How do I get my friends to accept that I don't drink?
August 22, 2006 6:55 PM   Subscribe

I'm a non-drinker who hangs out at bars. I'm fine with it... but my friends don't get it. Help me help them get it.

Earlier this year I made the decision to quit drinking after a good run of alcohol jonesin'. There have been no regrets on that front - I have never felt better and after the first few months, it was surprisingly easy. My personal path was gathering up the willpower, going cold turkey and avoiding AA and the 12 Steppers. Nice people, that lot, but they creep me out - Just a wee bit cultish.

But most of my friends love to drink. Moreso, we hang out in bars. A lot. There's no problem there. I'll order a ginger ale, the bartender will smirk and crack wise, I leave an extra large tip and it's all good. However, my friends just don't get it. They'll ask me about it over and over in disbelief and, as the night goes on, turn into damn loudmouths and try their best to get me back off the wagon.

I have no interest in giving up my friends, I've known them forever. But they just don't get that I'm not interested in drinking anymore. All I want is for them to get over my non-interest in drink already. How do I do that?
posted by huskerdont to Society & Culture (39 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Show them this video (youtube). Start at 2:50.

You dont use mayonnaise? Why? Are you addicted to mayonnaise? Is it okay if I use mayonnaise?

posted by null terminated at 6:59 PM on August 22, 2006 [1 favorite]

Seems to me like you could just tell your friends the one thing that you didn't mention in your question: what is it that you like about hanging out in bars? Is it the opportunity to spend time with your friends? The ambience? Picking up/flirting with attractive members of your preferred gender? Playing pool? Karaoke? Free pretzels? There are plenty of things that one can enjoy in a good bar, even without partaking of the alcohol. Just tell your friends that that's what you're there for.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:01 PM on August 22, 2006

I don't know what I can tell you, other than you're not sharing an experience with them. You hovering around a past you've rejected.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 7:01 PM on August 22, 2006

Did you try telling them you gave it up for health reasons, or the calories, or just "Ya know, I feel better, healthier, without it". Maybe add, "I never liked it, it always made me feel kinda sick, so without it, I feel better, I guess I just have a weird metabolism or something"... It seems to me that a lot of the "why don't you drink" crowd worries that you-not-drinking is more a moral choice than a health one; sort of like vegetarians. A lot of people who drink do feel a little guilty about it, and are quick to think you're trying to make yourself seem 'superior' by not drinking. (There's "Meat upsets my digestion" and there's "I don't enjoy contributing to TORTURE AND MURDER of FUBSY ANIMALS like you do.") Try "it's not booze as a concept I object to; it's just that I, personally, don't enjoy it. Maybe I'm unusual in that, but hey, that's me. But hey, if I change my mind, I'll let you know!"
posted by Rubber Soul at 7:10 PM on August 22, 2006

Sometimes a, um, friend of mine, abstains from alcohol to avoid the dreaded malady known as "whiskey dick."
posted by Brian James at 7:16 PM on August 22, 2006

"I just don't want to" isn't a good enough reason for most people, who are primarily looking for explanations that fit their preconceived notions. You could fake a health thing - you know, have a Bloody Mary and be violently, loudly ill somewhere within earshot. Or, have you ever seen Kim Basinger in Blind Date? Pull one of those and they'll never ask you to drink again.
posted by adipocere at 7:19 PM on August 22, 2006

The Jesse: he hasn't rejected that past, merely redefined it as not including the *alcohol* part.
posted by baylink at 7:19 PM on August 22, 2006

My friends stopped egging me on to drink after one night of 6+ screwdrivers, I puked in their car.
Needless to say, they stopped encouraging the boozing after this...

You could have a fake drink and though I don't know how you'd fake puke, its in the same vein of what Rubber Soul suggests. I get buzzed easily (and am consequentially a cheap date, hah) and I can't hold my liquor well. For me, its a physical reason that I don't drink much and my friends understood that when we had to clean the car the next day.

Talk to your friends and present your choice as one you made specifically for yourself... for health reasons, fitness reasons, spiritual reasons, for any reason other than a judgment on drinking in general.
posted by Eudaimonia at 7:20 PM on August 22, 2006

Well, I quit for the "I feel better, healthier, without it" reasons. Despite the fun, blowing $75 a night at the bar 3 or 4x a week... it's not good. Totally not good.

But I still prefer to hang out in bars. Jukeboxes with obscure music choices, foosball tables, pinball machines, guaranteed good conversation and random oddballs are all things that are hard to find in coffee houses and other non-alcohol serving places, alas.
posted by huskerdont at 7:21 PM on August 22, 2006

Your friends are insecure bastards. They're getting louder and more insistent because, well, drunk people are loud and they think you can't be a drunk jackass with sober people in the room because it'd be humiliating. When everyone's drunk, you have shared drunk memories. When one guy is sober, he's seeing exactly how stupid everything actually is, and they know this.

Just act a little dumber, cut them enough slack that they forget you're not hammered, and continue to be friends with the bartender. You're the guy who's friendly, responsible, and possibly a driver if the need arrives. You'll fare fine.
posted by mikeh at 7:29 PM on August 22, 2006

Have you asked them why they're so concerned about what type of beverage you drink? I had a friend in college who pulled this exact same sort of shit with me, and what I finally got out of her was that she felt less shitty about her own (somewhat out of control) drinking habits if she had some sort of accomplice.

We eventually came to some sort of 'I won't complain about your drunken asshattery as long as you leave me alone about sucking down diet coke all night so i can drive your drunk ass home safely' agreement. It didn't last long before I found some other friends. I realize you said you have no interest in giving up your friends, but it seems pretty disrespectful that they treat you this way.
posted by makonan at 7:36 PM on August 22, 2006

I quit for the "I feel better, healthier, without it" reasons.

Have you ever stated this in so many words (no further justifications or explanations) and, without being confrontational, simply asked your friends why that's not good enough for them?

Seriously, just ask it very simply -- preferably while they're all still sober -- and then sit back and let them justify themselves. Not justify why they think you should drink, but why they personally don't like you not drinking. You may find that some think you are judging them or feeling superior -- and you can reassure them that you aren't. Some may think that you're starting to "break away" from the group -- ditto on that score. And some, truly, may just be jerks who can't accept that you have made a different decision -- in which case I, personally, wouldn't consider them very highly as friends, by YMMV.
posted by scody at 7:37 PM on August 22, 2006

i have been drunk probably 5 times in the last 12 years. shortly after i turned 21 i decided to stop getting drunk, i was a big drinker up until then. most of my friends still to this day throw the old "cmon have a drink" at me all the time, even 12 years later. i just tell em to shut up. i still go out to bars, clubs etc with them if im in the mood, and i have parties at my house all the time where they get pretty sauced. i just dont need to drink, and if they harass me i usually just make fun of them. drinking just makes me tired and looking to take a nap these days. i do like my ganja though...
posted by fumbducker at 7:38 PM on August 22, 2006

My friend who quit drinking just simply says, with a shrug, that he doesn't drink anymore. Progresses to: Nah, that stuff's no good for me. That's not my thing. Not interested.

If the person is persistant, he finishes the topic with with a pointed look and calmly says "I don't really like the way I was when I drank, so I just don't. Get the fuck over it." Then he changes the subject.

If someone who knows damn well that he's not interested repeats this, he gives him the quizzical WTF look. But he doesn't argue. You'll never win this argument, you'll just get exasperated, which is what your friends are immaturely goading you towards. Just stay calm and blow off their attempts to bait you.
posted by desuetude at 7:44 PM on August 22, 2006

I wonder if this is an age thing? I'm 25, but I know a couple older guys (a friend of the family, a former boss) who had drinking problems, quit, and now socialize with a group of drinkers. They aren't exactly going bar-hopping, but most of their activities involving drinking, if not actual bars. But everyone knows these guys had problems and, therefore, respect their choice not to drink. Maybe it's just a matter of your friends growing wiser with age? well do your friends know you? One of the guys I mentioned above quit drinking when his best friend, from his death-bed, made this guy promise to give up drinking. Now, this guy has his old friend's initials monogrammed on all his shirts and doesn't hesitate to tell the story. I couldn't imagine anyone giving this guy a hard time about not drinking once they heard his story. So, maybe you can adopt such a story as your own to get your friends to lay off?
posted by mullacc at 7:53 PM on August 22, 2006

If you were the type to freely buy rounds, your new sobriety could be cutting into your friends' buzz. I say this, huskerdont, based on your comment
"... Despite the fun, blowing $75 a night at the bar 3 or 4x a week... it's not good. Totally not good. ..."
So, your friends may be trying to find out why you're not buying rounds any more, and they may erroneously figure if they can get you to drink with them, you'll be buying again, too.

Bar bill etiquette is the rock upon which many bar friendships founder. Buy a round now and then for old times sake, and see if your drinking pals don't let up. If they do, you've discovered something, sober, that you might never have caught on to, otherwise. What you do with such knowledge is up to you.
posted by paulsc at 7:55 PM on August 22, 2006

Congratulations on clean living. Your friends aren't going stop ribbing you for it. I've never been a drinker, and my friends have always bothered me about it. I know VEGETARIANS who have asked, more than once, "Don't you occasionally want a beer, just for the taste?"

So yeah, all you can do is stand your ground, and enjoy those ginger ales. Believe me, I sure do.
posted by sdrawkcab at 8:13 PM on August 22, 2006

These are some great responses. I often feel like I'm the only non-drinker in the universe (mostly because I'm a college student), so it's good to see how you all deal with the questions. Keep it coming!

(and no, I'm not the OP, if you don't want to scroll up)
posted by danb at 8:16 PM on August 22, 2006

I've had people try to get me to drink too. My personal reason for not drinking is it simply isn't worth the money. I'd had 5 shots in as many minutes and the best it did was make it a bit tough to walk. Nobody noticed all that much difference in me and I scored 34/36 on an exam 20 minutes later.

Several years later, other friends bugged me to drink. So I had 4 tallboys of cider and fell asleep.

I figure that with enough booze I probably would get drunk, but that would cost me $100 and I find that $100 could be better spent.

When the teasing becomes too much, for me (not a solution for you) I just give in and drink and then fall asleep (not by choice, I just fall asleep quickly with alcohol). They realize it wasn't money well spent (I make them pay for the drinks, since it's their fault I'm having to waste my time on this again) and then a few more years go by without anyone bothering me about it.

Since it clearly isn't a religious decision, and isn't because of alcoholism, but is simply an economic choice, the only label I get is cheap bastard. Which isn't anything new, and I couldn't care less.

I still will drink one or maybe two drinks at a bar, but only for the taste. It's a waste of money for me to drink them for alcohol.
posted by shepd at 8:27 PM on August 22, 2006

Tell them, point-blank, that you do NOT want to drink alcohol, and you will brook no further discussion of the matter. PERIOD.

But to be honest...if these people are such good friends, then why the hell do they keep on pestering you and bothering you and questioning your decision?

Print out this thread and show it to them.
posted by davidmsc at 8:33 PM on August 22, 2006

I concur with the idea of buying a round now and then, even if your order is only a ginger ale.

Perhaps this is not appropriate for you, but I find that if I take that first shot someone buys for the group, the peer pressure afterwards drops off to almost nothing. If I refuse that initial shot, which is usually intended to get things rolling, I can really come off as a party-pooper and the peer pressure comes on heavy. But if I just take that shot with enthusiasm and then switch back to Diet Coke, it seems much less noticeable.
posted by mullacc at 8:34 PM on August 22, 2006

The reason your friends can't comprehend your life without alcohol is this:

It puts a burden on them to consider that their own lifestyle may not be ideal.

Vegetarians get this a lot. People are not content to just say "okay, that's your thing." They get defensive about it.

Thing is, we're social animals. We see one person doing something and we wonder if maybe we should too. Monday see, monkey do. Problem is, sometimes we know that someone else's thing is probably good for us too, but we're not ready to go there. That's fine, but a lot of people are not secure enough to just let it be.

Your friends probably know that alcohol is not that much of a GOOD influence on their lives, but they've relegated that thought to a rainy day when they feel like they'll have more time to ponder it and grow up than they have now. That's fine. What's not fine is taking it out on you.

So it's not so much your desire to hang out in bars that puzzles them. They do that themselves all the time. It's your choice to give up alcohol. Or, more to the point, what your choice to give up alcohol means for them.

The subconscious message is:
"If you wanna be a goody two-shoes, fine, but do you have to hang around the rest of us, rubbing it in our faces?" People don't like you doing anything that holds up a mirror to their bad behavior.

This is why vegetarians are so hated. People know that meat is dead animals and it entails a cruel industry and meat is often unhealthy the way we're used to eating it. On some deep level they know all that. And they hate being reminded.
posted by scarabic at 8:57 PM on August 22, 2006 [2 favorites]

So... to actually answer your question, probably the best thing you can do is to let them know that you approve of their choice to drink. Buying a round is a good suggestion in this regard. You want to do something to demonstrate that they should not take your abstinence as some kind of holier-than-thou personal judgment.
posted by scarabic at 9:01 PM on August 22, 2006

That is, a round for them.
posted by scarabic at 9:02 PM on August 22, 2006

posted by AmbroseChapel at 9:12 PM on August 22, 2006

It puts a burden on them to consider that their own lifestyle may not be ideal.

Exactly. Put it back on them - "Seriously and honestly, guys - why do you care if I drink or not?"
posted by obiwanwasabi at 9:20 PM on August 22, 2006

As I learned being a teetotaler through my college years (I now drink in moderation and not for intoxication) habitual drunks are overwhelmingly irritating, self-centered and obnoxious in the extreme. For four years I couldn't go to a party without being subjected to one or more jackasses who couldn't deal with the fact that I didn't drink at all and needed to talk about it at great length, try to convince me that there was nothing wrong with their drinking (even though I never suggested there was) and, yes, try to get me to drink. Your friends' behavior is normal. Learn to live with it or make more interesting friends.
posted by nanojath at 9:51 PM on August 22, 2006

I havent completely read thru the entire thread to see if this has been suggested or not but... my key suggestions are simply to carry a non-alcoholic cola or juice drink at all times, and be chill about your motives.

operate on the principle that most folks, especially people who've had a couple, aren't that observant. That plus they're usually self-absorbed enough that as long as they think you're playing along, and you don't get all up in their shit by being a Judgemental Smuggy-Puss, you should be fine.

Now, I'm totally NOT saying that you are a Judgemental Smuggy-Puss, because, honestly dude I don't know you. its just I have seen quite a few non-drinkers that flaunt it around like a Great Holy Virtue or some crap like that

for diverse reasons, I never drank At. All. until my mid thirties. even now one beer is plenty and to spare. I hung out in bars practically nightly when I was 'that age' i.e. late teens - mid twenties yea i'm old, the drinking age was 18 back then.

I really enjoyed bar games (pool, darts, trivia, air hockey, whatever) so I'd shoot pool and keep some non-alcoholic drink in hand at all times. I learned very quickly that a cranberry-and-soda-with-a-lime was not only cheap and very tasty, but it kept guys from continually asking to buy me (alcoholic) drinks.

no one ever hassled me because I didn't drink, even when I hung with some fairly hardcore goth/stoner/druggie crowds. I guess it never became an issue because I never made a major deal out of the "OMG I DON'T DO THAT!!!" thing. if someone offered me a drink, I just held up my juice, as in 'its ok, I'm good'. someone passed the bong to me and I'd pass it along without taking a hit, end of story. I do recall maybe twice some dude got all belligerent with me, and both times I blew him off as an asshole (ugh, fratboys, living up to the stereotypes)

I always got a huge kick out of hanging out with my friends, but then I had extremely cool friends and the bars we frequented were chill neighbourhood dive-y type college bars, not the kinds of places that were stuffed full of rich kids and frat boys trying to drink themselves into oblivion. well... I did pour my roommates into the car and drove them home some 3 or 4 nights a week at times. they were stoked to have a safe driver tho.

it prolly helps that I don't mind being around drunk people so long as they're not mean drunk. nor must I get screwed up in order to have fun in keeping with the crowd; I've never been drunk even, but I have been known to sing show tunes, wear pink wigs, and balance plastic patio chairs on my nose in public, so maybe I'm just naturally unhinged or something.

anyway sorry this is so long but I hope blathering about my experiences helps you decide how to manage your friends' discomfort with your stance on this. and if they don't deal well with it... or continue to be assholes about pushing you on the subject? well then perhaps consider an upgrade to Friends v. 2.0.
posted by lonefrontranger at 12:17 AM on August 23, 2006

and yeah, on (belated) preview, everything that paulsc and scarabic said.
posted by lonefrontranger at 12:26 AM on August 23, 2006

I feel you on this. Several months ago, I started taking a medication that requires me to carefully limit my alcohol consumption. So now if I'm out with friends and feel like a drink (which isn't often), I'll order just one and then switch to diet soda.

I made this change quietly and without fanfare, partially because that's my style and partially because it's really no one else's business. But it didn't go unnoticed: it continues to irritate one friend in particular who once whined at a birthday party, "I can't drink as much now!" when I stood firm on my one-drink rule. She then continued to needle me for the rest of the evening.

Initially, I tried to be gracious and kind and steer the conversation elsewhere ("Surely there are more interesting things to talk about -- did you see such-and-such movie yet?"), but lately I've become less patient and more irritated. Even after pulling her aside and telling her why my ordering habits have changed, she still pushes me to drink more when we go out. I'm now seriously reconsidering why I hang out with her anymore.
posted by vespertine at 12:40 AM on August 23, 2006

There's also the (slim) chance that your friends have noticed a change in your behavior and are concerned about you. Even if it's not the case and they're just needling you because they feel bad about over-consuming, treat it as if they were. "Yeah, dude, I can't drink too much anymore. Did way too much in my youth and now my body's saying it's time to stop. Thanks for noticing, though. I just wish I could still pack it away like you!"

I confess to needling non-drinkers while drinking, although once the case is made to me, I'm pretty sure I let the subject drop (nothing spoils an evening like "My family has a history of alcoholism and my dad used to beat me while drunk, so I don't really want to start drinking." "Really? That sucks!" "No, not really. I just don't drink.").

Congrats to you for massing the willpower and sticking with it. Just don't become one of those shrill prohibitionists! One friend had a girlfriend who did not drink, but got really, really annoyed when people around her did, even when she was hanging out with them in a bar. She didn't last long.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:44 AM on August 23, 2006

Wow you got some really good advice here. Sometimes I go through dry spells where I just don't feel like getting wasted or can't because I have something going on. Usually my friends will needle me and stop if I take a shot or just have a drink and nurse it all night long. I guess this doesn't work if you are the type who can't just have one drink but it is the most effective.

I second all the comments about not being an asshole to those who are drinking. Please don't try to play babysitter or act morally superior. Remember they are all really drunk and having fun. Please God don't interrupt the fun. I have a friend who rarely drinks but will go out with us sometimes, what usually happens: 2AM, been talking to a girl all night and things start working out, usually progresses to drunk flirt mode which is where two people are definitely not being smooth. Non-drinker friend rolls his eyes and makes a comment about it totally interrupting the flow. If you ever do this you will never be invited to anything every again. Only stop the drunks when they are doing something truly embarrassing or something that will lead to harm of life or limb. Having a sober person there can be a huge asset ("Skanky girl! Still skanky!") or the biggest liability.
posted by geoff. at 8:38 AM on August 23, 2006

Maybe just explain it to them to satisfy they're curiosity. "No, I'm not a former alcoholic" and "No, I'm not going to become a strident teetotaler that's going to judge you for drinking."

I abstain a lot more frequently than I used to because of the calories. Sounds f'ed up but smoking cigarettes seems to put people more at ease b/c I'm still hurting my body in some way even if I'm just drinking a Diet Pepsi!
posted by clairezulkey at 8:52 AM on August 23, 2006

Some people, including myself, don't really like drinking around people who don't drink. It's not about a fear of being seen as a fool; it's more a suspicion that the sober person is actively looking for the chance to feel and act superior. Tacit disapproval is not something that anyone wants to be on the receiving end of, especially from a friend, especially while deliberately entering a physical place and a state of mind that one associates with relaxation and freedom from having to watch too closely what one says or does. When I was in college, I had a group I drank with regularly, and we all inevitably said or did things around each other that we would have been embarassed about the next morning if we didn't all feel protected by (not just from) each other's understanding. If you didn't feel like drinking, you didn't show up at the bar.

Besides, some people just aren't as fun to be around when they're sober. The fact that you posed your question in the form of 'help them get it' and inserted an unrelated judgement on 12-step programs indicates to me that you are probably one such person.

Has it occurred to you that your friends have the right to get drunk among other drunks if that's what they want?
posted by bingo at 9:17 AM on August 23, 2006

Just out of curiosity, do ALL you friends like to get hammered when they drink? When I get older I notice that I really can't handle that so much. Are there any in the group who drink but can handle going out and drinking moderately or lightly?
posted by clairezulkey at 9:47 AM on August 23, 2006

I am actually surprised that anyone would give you shit about it. Just tell them that you're the designated driver.
Actually, a lot of bars (at least the ones I hung out in) would give you free sodas & snacks if you told the bartender that you were the designated driver for your group.
posted by drstein at 10:43 AM on August 23, 2006

This is why vegetarians are so hated. People know that meat is dead animals and it entails a cruel industry and meat is often unhealthy the way we're used to eating it. On some deep level they know all that. And they hate being reminded.

Actually it's because both of you seem determined to hang around with cocksuckers, by which I do not mean people who actually suck cock, which is fine, but rather obnoxious jerkoff fuckbags.

Those of us comfortable with our life choices don't need to harangue people around us to be One Of Us, either by pestering, lecturing or sniping at.

If you friends repeatedly persist in pestering you to drink (or eat meat or snort coke or suck cock) even when you tell them firmly "I just don't, and I'm not going to, knock it the fuck off" then the problem is that they're jerks.

How to make them not-jerks is a whole other unanswerable askme question.
posted by phearlez at 12:02 PM on August 23, 2006

Whenever they bug you, just say you'll drink if they're buying, then order a nice single-malt. They quit bugging you fairly quickly.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 7:14 PM on August 23, 2006

Especially when you then don't drink it...
posted by DrtyBlvd at 2:45 AM on August 24, 2006

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