanks,' than explain yourself and risk having to deal with any of this immature behavior.
posted by blazingunicorn at 5:17 PM on April 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

something I've always wondered about is why so many people make a point of saying, "I don't drink," instead of just saying, "No, thanks," when they're offered an alcoholic beverage

Prevents them from asking you again next time.
posted by cmgonzalez at 5:21 PM on April 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

why is it a big deal? I mean, it's like being a vegetarian. As far as I know, people don't hassle vegetarians to eat meat.

You sound like a very reasonable, tolerant person. But I can say as someone who doesn't eat a lot of meat (and who has a lot of fully vegetarian friends) that vegetarians do get hassled about not eating meat. I think a lot of people have the "you're either with us or you're against us" sort of mentality, so any deviation from the norm is seen as a challenge instead of as a personal choice.
posted by colfax at 5:36 PM on April 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

As far as I know, people don't hassle vegetarians to eat meat.

My friend, you've got that quite wrong.
posted by the bricabrac man at 6:20 PM on April 21, 2010

i have to 4th the "yes vegetarians also get hassled"

i tend to be vegetarian anywhere from 1/4-1/2 of the year and i can tell you there is a DEFINITE change between how people treat you if you're an omnivore vs a vegetarian.
posted by raw sugar at 6:22 PM on April 21, 2010

Response by poster: Wow, I guess I really am dense about these things... *sigh*
posted by patheral at 6:54 PM on April 21, 2010

I'm a non-drinker graduate student. Although most people don't have a problem with me not drinking, they often assume that I am morally opposed to drinking, even though I'm not. It leads to an awkward social separation - I'm not invited to events, and sometimes, before they get to know me, people aren't straightforward with me about their lives (not that they have to be, of course), which I think is because they are afraid of being judged. It usually all works out when they realize I'm not sitting around feeling morally superior, but my choices certainly can make things awkward at times. Also, the fact that I've never been drunk, and have absolutely no desire to ever be drunk, means that I can't really participate in all those great conversations about funny drunken times. I don't feel hurt by that, but it is a social barrier.

On a more basic level, in college, it is often assumed that if you don't drink, it's because you're still "a baby" and you're afraid of scary evil consequences, where as REAL college students would be too cool for useless rules and not afraid of the consequences. (Obviously, that's a polarization/exaggeration.)
posted by Cygnet at 6:56 PM on April 21, 2010

Response by poster: This is why I usually just say "no thanks." Just imagine you're at a party and someone offers you heroin. Would you say: "no thanks" or "I don't do heroin"?

Sorry, just noticed this...

I've never done drugs (not once. ever. because having bipolar + doing drugs = not a smart thing and I didn't want to take that trip). Even when I hung out with people who *did* do them in high school , I refrained. What I used to say when offered pot (and at one time acid) was, "I act this way, and I've never done drugs... can you imagine me *on* drugs?" That diffused the situation and they never offered it to me again.

Of course, that was pre-crazy meds, so that might have helped... (they might have thought I was lying).
posted by patheral at 7:01 PM on April 21, 2010

I used to not drink, and the comments made (or looks given) by the others were something to the effect of "you're not man enough to drink?", "are you some holier-than-thou type of person judging me?" etc. I would feel somewhat left out of the group, even if the others didn't say anything bad. It was just easier to get a virgin drink or just say "no, thanks. not today".

As far as I know, people don't hassle vegetarians to eat meat.
This is absolutely untrue. I am a vegetarian, and whenever I go out to eat with unfamiliar people (friends of friends or colleagues etc), I get hassled about how could I possibly survive on just some veggies (because they don't have a clue what else vegetarians eat), where do I get my protein, why don't I eat meat, have I tried meat, and various other annoying questions. Granted, some of these are genuine questions coming from people with no ill-intent, but most of the time it is really annoying and frustrating.

P.S. In fact if there are other vegetarians out there who have good ways of dealing with this, I'm really interested in knowing.
posted by thewildgreen at 7:01 PM on April 21, 2010

Bruce Wayne, yes, Batman himself sort of has this problem. He drinks ginger ale and pretends it's champagne.

I expect not many people have this particular use case though. He does not drink, but fakes it to amplify the difference between his secret identity and his hero self.
posted by artlung at 7:04 PM on April 21, 2010

The thing is, why is it a big deal? I mean, it's like being a vegetarian. As far as I know, people don't hassle vegetarians to eat meat. Or maybe they do. I dunno, I'm omnivorous, and as long as vegetarians don't make a big deal out of it, I'm quite accommodating when they come over.

In addition to what others have said ("vegetarians do, in fact, get hassled"), it's worse when you don't drink - there's an assumption I've run into a fair number of times that since I don't drink and don't eat meat, the two must be connected - I must be holier-than-thou or whatever. When in fact, the two have very different root causes for me.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 7:21 PM on April 21, 2010

Drunks can get very pushy about trying to get you to drink with them.
posted by Jacqueline at 7:23 PM on April 21, 2010

I started with "no thanks" but the follow-up question was always, "what? you don't like..." or "why?" It got easier to say "No thanks, I don't drink. It doesn't play well with my meds." to ward off the second and third question. Sometimes I'll say (instead of all that), "You got any Diet Coke?" and it avoids saying anything else.

Imagine your answer to the follow up "why" is "Well, my dad was an alcoholic when I was little, and my sister was an alcoholic for a while, and also I have control issues..." (Also I don't drink carbonated beverages of any sort [can't handle fizz], so I would have to ask for milk/orange juice/lemonade/water... Honestly, I just avoid situations where people will be there primarily to drink.)
posted by anaelith at 7:34 PM on April 21, 2010

I'm a uni student who doesn't drink (no 'valid' reason, it's just that no matter how happy I am when I start drinking, alcohol makes me feel sad, so I stopped) and I've gotten my fair share of people hassling me as to why not, although it has been much less now that I live in Australia, which surprised me. But then again I suppose when there are Facebook groups titled things like "I'm not an alcoholic, I'm a New Zealander", that suggests a fair bit of pride in a 'drinking culture'.

In fact, the first time I was ever teased for not drinking alcohol at a barbeque, I was twelve and one of the teasers was one of my parents.

I think in my experience the main reasons the drinkers weren't entirely comfortable with the non-drinkers were deviation from social norms, the feeling that they were being judged, and the fear of sober observers of their drunk behaviour. I once went to get a non-drinking friend from a Christmas party and when I got there a bunch of girls were trying to convince her to drink. They were more friends of mine than friends of hers and she was clearly uncomfortable so I told them to leave her alone, at which point the hostess of the party complained "but she's just sitting there watching us get drunk and she isn't drinking."

I never got the feeling anyone thought it was former alcoholism (though, see pride comment above) or pregnancy (but, in my hometown, it's really common for girls to get pregnant before or immediately after they leave high school, and my observations were that they didn't really stop drinking when they did).

I used to nurse the same almost-full drink for the entire night to ward off questions (people don't really pay THAT much attention to what other people are doing, if they see a drink in your hand they're usually happy) but these days I just don't put myself in social situations where I forsee this as likely to be a problem.
posted by lwb at 7:34 PM on April 21, 2010

Oh and the vegetarian thing, yeah definitely the omnivores can put quite a bit of pressure on. I was raised as a vegetarian by my mother, and my father has been constantly trying to get me to eat meat for a good 16 years (he didn't live in the same country as me until I was 5 or it would have been more.) When he used to take me and my sister out for dinner he would take us to places that basically only served meat dishes in order to try to force the issue. He's not a bad person, and I think a lot of it is to do with concern over my health, but it makes meals with him quite uncomfortable sometimes.

For what it's worth, again, the only comments I ever got on my vegetarianism from anyone else were in New Zealand, where to be fair a lot of the people I know are farm types that took some offense at my rejection of what was basically their livelihood. In Australia no one bats an eye. Even at McDonald's when I order a McChicken with no chicken.
posted by lwb at 7:45 PM on April 21, 2010

As far as I know, people don't hassle vegetarians to eat meat.

I'm a vegetarian non-drinker, and I have found the two experiences to be remarkably similar. Not only do people hassle you, but some people will say startlingly rude things to your face, and think they're just making small talk. Eg:

Me: I don't drink.
Them: My dad always told me never to trust a wowser.


Me: I don't eat meat.
Them: What, don't you understand basic biology? What do you think your incisors are for?

When I go out, I tend to either fake it (Diet Coke in a rum glass) or have a small wine and drink it very slowly. I do this for three reasons. The first is that when you're meeting someone new, people tend to extrapolate a lot from small things. If the first thing they learn about me is that I don't drink, I'm fighting against their first impression that I'm very religious, boring and judgemental.

Secondly, I'm a recently married woman, so I get a lot of wink-wink-nudge-nudge congratulations when people see me order Diet Coke.

And finally, the reason why I don't drink is personal, and I'd rather not go into it with most people. Its easier to avoid the question entirely.
posted by PercyByssheShelley at 8:12 PM on April 21, 2010

Nthing that there's always a drinker that is a real dick about it if you say you don't drink. Severalbees's comment has been my experience entirely.

I never drank anything at all until this year and I'm 25, and that was just to see what happens so I can say that I had drank before. All I learned is I have really high alcohol tolerance, I'm completely articulate (especially in writing), I remember everything, and I feel exactly the same but with worse motor skills. I can appreciate that other people get some sort of mood or behavior alteration out of it, but for me it's a waste of time, money, and calories when I hate the taste to begin with, and all I get out of it is the potential of hurting myself due to impaired motor skills. So now when people ask me if I want to drink I explain that it doesn't change my mood or behavior. But before then, no one would settle for "I don't want to" or "I don't see the point." You have to have a "legitimate" reason. I can't stand that, especially because it shouldn't matter. Even if getting drunk made me super happy, I should be able to turn down alcohol without people thinking I'm an alcoholic.

Also: yes, I've had someone ask me if I'm pregnant when I turn down alcohol. That raises my hackles more than anything. It's hard to say exactly why. I think it's partly because I don't want children so I don't like the assumption of pregnancy applied to me simply because I'm female and don't drink, and partly because if I was it wouldn't be anyone else's business. If I were pregnant, though, I might appreciate being asked, and I think people are just trying to be gracious, so I stay polite about it. I really hate being asked that, though. It might also be the idea that I need a reason not to drink and it has to be something biological; there's always that idea implicit in there that otherwise, I'm TOTALLY weird, omg!

And yeah, vegetarians get hassled. In fact, anyone with any dietary restriction will get hassled about it regularly -- even sometimes people with religious restrictions. People hassle me for not eating anything sugary or starchy, though I've noticed in recent years not so much. What helped? I can play the "my dad died" card and explain that there's a family history of diabetes. You always need a "legitimate" reason and if you're in decent shape, people think you're prissy or have an eating disorder if you won't eat anything and everything when it's available.

My friend who's deathly allergic to wheat gets constant shit about it, more of the tiresome-answering-of-questions variety. She gets very sick of people saying, "Oh wow, so you've never eaten a cookie, I guess?" Not because those people are bad people, but because it comes up all the time because wheat is in everything, and it gets really old.

Ditto to "not watching TV." When TV comes up in conversation I always have to be careful to say, "I'm really bad about missing when shows are on," because otherwise people think you're trying to be elitist.

In all these circumstances, there seem to be people who are insecure in their behavior (i.e. drinking alcohol, eating junk food or white flour, watching TV) and can't have anyone say they don't do it without feeling immediately defensive and attack-y. These people are very loud and unrelenting about it, so it doesn't matter if nine out of ten people are cool and accepting and know other people's preferences have nothing to do with them; there's always the one asshole. Note that this is different from the people who, out of sincere curiosity, just ask why and accept your answer. That sort of thing I'm willing to deal with.

I do have to say, I have some sympathy for the "breaking the contract" idea. I can understand not wanting people to remember the stupid stuff one did. But honestly, there'll be people who remember even if they were drunk, and designated drivers should be around anyway, so it seems irrational to me. When I'd had a ton of alcohol I remembered conversations nearly verbatim, just like I do when I'm sober. When I drank, I accepted that there was a chance I would do and say a lot of stupid stuff that I would regret, and that people would remember it. The only reasonable way for someone to ensure that other people don't see him acting stupid is to not act stupid.
posted by Nattie at 10:05 PM on April 21, 2010

Just wanted to add that I feel one of the reasons I've heard people say when they are pushing someone to drink is that they are doing it for that person's own good -- how the person who refuses to drink is missing out on all the fun that could be had.

PercyByssheShelley, I have had people ask me the exact same thing...
Me: I don't eat meat.
Them: What, don't you understand basic biology? What do you think your incisors are for?

posted by thewildgreen at 10:29 PM on April 21, 2010

Wow, I guess I really am dense about these things... *sigh*

Well, don't feel too bad about that. If your worst fault is that you have a hard time realizing just how many assholes there are in the world, you're doing pretty good.

Seriously though, there's a lot of assholes in the world.
posted by the bricabrac man at 2:24 AM on April 22, 2010

Jim Gaffigan sums it up pretty well: When you don't drink, people always need to know why. They're like, 'You don't drink? Why?' This never happens with anything else. 'You don't use mayonnaise? Why? Are you addicted to mayonnaise? Is it OK if I use mayonnaise?'
posted by Deathalicious at 6:44 AM on April 22, 2010 [4 favorites]

This is why I usually just say "no thanks." Just imagine you're at a party and someone offers you heroin. Would you say: "no thanks" or "I don't do heroin"?

I would say the latter.

The latter implies that you have some sort of physical repulsion or moral judgment against it that's leading you to distance yourself from it that much more, and don't want to be offered again.

That's right. I'd also probably consider leaving the party, if there were more of that sort of thing going on. I'm not worried about offending someone who wants to be social with their heroin, because I really don't want to be around it.
posted by krinklyfig at 9:35 AM on April 22, 2010

I always say I don't drink. If they ask, I'll tell them I had to quit, that it's bad for me, and I leave it at that. I'll be honest, but it's not really anyone's business, and if it's a problem for anyone that I don't drink then it's their problem. But I don't much like hanging around people who find it necessary to be around other drinkers, though I used to be like that.
posted by krinklyfig at 9:39 AM on April 22, 2010

(Sorry, I didn't read the entire thread yet, I am sure that what I will say has already been said, but I'll repeat it for my own sake.)
I used to not like the effect of alcohol. I did not like the mental buzz that came with even one drink. (I have since amended my ways; I really like a good single malt scotch.) This was at a time when I was known for enjoying human catnip.
I would tell people that it messed with my blood sugar (as it does for everyone) because the most common response was "Aw, common, one won't hurt ya." That was not the point, I didn't like it.

I am still a stickler for not having a drink if I will be driving. Big rule for me.
posted by Drasher at 12:01 PM on April 22, 2010

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