Casually and quietly dropping the sauce?
July 18, 2011 4:24 PM   Subscribe

Tips for quitting drinking, without making a huge deal out of it and still having a social life (other than AA and meetings).

I'm a 26 year old married female living in NYC. My husband and my friends all love to drink, and most social events & activities are centered around this. I don't think I have a drinking problem currently, but I feel like I most definitely could/will later in life if I don't watch myself -- both my parents are alcoholics. At this point in my life, my drinking doesn't cause any problems for me or my loved ones, so I've never really had the urge to do anything about it. Not completely sure where the urge is coming from now, maybe just feeling like "if not now when?". I think I just know quitting now is going to be better than trying to quit later and will be a good decision for me in the long run.

The thing is, I really don't really feel like talking about this with my friends (my husband knows and will be supportive). I don't feel like explaining WHY I'm not drinking... I don't feel like talking about my alcoholic parents. I don't feel like justifying myself. The reason I want to quit is just because I know it's the right thing for me to do. However, I feel like saying that ALWAYS comes off as if I am judging others - I'm not. I would like to just hang out with my friends as we normally would, not drink, and have a nice night. I am quite confident I will be able to do this, the first month will be weird, but... I think it will be fine once I figure out how to make it normal.

So, I am looking for your tricks. How can I change my normal habits? How can I still go to the bar with my friends, but not drink? How can I get the bartender to pay attention to me when s/he knows all I want is a water? How do I not not feel like an asshole when explaining to my friends that I am not drinking? How do I avoid the evening drink with my husband? How can the peer pressure not be important?

I started doing CrossFit recently and that has been mentally motivating me to do this for some reason... so... there's that if it's useful in any way.

Current drinking habits consist of: A few nights a week having 2-3 drinks on the couch with my husband and once (or maybe twice) a week going out with my friends to a bar (usually 3-4 drinks here). Maybe this is a lot, maybe it's not...

(I know people will say AA meetings, but honestly, I am probably just not going to do that. Though, if you present a good argument maybe I will change my mind)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (44 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
As far as going to a bar, I don't think it's a big deal. I sometimes go to a bar and don't drink alcohol, simply because I'm not in the mood. I just order a Diet Coke or whatever. I've never had problems with them ignoring me or getting upset.

And you could always tell them you're the designated driver.
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:29 PM on July 18, 2011 [5 favorites]

I don't drink. The only reason I don't drink is because I don't really like to. I love bars and the bar scene and go out a lot. If you don't make a big deal of it, nobody else will either. The bartender doesn't know what you're going to order ahead of time... plus it's easy to have someone else grab you a water when they grab a beer or whatever. If someone asks why you're not drinking, the appropriate answer is "(shrug) I'm just not". You'll get an occasional "are you pregnant" joke. Just smile. Don't give an excuse or a reason, just say you're not drinking. People don't care that much about what people around them are doing.
posted by brainmouse at 4:32 PM on July 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

How can I still go to the bar with my friends, but not drink?
Order a coke. Tip as if you ordered a beer. Problem solved.

At various times, I haven't been able to drink alcohol because of medication I was taking. I really don't find it to be a big deal. A lot of people don't drink for a lot of reasons, and I think you'll find it less awkward than you think.

One thing to keep in mind is that people may jump to the conclusion that you're pregnant.
posted by craichead at 4:32 PM on July 18, 2011 [7 favorites]

You could certainly just tell people "I just felt like taking a break from it" or something similar and act as if it is as big a mystery to you as it is to them (which, to be frank, doesn't sound that far from the truth, since I get an "I'm not so sure about all this myself" vibe after reading your question/details). If these people are really your friends, why any explanation necessary and who cares what they say/think? They'll get over it quickly or it's their issue.

That said, you say "I am quite confident I will be able to do this" and then turn around and ask "How do I avoid the evening drink with my husband? How can the peer pressure not be important?" You sound as if there is a good deal of uncertainty on your part still. If AA is not for you (it's not for everyone) or you're not ready for that or whatever, is there anyone else that you can really talk this through with? It seems like there may be a lot more going on here.

Best of luck with whatever your decision and I hope the outcome is what you want/are looking for...
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 4:36 PM on July 18, 2011

To avoid evening drinks, I would avoid keeping alcohol in the house. For myself, this works great. If it's not there, I have no desire to have a drink. If it's readily available, I will happily imbibe.

If you want a bartender to be happy to give you water, tip her when she gets it for you. I will get you water ALL night long if you're tipping me. Hell, I might even smile at you once or twice. :-)

As for going out with friends, not drinking and somehow avoiding the "I quit drinking" conversation... I don't see it happening. But, why not just assert the following, "I do not want to have a drink." I am sure they will give you a bit of shit, but I am also pretty sure they will let it go. Myself and my friends drink a lot; but, when someone says they're not doing it, we respect that. Plus, I love having a DD.
posted by AlliKat75 at 4:36 PM on July 18, 2011

Diet coke or your non alcoholic beverage of choice. If you say you're driving they're most often free. I very rarely drink (maybe once/month, if that) and it's never been an issue. Especially in the summer there are lots of fun, non-alcoholic drinks. All fruity and no one needs to know it doesn't have alcohol.
posted by TravellingCari at 4:37 PM on July 18, 2011

I don't know what things are like with your friends group, but with my friends, probably what I would do is just stop drinking without saying anything. If anyone said, "Why aren't you having a beer?" I'd say casually, "Oh, I'm just taking a break from drinking right now/ I'm going to try not drinking for a while and see how it makes me feel" or something similar. And after a few months if anyone asked I'd just say, "I noticed I feel better when I don't drink, so I figure I'll keep it up." Or something like that. That way you're easing into it yourself without feeling like you're making a big declaration.
One of my friends hasn't had a drink in about twenty years. I asked him about it once (because all I knew was "he doesn't drink," which is good enough, but when we got to be closer friends I was curious) and he quit for similar reasons you want to -- felt like it'd be better to nip it in the bud. It's not a big deal for anyone.

As far as bars go, when I'm not in a drinking mood (or when I'm drinking but feel like I need a break) I'll just have a seltzer with lime. It looks like a mixed drink, even. A lot of times the bartenders don't charge me, but even when they don't, I still tip. Keeps the drinks coming smoothly. :)
posted by crowyhead at 4:37 PM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't drink because I liked to drink ....when it came time to quit, the bar at the corner where I lived was so happy with me that I would get club soda mixed with orange juice free, as much as I wanted all evening long.

I buy booze and wine at the store to bring home to my wife. My wife and friends order drinks when we are out for the evening. i drink club soda. No one makes fun of me. Everyone accepts the fact that I do not drink. If they made fun or did not accept, I would no longer have them as friends.
posted by Postroad at 4:44 PM on July 18, 2011 [4 favorites]

I don't drink, never have, and nobody cares (including bartenders). I've only had one person my entire life make a big deal about it, and she was the one who looked like a weirdo for it, not me.

If you feel weird about getting water, get a soda or juice or virgin thingy... or even a Shirley Temple! Really! Enjoy the non-alcoholic thing you're drinking and you'll have a perfectly fun night out as always.

People probably won't ask you often why you're not drinking. But if they do, "I'm good with a soda tonight," is really all you need. If anyone presses you, BigHeartedGuy's "taking a break from it" will work, but some people take statements like that as passing judgment on them.
posted by dayintoday at 4:45 PM on July 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm a little dubious about the number of drinks mentioned -- your buddies "love to drink," and every time y'all are leaving the pub it's only been "3-4" drinks? With these numbers you are never ever getting good and drunk, but still something is reading as a problem? Are there nights here and there where the numbers are a bit higher? (OTOH I do not have alcoholic parents so am without the nervousness over moderate drinking that must inspire, so forgive me if the suspicion is way off. It is easy to quite accidentally underreport these things, though...)


"How can I change my normal habits? How can I still go to the bar with my friends, but not drink?"

You can change your normal habits by not going to the bar. I think you will want to start looking for new people to hang out with. Not that you have to totally ditch your current friends, but, if they all "love to drink" and the entirety of your social scene with them is going to the bar so everybody can have beer, there is...little point to continuing on with them if you are sobering up.

Once you have people to hang with who don't drink (or don't drink much, or regularly), it will be easy to cut it out yourself. If you are really looking to do this, you will have a lot more fun bailing on your current "most social events & activities are centered around this" deal. You can make occasional visits to that sphere if you like, but I think it would be regrettable to remain ensconced in drinking culture while not drinking. If all these people are people you would never see again if you didn't go to the bar, perhaps it's time to re-evaluate the relationship -- they are 'drinking buddies,' not friends, and there is a substantial difference there.

These two

"my husband knows and will be supportive"
"How do I avoid the evening drink with my husband?"

do not really go together. If he's supportive and understands why you want to dry up, this shouldn't be any more complicated than choosing to drink coffee while he drinks tea. Are you maybe a little more nervous about this than you're letting on? Certainly you are nervous about your friends' reaction (and if these are nice, normal people who one would want to stay friends with, this is a non-issue)... How do you feel about the long-term prognosis for his drinking habits? Will you be upset if you totally dry out and he keeps on at current levels, or even steps it up a bit?

...FWIW 'anecdatally,' a crazy number of my friends (and I) were hard partiers in our 20s, and virtually all sobered up in our 30s. I know one person who still likes to hit the clubs and get seriously drunk and a smattering who still go out but who go home quite early, and the rest are, well, sober. One tends to lose the ability, for better or for worse, to keep up with this sort of thing...
posted by kmennie at 4:46 PM on July 18, 2011

I'm taking a break for now, I haven't been feeling well/healthy and I want to stop drinking for a bit, I'm sick of spending so much money on drinking - I want to save to buy x/go traveling to y.

Order Diet Coke/non-alcoholic drink of choice. Do the same instead of drinking with hubby.

Have fun and no one will really care.
posted by mleigh at 4:46 PM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think you're overthinking part of this (e.g. getting attention when only ordering a soda or whatever - this has never ever been a problem for me).
As for explaining it to people, personally I've found that an assertive "I don't drink anymore" usually works. Sometimes, if pressed, I'll add something like "I've found that alcohol is not good for me." Most people won't insist after that & it can be interpreted any old way, depending on what/how much people know about you. I stopped drinking 18 months ago & have only had ONE person keep bugging me a little further about it, and that's including a whole new office full of new people with quite a drinking culture going on. It's easier if you don't approach it from a meek "oh God I'm the weird one" angle. Not drinking is a perfectly legitimate choice and no one should give you crap about it. Act as if you don't expect to be badgered and you more likely won't.

As for changing your habits, I think you need to start by figuring out why you drink. For me, some of it was social anxiety which does mean I know avoid going out and if I have to, I suffer through it. For you it may be something else (unwinding, or just the lovely lovely taste of it), so you'll have to develop other habits that give you the same thing. Change your routine. For your evenings in, find another comfort food/drink that gives you pleasure.
posted by ClarissaWAM at 4:48 PM on July 18, 2011

I CrossFit, so I understand.

The normal answer I give is just "figure its healthier and I'll try it out for a while" or "trying to get my times down/weights up on x workout, thought this would help".

If my friends give me crap I just launch into a discussion about your body's insulin level response to alcohol and that stops them.
posted by nokry56 at 4:56 PM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

The easy way out would be to order a Diet Coke or water with lemon, with the disclaimer "I don't want all the empty calories in booze." Unfortunately, our society rarely questions a woman on a diet, no matter how lovely her figure may be to begin with.
posted by Andrhia at 5:06 PM on July 18, 2011

Rather than AA, you might feel more comfortable with a Harm Reduction approach. These are folks who make a decision to moderate their drinking for whatever reason, but doesn't say that you have to abstain completely. They have some strategies for coping with situations where you may be around alcohol, but want to change your habits. There are counselors who will coach you through this approach, but also are peer support networks, books, websites, etc. that you might find helpful.
posted by goggie at 5:15 PM on July 18, 2011 [4 favorites]

If your circle of friends is very alcohol-centered, I think doing this will change your social life, period. Trying to do it without changing something about your usual evening schedule will probably not work in the long term. Doing "drinking stuff" (bars, parties, etc) just without the drinking is boring, boring, boring in my experience. This is especially true if you're somewhat of an introvert and use alcohol to "loosen up".

You will likely notice that a lot of friends you thought you had were "drinking friends", which is not a bad thing in itself, but does just not translate to a non-drinking life. You'll be OK without them in the long term, just be prepared for losing some of them. Probably not overnight, but in the long term.

I used the "excuse" of medication that didn't mesh with alcohol (I was really taking medication in the beginning, but later on I just didn't take up drinking again because I felt it wasn't good for me). Most people are OK with this explanation. There will, however, be people around you who will keep bugging you for not drinking (in my case it's my best friend from school - she still doesn't understand and makes annoying comments 5 years in!). IMHO, people who keep bugging you about this are the ones who have a problem with alcohol themselves and feel guilty. It's their problem, not yours. You'll be able to deal with it, I'm sure; especially if your husband knows and supports you! Just be prepared for this, steel yourself, and go. Nothing wrong with not drinking, and you're not judging anyone. Compare it to a person with celiac disease who avoids food with gluten in it - is he/she judging people who eat sandwiches for lunch? No, she just knows sandwich bread is not good for her, and deals accordingly.
posted by The Toad at 5:39 PM on July 18, 2011

Whenever I'm out not drinking, I've found the easiest thing to say when someone offers or asks is, "No thanks, I'm not drinking today."

Somehow, putting "today" on the end of the statement completely mollifies the nosybodies.
posted by Aquaman at 5:40 PM on July 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

I think it also helps to really believe it's not a big deal. I drink very rarely because it's never interested me that much. It's never occurred to me that it would be a big deal, and therefore it never has been. I go to bars sometimes and hang out with drinkers plenty. Nobody cares, including me.
posted by the_blizz at 5:43 PM on July 18, 2011

It really is not a big deal for most groups of friends if you discreetly order a ginger ale (or my favorite tonic water with lime) rather than a cocktail. Most bartenders will put in a swizzle stick for you if you ask. To anyone, it looks like a drink.
posted by yclipse at 5:50 PM on July 18, 2011

I drink, and enjoy it when I do. I'm more likely to have a glass of wine late in the evening, with a book, which is self-limiting. I make drinks at home quite weak, as I tend to be thirsty and drink too fast. If I'm out with friends, and don't feel like drinking, I just order a sprite or gingerale. At 1st, when you do this, you get questions, and can just say you're dieting, or haven't been tolerating alcohol well. Your friends will get used to this habit, and it will become a non-issue. You won't get the bartender's attention ordering plain water; order soda water & lime, and tip. If everyone's having wine with dinner, get 1 glass of wine, and order sparkling water as well. It helps to have the alternative right there.
posted by theora55 at 5:51 PM on July 18, 2011

I started doing CrossFit recently and that has been mentally motivating me to do this for some reason... so... there's that if it's useful in any way.

I would simply say, "No thanks; not drinking right now -- I'm in training." End of story. Anyone who tries to bully you beyond your point of comfort is not worth worrying about; no further rationalization is needed. Props to you for taking charge of your health! Good luck!
posted by LuckySeven~ at 6:03 PM on July 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

I myself am dealing with the social aspect of quitting drinking, and honestly it's incredibly difficult. For entirely of my adult life and a good portion of my juvenile one being social included some degree of inebriation be it by alcohol, herb, or even huge amounts of sugar if you want to go far enough back and count it as a mood altering substance. I have just over 5 months totally sober, and have been able to adapt to just hanging around 2 or 3 trusted friends. I can go to the bar and just order a Virgin Mary and hang out with people until their inebriation becomes an annoyance to me. But recently when I found myself at a friends birthday celebration it was all too much to handle, of course it is much more complicated then I can succintly state here but I found myself practically experience vertigo from the sheer anxiety of the grand social occasion. Most everyone was thrilled to see me alive and healthy, and my anxiety was due in part to the fact I was embarrassed of my past having not seen most of them in over 3 years (and frankly, during most of that they wanted no part in my life).

It's simple enough to simply say "no thanks" when someone offers you a drink, but in practice it can be more awkward then that. Case in point, I somehow found myself at the opening soiree of a John Fluevog store in Portland. I was chatting with a waay out of my league girl who liked my moustache and cornrows look (she called me Ron Swanson, which is many ways is the coolest thing I've ever been called).. she asked if I would like a drink, as she was going to the bar for a refill on her champagne, I politely said "No thanks" and she gave me a queer look and I didn't see her again. It made me feel incredibly awkward, I wasn't breaking any social rules, wasn't making a point of any drinking issues I have, but the simple act of not drinking was enough to cause a negative reaction. It really made me rethink my motivations of even being in drinking establishments/gatherings/situations. But at the same time, I have a love/hate relationship with the whole AA system. More often then not I find myself at meetings where a bunch of sad sack people complain about how much their life sucks now that they aren't drinking, and how much it sucked (but was a lot funner) when they did and just want to stand up and say "If you're so god damn unhappy all the time, just fuck it and drink. Life it too long to waste being unhappy but proud that you aren't drunk." I enjoy AA/NA/___A as a support group and social networking opportunity to meet people who have interest in doing things that don't involve drinking, but their overall attitude that even hanging around someone who drinks but doesn't even have issues regarding as a failure of their program puts me off in a big way. If it wasn't a required part of my city-sponsored recovery program, I wouldn't attend it at all. I have gone to several meetings of SMART Recovery, which is based in Dialetical Behavioral Therapy and a lot more pragmatic and practical a program. Offering mental and emotional tools to deal with urges to drink as well as leading a vibrant social life that does not exclude anyone on the basis of what they are drinking.

When at drinking establishments this is why I do get virgin drinks, so I can have the outward appearance of drinking and not have people questioning why I am not. It's a lot easier to just enjoy the glorified V8 of a Virgin Mary then explain why I am drinking water.
posted by mediocre at 6:07 PM on July 18, 2011

You can change your normal habits by not going to the bar. I think you will want to start looking for new people to hang out with. Not that you have to totally ditch your current friends, but, if they all "love to drink" and the entirety of your social scene with them is going to the bar so everybody can have beer, there is...little point to continuing on with them if you are sobering up.

I go to bars with my friends because I like hanging out with them, not just 'so I can drink beer.' My group of friends goes out to bars 2-3 times a week, and we have a couple of friends who don't drink. This has never been a problem. You're making it sound like any alcohol-related activity = raging alcohol abuse.
posted by showbiz_liz at 6:09 PM on July 18, 2011

Moderation Management may be right for you; it's for people who aren't alcoholics and want to make sure they are staying healthy. Typically, people start with 30 days of abstinence to get rid of the "habit" aspect of drinking and then they work on staying within limits they set for themselves. Most people do it online rather than attending actual meetings, though if you are in NYC, meetings are available. If you find you can't stick to limits, then you may need something more intense like AA or an alternative like SMART.

Most people, however, find themselves naturally cutting back as they have more and more adult responsibilities around your age. Many women also stop or cut back when they start trying to have kids (it can reduce fertility; obviously pregnancy's another issue). Your drinking, if you are describing it accurately, doesn't fall that far outside of healthy guidelines in much of the world, where 1-2 a day is considered acceptable for women. (American guidelines are more Puritanical and don't go above one for women ever).

Or, just say you are in training and see how that goes. Most people genuinely don't care what other people are drinking; even if they push you a little, it's usually just because they feel social pressure themselves and don't want to seem like the weird one. If they push you a lot, *they've* got a problem and you don't want to be hanging out with them if you want to cut back.
posted by Maias at 6:20 PM on July 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

P.S. Genetically, having both parents as alcoholics gives you a 40% risk of developing alcoholism. That means you are obviously at high riskā€”but it also means that most children of alcoholics, even if both parents have it, do not become alcoholics themselves, AKA, that other 60%.
posted by Maias at 6:21 PM on July 18, 2011

she asked if I would like a drink, as she was going to the bar for a refill on her champagne, I politely said "No thanks" and she gave me a queer look and I didn't see her again. It made me feel incredibly awkward, I wasn't breaking any social rules, wasn't making a point of any drinking issues I have, but the simple act of not drinking was enough to cause a negative reaction. It really made me rethink my motivations of even being in drinking establishments/gatherings/situations. -posted by mediocre

I think you flubbed that one, mediocre, not because you turned down an alcoholic beverage per se, but because you shut her down completely. Obvs, she wanted to do something nice for you -- she was offering to buy you a drink, dude! You should have accepted and asked for the non-alcoholic beverage of your choice. And then returned the favor, of course. Better luck next time!
posted by LuckySeven~ at 7:09 PM on July 18, 2011 [4 favorites]

You might be interested in this thread: What Can I Expect When I Quit Drinking In A Couple Of Weeks. Good Luck!
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 7:24 PM on July 18, 2011

Trying to do it without changing something about your usual evening schedule will probably not work in the long term. Doing "drinking stuff" (bars, parties, etc) just without the drinking is boring, boring, boring in my experience. This is especially true if you're somewhat of an introvert and use alcohol to "loosen up".


I think some people are being a little naive about how difficult it is going to be, at least early on and/or ignoring the part of the question that says: "My husband and my friends all love to drink, and most social events & activities are centered around this."
posted by the foreground at 7:34 PM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Some helpful phrases:
- "Oh, thanks, but I don't really feel like it tonight"
- "No thanks, I'm taking a little break from alchohol".
- "Oh I'm so over drinking at the moment, I just needed a break!"
- "Oh no, I'm driving."
- "I'm doing this silly detox thing so I can't, sorry. Why did ever start it? Hahahaha!"
- "I'm trying out not drinking for a few weeks to see what it's like".
posted by dave99 at 7:36 PM on July 18, 2011

Just say you're on a health kick for month or two, and then later say you liked how you felt not drinking.
posted by xammerboy at 7:51 PM on July 18, 2011

"I never drink in July," or "I take every July off from booze." (insert appropriate month here) But really, it's no one's business but your own.
posted by bendy at 8:06 PM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

I stopped drinking in New York City. I was fine in every other place and circumstances but not New York. Social life has somewhat changed, but at least I don't have to be drunk to enjoy it. I still go to bars to meet specific friends and hang out, I just drink seltzer water. I usually use the qualifier "...for now" when I order a seltzer.

A good bar is still a good bar when you're sober. Sometimes I get weird vibes from bartenders, but good-weird. I always tip like normal but usually the seltzers are free. A free night out with friends at a bar is awesome and needs no justifying. If it ever comes up, I just say "I don't drink" they usually reask their question about me drinking with slightly different phrasing and I confirm it again. It's like there's a script. If I'm pressed, I just say "I have my reasons." or "I have business to attend to tonight I need my brain for" I've never been pressed on it, for the record.

Then again, I no longer go to events where the main focus is on drinking. I don't miss it. It's so sad in New York City how so much social activity is nothing more than drinking alcohol and making drunk-talk. I think it might be some people's only hobby. Not drinking in New York City is really awesome and it pays for itself in a few months.
posted by fuq at 8:14 PM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

My husband was a big drinker in college and no longer drinks at all ever anymore. His response: "I filled my quota."

No one can argue with that.
posted by sonika at 8:37 PM on July 18, 2011 [4 favorites]

If a female friend of mine (who had previously liked to drink) stopped drinking, I would guess that she's pregnant. So you may want to be prepared for that.
posted by leahwrenn at 9:11 PM on July 18, 2011

I'm in a similar situation - several alcoholic family members: two who have died from it and two others who have had organs removed because of it - so I don't drink much.

First off... I've never had a bartender who cared, and 90% of the time I'm at a bar the only thing I order is water. I can't give you much advice on how to moderate, just don't feel self conscious about the staff.

Second, it depends on what you mean by friends and what you mean by them loving to drink.

I have close friends who love to drink - as in, connoiseurs who really know alcohol and obscure breweries and can describe in detail every bit of flavor from one sip. I usually stick with tasting their drinks (since we are usually at a place specifically to taste new things), or just telling them I don't feel like it. They accept that fairly easily. If prodded, I've said "Alcoholism runs in my family so I'm trying to be careful" - I've used this one and had positive responses, and they don't push the subject (either that or we end up in a long discussion on alcoholism in families). Part of the reason I consider them friends is because I can say something about my worries without being judged.

If you really consider them friends, then consider being somewhat honest with them.

On the other hand, I have acquaintances and coworkers who like going to bars, order lots of beer, and only feel comfortable if everyone has a drink in their hand. Some of them can get pushy because drinking means having fun, and the reason they are only acquaintances is because they are unlikely to invite a non-drinker out to a bar (if your friends are like this, you might find your social circle narrowing a bit). I use the following tactics on them if they ask or get at all insistent:

-"I'm trying to be healthier"
-"I just don't feel like it"
-"I have to be up early in the morning"
-"I am the designated driver"
-"I have an upset stomach"
-"I'm a lightweight" (good for refusing seconds if you are going for moderation)
-"I'm sharing a beer with X" (X being a friend who'll drink the whole thing but let you hold it sometimes)

Sometimes I buy a beer and just hold onto it - people are less likely to comment if you have one in front of you, even if it's full, and I can usually get someone else to drink half of it for me (you can use your husband for this!). If someone gets a pitcher, I'll put a little in my glass and to make it seem like I'm drinking, but the most I'll drink is a single sip. Most people will not keep track of how many beers you drink.

You can quit cold turkey around friends and let them know upfront that you won't be drinking, but if you think they might be pushy or judgmental then I recommend doing a variety of tactics until they get into the habit of not seeing you drinking. By the time they realize you've made a lifestyle change, they'll also have realized you are still just as fun and not judging them as you were before.

For future reference (i.e. not with friends you've drank with before), I've had the most success with, "I really only drink [obscure alcohol beverage]." I happen to really like sour beers, and 99% of bars won't have one and 99% of people will have never heard of them. I can stretch the truthiness and say I only drink that to come across as a beer snob rather than a straight-edge snob.
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 9:26 PM on July 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

Seriously. I should be a spokesperson for this -- non-alcoholic beer. I feel in some way as though I've had a beer, e-cigaret(te)-like. Tastes like a beer and fewer calories and a little cheaper $. The brands are really different in taste, so try a few.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:31 PM on July 18, 2011

"I'm detoxing" always works for an effective-but-pretentious excuse that makes people stop asking further questions.

My favorite drink to order when not drinking is a bitters & soda. If the bar is a bit fancy and has bitters options, go for it. The nice bit is that this drink looks like a real drink and throws off many drunks.

Check yourself -- one thing I wasn't aware of when starting to drink less is that my arm is very much addicted to delivering beverages to my mouth. I'd often get quite "bladder-drunk" on bitters & soda simply because my hand was so used to delivering the alcohol efficiently to the source.
posted by cior at 9:42 PM on July 18, 2011

You may also want to check out Caroline Knapp's book, "Drinking: A Love Story". It's a terrific, honest memoir and one that deals with non-AA management of alcoholism.

Her rule about never having more than 2 drinks in a 24-hr period was pretty helpful for me.
posted by cior at 9:51 PM on July 18, 2011

Once again, any MeFi thread that mentions alcohol is stuffed full of "I was a drunk so horrible things will happen to you" or "my friend had horrible things happen to them because of alcohol, so bad things will happen to you".

You really don't need to overthink this. You don't need to explain anything.

There is no bartender, and almost no drinker, on the planet, who will give you crap for saying "give me a . I'm the designated driver.". There is no bartender and no drinker who isn't someone you don't want to be around, who will give you crap for saying "I'm taking a break from drinking" or "I'm pacing myself".

In fact, the DD is very popular. Being one can improve your bar experience.

Challenge the bartender. "I'm the DD. What's the best booze-free drink you can make?". Enjoy. Tip well.

This is your choice, and anyone who pisses on you for making it isn't someone you need around. If your husband is behind you, you're good, and your friends should be too.

posted by kjs3 at 10:31 PM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think the key here is the non-alcoholic drinks that physically look like alcoholic drinks -- NA beer, wine, and virgin Mojitos. You might get a little shit initially, but appearances are 99% of reality.
posted by trevyn at 5:12 AM on July 19, 2011

There is no bartender, and almost no drinker, on the planet, who will give you crap for saying "give me a . I'm the designated driver.".
That's great advice for anyone who doesn't live in NYC, but the concept of "designated driver" is not going to work in New York, because the OP's friends will know that she doesn't have a car. "Designated driver" only works in places where people drive.
posted by craichead at 5:46 AM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

My social circle is similar to yours. I would manage it by saying, "I'm experimenting with not drinking for a little while. So far it's great, I don't feel like I miss out on anything and I LOVE feeling clear-headed the next morning!"

And that's it. The 'experimenting' and 'for a little while' soften the statement so it seems less final, and less serious. But seeing great results that are understandably desirable (like being more alert the next day) gives you a good reason to continue your 'experiment' indefinitely until people just stop asking you how it's going. If you're happy about it and turn it into a positive life change rather than giving off the vibe that it's something you have to apologise for, your good friends will see it as a good thing too.
posted by guessthis at 7:19 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

The reason I want to quit is just because I know it's the right thing for me to do. However, I feel like saying that ALWAYS comes off as if I am judging others - I'm not.

Then your explanation (or excuse, or white lie) for not drinking needs to focus on yourself, not drinking in general. Anything like "I'm in training" or even a less-specific "don't feel like it today" or "felt I could use some caffeine instead" will allow your friends to accept your answer and move on without feeling judged, because it doesn't apply to their drinking - it's just about YOUR state of mind or body.
posted by jessicapierce at 10:46 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

As someone who is an alcoholic and in AA, after a few years, I was in a job where I didn't want to always be talking about not drinking because I was organizing many social events. I made sure that there were non-alcoholic drinks at each event and I challenged myself to see if I could behave so that no one would notice I was not drinking.

My strategy was: be quick to the bar, order tonic with lime, tip well and make my arrangements. Always have that glass in my hand. Make it my job to happily greet and offer food and drinks to everyone. If someone offered to get me a drink, I would point to my tonic, smile and say "I'm good, thanks." I made it my business to be relaxed, smiling and entertaining with stories, compliments or whatever my forte might be with that sub group. I was in this situation for several years and no one ever 'caught me' not drinking. I didn't ever have to mention it. I don't know that this would work for young people but I was not in some college-aged group where people are challenged to drink more than is good for them. But it sounds like you are an adult and could do this.

The payoff for you could be, as well, finding out whether or not drinking is actually difficult for you. As you have alcoholic relatives, you know the odds are not in your favor so I think you are being wise here. Find out if it is trouble for you and then you can decide whether you want to go to a program for sobriety.

One thing people said to me to help with that decision was to examine how much I thought about drinking. People without a drinking problem don't think about drinking except when they are in an occasion that calls for a social drink. They also don't go out of their way to set up those occasions. It was helpful to me to frame the problem that way.

Good luck. I hope you don't miss drinking at all and that you don't have the 'gene', if gene it be, responsible for so much misery to us and those we love. And that you can by your prudence preserve for yourself the joy of having a glass of champagne at milestones in your life.
posted by Anitanola at 7:07 PM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

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