Help me become a graceful nondrinker.
December 11, 2006 8:32 PM   Subscribe

How do I gracefully become a (young) non-drinker?

It's become apparent to me over the past couple of months that I can't have so much as a drink without risking a tidy little migraine shortly after. While I've enjoyed drinking socially in the past, I'd rather stop drinking than continue having migraines every time I have so much as a mojito.

That said, how do I gracefully make the transition from "social drinker" to "teetotaler"? I'm 22, and although I'm not dating, alcohol is a substantial part of the social scene. I often make plans to meet "for a drink" with friends, and going to bars and clubs is something that's done in my social circle.

I am just seeking ways to answer the inevitable "Are you pregnant/on the wagon/religious?" questions that are bound to come up, preferably without going into too much detail about my medical condition. (Not because I'm embarrassed, but just because, well, I'm somewhat reticent on the matter).

Mainly, I'm entering a phase of my life where I will be meeting a lot of new people in both a personal and professional capacity, and I could use some advice on how to deal with this. (I fear the Alpana Singhs of the world judging me if I don't order wine at a nice restaurant!)

As a bonus, two more questions:

1) I'm going to be working for the US government in France for several months this spring. Anyone know how Europeans view nondrinkers?

2) What's a nice nonalcoholic beverage that feels a bit more "grown-up" than a Diet Coke?
posted by anjamu to Human Relations (44 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Just say you are on a "health kick" and leave it at that.

As for 2) - (in Australia at least) lemon, lime and bitters is a nice alternative. And refreshing. "Mocktails" are another option but might be a bit fussy to order.
posted by gomichild at 8:37 PM on December 11, 2006

Perrier would be the professional/grown-up/visiting-France version of the Diet Coke.
posted by bcwinters at 8:41 PM on December 11, 2006

I usually order an iced tea. (When I'm not on a bender).
I immediately thought of Leonardo DiCaprio's character in The Departed. He orders a cranberry juice and when someone makes fun of them he rearranges their face. I would advice against this, though.

I think that in today's culture it's perfectly acceptible to be a non-drinker. Have you tried phrases like, "Alcohol doesn't agree with me," or "Alcohol gives me migraines?" I don't think talking about it from a medical-condition perspective is going to seem that strange to people. I have a number of friends who, for whatever reason, get sick to their stomach or get really bad headaches whenever they drink.

I just re-read that statement and I realized I couched it in pretty pro-drinking terms. Perhaps you shouldn't consider yourself a non-drinker, but rather, as a "person who is making a healthy choice to lead a longer, more healthy life."
posted by Baby_Balrog at 8:42 PM on December 11, 2006

In my experience, this is not as big a deal as I expect it to be. I'm not a teetotaler, but I drink very little and pretty much nothing (maybe one glass of wine if it will be several hours before I have to leave) if I'm driving. When someone asks if you want a drink, just request something non-alcoholic, and the issue tends to go away.

On the rare occasions when someone actually questions it (usually young men who are already drunk in my experience, and thus, really, who cares what they think given that they're not that likely to remember the next day?) I personally use the line, 'Eh, I'm driving, and I don't drive that well when I'm sober, so...' Everyone laughs, and we move on. A simple, repeatable line that's basically honest can diffuse any situational tension. And anyone who hears the line more than once never asks again.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:43 PM on December 11, 2006

Become a designated driver. Drink tonic water or fruit juice or sparkling water or Orangina or citron pressé or elderflower cordial, the latter being very grown-up. Tell people in France that you're heartbroken that you can't drink their wonderful wines, but your doctor says not to, and un verre d'eau gazeuse, s'il vous plaît. They will curse your misfortune and think no more of it.
posted by holgate at 8:44 PM on December 11, 2006

Have any of them actually asked you about it? I have never drank, but when people bring it up, I just say I don't drink, and leave it at that. Honestly, it's none of their business. If they press it, I just say "I don't drink", and move on in the conversation.

If they really want to know, or you feel they deserve to know, tell them. But really, if someone asked me if I was pregnant, I would ask them back. Is it any of their business? Hell no.

As for the professional capacity you bring up, I always think it's so funny how people tend to get drunk at company parties. I would think my coworkers and bosses would be the last people I would want to embarrass myself around.

"2) What's a nice nonalcoholic beverage that feels a bit more "grown-up" than a Diet Coke?" Kids shouldn't be drinking coke - soda is a grown up beverage! :)
posted by jesirose at 8:45 PM on December 11, 2006

i always have a club soda with a lime. it looks like an adult beverage and they're mighty tasty.
posted by brandz at 8:45 PM on December 11, 2006

You can't hide it when you order but virtually any bubbly drink with a lime in it will look like a cocktail. So 7up or Soda Water with lime will do the hiding trick.

Honestly this shouldn't really be difficult. Going out for drinks doesn't preclude a non-alcoholic drink. And most people don't really care (when I was 22 I would have killed for a full time driver ;-) You can always pick up the first round and get the lime drink I just suggested. Just nurse it and no one will notice.
posted by bitdamaged at 8:48 PM on December 11, 2006

in europe? I'd suggest the old "I'm recovering" line. everyone will understand it. in fact, everyone understood it when I used it at age sixteen.
posted by krautland at 8:53 PM on December 11, 2006

Best answer: answer to your bonus question: ask for an arnold palmer. chances are, not even the bartender will know it.
posted by krautland at 8:55 PM on December 11, 2006 [1 favorite]

Ha! I was just about to suggest an Arnold Palmer. I love 'em!
posted by Sfving at 9:00 PM on December 11, 2006

I always order a Roy Rogers when I'm not drinking (which is most of the time). It's just a coke with grenadine, but it looks like rum and coke and tastes better than cherry coke.
posted by Alison at 9:07 PM on December 11, 2006

I know you said you don't want to get into your medical conditions, but I think that a response of "because it gives me migraines" is pretty much an understandable answer that probably won't lead into further questioning. It's truthful, and it doesn't invite people to probe further into your motivations.

If you give mysterious non-answers like "I don't drink," it sets off warning bells with people. Giving people an idea of why you don't drink may reassure them that you're not going to be secretly judgmental of their drinking, which is most drinkers' problem with ardent non-drinkers. Particularly if you're going to be doing the dating thing, giving non-answers is definitely going to make people wonder what your deal is.

Imagine that you had a peanut allergy and were at the circus; if someone asked you why you don't eat nuts, it would seem a little odd (and possibly seem overly defensive) to say "because I just don't eat nuts, okay?" The simplest answer would just be to say "I'm allergic to nuts," and end the conversation there.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:09 PM on December 11, 2006 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah. Arnie Palmers is what one of my friends, who is in sales, drinks at alcohol events. It looks like a strong cocktail (Easily mistaken for a long island) and most people don't know it's nonalcolholic.
posted by SpecialK at 9:11 PM on December 11, 2006

"It's a migraine trigger for me." Just that simple.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 9:16 PM on December 11, 2006

Honestly, I find it amazing that we have to think that NOT drinking is some kind of stigma, or something we have to explain. With all the deaths and injuries caused by drunk drivers, and seeing how embarrassing many people behave when drinking, I would have no problem, in your shoes, with saying very proudly, I don't drink.

If anyone presses, it's none of their business. I rarely drink, and if I am with a group that is ordering alcohol, and I am not drinking, if I am questioned, i just say "Ya know, drinking really doesn't do anything for me." I have never been cross examined on that answer.
posted by The Deej at 9:23 PM on December 11, 2006

I also am a young (25) non-drinker and have been my whole life.

For me, it's not a religious decision, or a moral decision, or anything along those lines. I don't drink because (1) it costs lots of money, (2) there are no free re-refills, (3) alcohol has way too many empty calories, (4) I have a rich history of alcoholism in my family, (5) I don't want to worry about how I'm going to get home or how I'll feel in the morning, etc. (6) I hate drunk people, (7) I don't like losing control.

But when people ask me why I don't drink (which is a very common question), I don't dare rattle all of that off. It is much more socially acceptable I've found to blow off the question, not really even answer it, to never declare officially "I don't drink" -- that's when you standout.

Instead, I say something along the lines of, "I'm a recovering alcoholic." Then it gets really quiet and awkward. And then I break the silence with, "No, I'm just fucking around, not tonight." Notice how I've (a) not declared myself not to be a drinker, (b) shown I can be somewhat funny, (c) proven I'm not some religious zealot.

Then, the next time I'm with that person, you just keep saying, "Ahhh, not tonight. Gotta be up early" or "Not in the mood" or "On a diet." Again, point is never to make that clear cut distinction which brands you.
posted by JPowers at 9:30 PM on December 11, 2006 [1 favorite]

This is not meant to be snarky, but to summarize the advice in the last time this question was asked (as I recall it): Nobody cares what you drink. Order what you want and don't think about it.
posted by jdroth at 9:31 PM on December 11, 2006 [1 favorite]

As a non-drinker (usually), I can assure you that people don't give a shit. In your circle of friends, you'll be known as a guy who doesn't drink, but if you're cool with hanging out at bars and going out and having fun, then it doesn't matter at all. Just go and get yourself a coke. Nobody cares.

If anyone does ask, just say "Booze tends to give me migraines." You know how you want to avoid having a long discussion of your medical problems? Everyone else wants to avoid it even more, because your medical problems are boring. They do not want to talk about them. Just shrug and grab your coke.

Just as long as you're not one of those self-righteous dicks who lists off 10 reasons why they don't drink whenever prompted, nobody will care. If you are that dick, they still won't care, they just won't be in the same room as you.
posted by billybunny at 9:45 PM on December 11, 2006 [3 favorites]

I think the easiest answer to "Why aren't you drinking?" is "I don't enjoy it." If the people you're with won't accept that, then they're probably not people you should be spending time with.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 9:50 PM on December 11, 2006

"Nobody cares what you drink. Order what you want and don't think about it."

"people don't give a shit"

Not true at all, at least not for me. People care, they are curious, especially when they are just getting to know you. Labeling someone as a "non-drinker" is a really quick and easy way to make sense of who you are. They put you into a category in their head: nerd, religious nut, loser, weirdo, square, etc. within seconds of finding out you don't drink.
posted by JPowers at 10:40 PM on December 11, 2006

I've handled this for years by just telling the truth: I never got the taste for alcohol.

I tell the same thing to coffee drinkers. No one seems to care much.

I have found some social situations where not drinking alcohol is a drawback -- I can't do business in Russia for example -- but for the most part people just don't care.

There may be a bigger problem for you if you continue to hang out in bars while not drinking, though: hanging out with drunk people is not terribly enthralling when sober.
posted by tkolar at 10:52 PM on December 11, 2006

Bruce Wayne (yes, Batman) would order ginger ale but made it look like Champagne.

I tend to think when questioned you could turn it around and ask why your questioners assume whatever it is they assume? And further, turn it around on them, why are they drinking? Are they a drunk | lush | alcoholic? If the tone is merely inquisitive and conversational, it's a fair question. It's when people think they know what you're about when it feels almost hostile.

I used to get the same thing when I was offered drugs. I had my reasons for not imbibing, and those reasons are not necessarily for public consumption. A simple change the subject takes care of it usually. I know it helped me cultivate the capacity to change the subject.

What were we talking about again?
posted by artlung at 11:21 PM on December 11, 2006

I second telling them the truth:

"Eh - I don't drink often because alcohol gives me migranes. *shrug* It's unfortunate, but hey, I'm out having a good time, right? Now how about those <insert regional sports team>'s?"
posted by chrisamiller at 11:50 PM on December 11, 2006

Previously: fake drinks that look like real drinks, plus plenty of advice, some of which might be helpful.
posted by booksandlibretti at 12:11 AM on December 12, 2006

Labeling someone as a "non-drinker" is a really quick and easy way to make sense of who you are.

If people label you as somehow beneath them for being a non-drinker, they aren't worth associating with in the first place.

Honestly, it's not that big a deal. Yes, you're young, and yes, drinking is a big part of socializing at your age, but here's the thing: a) there's lots of socializing that young people do without alcohol; b) if you've got a diet coke in your hand, nobody is going to ask you "is that plain diet coke? what's wrong with you??" They really won't.

Even better, just tell them the truth. "Drinking even a small amount of alcohol gives me really intense migraines, so I had to stop drinking." It's a perfectly rational reason for not drinking, and it won't make you look like you're being some sort of high horse non-drinker looking down on everybody.
posted by antifuse at 2:40 AM on December 12, 2006

I'm also a 22 year old male; I definitely understand where you're coming from.

My tastes lately have been going away from hard alcohol (beer snob), as well as from alcohol in general. So I get a lot of the same "duuude, have another one!" sentiment that you're probably getting.

I think that the truth is a perfectly effective way of answering questions; I usually say 'meh, I feel pretty good as is," and let it drop. You could say "lately, alcohol's been giving me headaches, so I'm taking a little break."

The trick is to not make the refusal socially awkward. I find that it helps immensely when I'm at a party or whatever, when I'm not drinking, to be a little bit more loud or talkative than I would be otherwise. As long as you don't rock the boat socially, people won't actually care that you aren't drinking.

My drink of choice for these situations is soda, but that's because I like soda. If you're just at parties, juice works fine (people will just assume it's mixed with something.) If you're at a bar, the above suggestions all work.

Having something to toast with is part of the whole 'not rocking the boat' thing.
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 2:41 AM on December 12, 2006

"I'm allergic to alcohol" usually does the trick.
posted by perpetualstroll at 3:08 AM on December 12, 2006

Nth the 'explain it' responses, but no need to use so many syllables. 'I get migraines' is explanation enough. If anyone replies, 'Really? From one teensy-weensy wittle drinkle?', a blunt 'yes' ought to suffice. And for anyone else who presses the matter, 'get lost' is quite appropriate.
posted by eritain at 3:48 AM on December 12, 2006

Do the following:

Always order a non-alcoholic drink with lime juice. Lots of lime juice. It gives you a kick, and looks like you are drinking alcohol. For example, Caipirinha without alcohol is a good choice.

And if you want to avoid the post-alohol pain, do the following:

* Do not take a piss as often as you would like. Do it only when absolutely neccesary
* Drink lots of water before going to bed.

The only reason for the headaches is just dehydration. Solve that problem, and you'll solve the pain problem.
posted by markesh at 4:26 AM on December 12, 2006

There is a certain glamour to not drinking at all. If I am offered a drink I usually explain that I have had my allocation. The trick is to cultivate the look of a man who has lived a bit, who has enjoyed a past of debauchery and excess. Everyone prefers the reformed sinner to the lifelong puritan. I am not a teetotaller. I am a person who "enjoys a drink". But I don't want a drink right now, thank you very much.

An article in today's Guardian.
posted by brighton at 5:24 AM on December 12, 2006

Murkesh: a migraine is very obviously not a dehydration headache, and the odds of being able to avoid one by being better hydrated ... it's not that simple.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 5:39 AM on December 12, 2006

I feel your pain, bro. This same thing happens to me and people just don't get it, what with my being a musician and everybody just expecting that I should live getting wasted and tossing TVs out the window.

What I've resorted to lately is that after I say I don't want anything with alcohol in it and people open their eyes in disbelief and ask me:

- You don't drink?

I just adopt what I assume is a Bukowski look, a Tom Waits voice and I mumble:

- Alcohol takes more from me than it gives me, these days.

That usually satisfies them.
posted by micayetoca at 6:00 AM on December 12, 2006

Everyone seems to have answered your first question very well, but here's another post that lists a lot of non-alcoholic drinks for social occasions.
posted by saffry at 7:22 AM on December 12, 2006

Related to your situation, my mother couldn't drink (or eat chocolate!) for decades because it triggered migraines, and she always just said she was allergic. However, in her 40s she discovered that she was able to have the occasional glass of nice wine/squares of quality chocolate without reacting. She thinks that she must have 'grown out of it', but it definitely makes a difference if she has the really expensive stuff instead of $3 crap.
posted by jacalata at 7:51 AM on December 12, 2006

I drink a OJ and 7up when the need to fake it comes around.

Steven C. Den Beste writes "I think the easiest answer to 'Why aren't you drinking?' is 'I don't enjoy it.' If the people you're with won't accept that, then they're probably not people you should be spending time with"

One doesn't always get to control whom they interact with professionally. There are certian segments of society that are wary of non drinkers. I've had a one time client come right out and tell me he never trusts non drinkers when I refused a beer at the end of a day. Which although disappointing told me everything I needed to assess his potential as a client.

JPowers writes "I say something along the lines of, 'I'm a recovering alcoholic.' Then it gets really quiet and awkward. And then I break the silence with, 'No, I'm just fucking around, not tonight.' Notice how I've (a) not declared myself not to be a drinker, (b) shown I can be somewhat funny, (c) proven I'm not some religious zealot"

I love this. A tactic I'm keeping for the tool box in the future.
posted by Mitheral at 8:20 AM on December 12, 2006

Anyone know how Europeans view nondrinkers?

In the UK? As crazy people.

If you don't drink then there is something wrong with you - you are either weird or a recovering alcoholic, there is literally no "in between" area. I used to run a pub and trust me, no matter what they say to your face, privately they think there's something wrong with you.

It's a pretty damning indictment of British culture, but unfortunately it's the truth. British people are absolutely obsessed with drinking, everything revolves around the pub. We're changing, but very, very slowly.
posted by alby at 8:56 AM on December 12, 2006 [1 favorite]

This thread is a revelation. I thought we all got over caring whether anyone thought we were "cool" in high school.
posted by The Deej at 10:28 AM on December 12, 2006

I think you may be projecting a bit about people making judgments about you based on your not drinking. In my experience, people just don't care that much. If they do notice you having a lemonade (my favorite, unless it is Country Time Lemonade), they won't remember and they won't care.

I have almost never been questioned about it, because my attitude is very low-key. I don't expect to be questioned, so I am not.

Drinkers/the-drunk are not terribly perceptive, keep that in mind. Don't make a big deal out of it and likely it will never be a problem.

Your bigger problem may be that bars are often really quite boring without drinking, at least if there is no live music, and drunk people are not that interesting (to me at least). They can't make good conversation, and they begin to repeat themselves, embellish old stories or become attention hogs. This in mind, I usually leave when the drinking gets really serious at a social event.
posted by Invoke at 11:36 AM on December 12, 2006

This thread is a revelation. I thought we all got over caring whether anyone thought we were "cool" in high school.

We just discovered it's uncool to care about being cool. Sort of like the way it's bad luck to be superstitious.
posted by Richard Daly at 2:51 PM on December 12, 2006

I have a friend in AA who simply says that he is allergic to alcohol. Then under his breath adds - " I break out in drunks"
posted by vronsky at 3:08 PM on December 12, 2006

Just dittoing that most drinkers are more comfortable, and ask less questions if you say "not tonight" or "I've reached my limit" or "I'm taking a break". It doesn't matter how personal your reasons are for never drinking, certain acquaintances will always think that you're judging them, so I tend to act as if it's a temporary situation, which means I get less questions. My friends all know why I've stopped, and that its been a few years, but their friends don't need to know the details.
posted by sourlime at 3:49 PM on December 12, 2006

As others have suggested, discreetly order a ginger ale or a tonic water with lime. No one will know that it has no kick to it.

You don't owe anybody any explanation for what you choose to do.
posted by yclipse at 5:17 PM on December 12, 2006

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