Navigating Social Situations When You Don’t Drink

In January I received a comment from a reader named Amy, asking about what it’s like to navigate not-drinking-alcohol in social situations.

She wrote:
Saw the champagne bottle on the last “a few things” of the year. I assume you might not drink being Mormon… don’t think you’ve ever written about that… do you ever end up being in situations where a lot of people are drinking and it’s annoying/awkward?

Then another reader, Ali, wrote:
We are also a non-drinking family and are planning a move to Italy. I’ve been wondering how to navigate social situations there where wine is such a part of the culture. I don’t want to offend people, but I’m not going to drink either. I’d love to hear how you handled social drinking situations in France.

Then a third reader, Bobbie, wrote:
I would also be curious about this. My live-in boyfriend is a recovering alcoholic and I’ve (mostly) happily given up alcohol, but it makes social situations tough, especially around holidays or other celebrations. It doesn’t help that we don’t yet have kids and many social engagements still having a drinking element.

I’d be curious about how others handle this for other reasons. Especially because we will likely be planning a wedding soon–I’m feeling very anxious about an occasion where many will be drinking but we won’t be. 

Does it offend people?

I think these are such interesting questions and thought I’d tackle a response. It’s the sort of topic that I think readers will have a wide variety of experiences with, and thoughts about, so I’m hoping you’ll chime in as well.

To answer Amy’s question: Is it ever annoying or awkward? I would say, mostly it’s totally fine, but once in awhile, yes, it is annoying or awkward.

One awkward memory:
When I first moved to New York I hadn’t really ever been to a bar before and found the whole thing very mysterious and stressful. It was clearly a scene that was so familiar to seemingly everyone else in the city, but totally foreign to me. I didn’t know how it worked — like how to get the bartender’s attention, what types of non-alcoholic drinks are typically available at a bar. Is it okay to just order a soda? A water? Is there an option if I want a fancy-looking drink, but without alcohol?

And it felt like something I couldn’t avoid — there were always events where I would be meeting friends or co-workers at a bar to celebrate something or other. I was so embarrassed that I didn’t know this stuff already at 27 years old.

I also didn’t understand that pubs and bars also often serve food — and that they can be a great option for late night eats. But I learned. And now it’s not a big deal.

One annoying memory:
As I’ve mentioned, I didn’t grow up around drinking at all, and I didn’t spend time around people who were drinking until we moved to New York. At some point I learned that I didn’t really even notice if people were drinking during social situations — they might be more relaxed, or more giggly, but the alcohol didn’t seem to make that big of a  difference. Until a line was crossed and they were drunk. I learned I find drunk people pretty annoying. And I don’t like that sense of being responsible for a drunk friend. Getting drunk, or wanting to get drunk, is not something I pretend to understand. 

Lucky for me, I’m around people who are drinking often, but rarely around anyone who is drunk.

Four things I’ve learned that helped me navigate not-drinking in social situations:
1) You’re not alone. Yes, alcohol is everywhere and widely served. Unless you’re willing to keep a very tight social circle, alcohol is unavoidable. That said, there are a ton of people who don’t drink (even celebrities). And they don’t drink for a wide variety of reasons. It’s just not that unusual.

Some people simply don’t like alcohol. Others may be pregnant or have other medical reasons not to drink. Or maybe someone has a big presentation the next day and doesn’t want to risk feeling hungover. Someone might be trying to lose weight. Or they might be a recovering alcoholic. Or, like me, they might steer clear of alcohol for a religious reason (Mormons aren’t the only religion to swear off alcohol.)

It’s really no one’s business why you’re not drinking, and happily, most people don’t ask. You can say whatever you want if someone does ask, even just a shrug and, “Not in the mood.” For sure there’s no need to explain in-depth or get into your religious reasons for abstaining. : )

2) It gets easier. I’ve noticed the whole navigating-not-drinking is easier the older I get. By their mid-30s it seems like a lot of my friends start trying to drink less — their metabolism slows down, or they’re taking a medication that doesn’t mix well with alcohol, or they can’t snap back from a hangover as quickly. At 42, not drinking feels much less conspicuous than it did at 27.

3) Find something reliable that you can order. The most helpful thing for me personally? I learned to love sparkling water — like Perrier or San Pellegrino or any old generic club soda. I used to hate it. Just detest it. But I kept drinking it and now I love it. It’s helpful to love it, because at any social event where a bar is involved, I know I can always order a sparkling water — maybe with a lemon or lime wedge — and it never draws negative attention or makes me stand out in a way that feels weird.

4) Keep a drink in hand. At social events where there is a bar, it’s best to have a drink in my hand. It’s totally fine if the drink is non-alcoholic, I just need to be holding something (and it can’t be empty). Having a drink in my hand seems to allow me to bypass almost every drinking-related conversation. And when it comes time to cheers — as it so often does — then I already have a drink ready to go.

A note about France:
When we lived in France, instead of alcohol being a challenge, the harder thing was that we didn’t drink coffee or tea (besides herbal options). And there was no Starbucks to run to, and no to-go food culture, if I had houseguests who needed coffee. So while we lived there, I learned to make coffee with a French press, and now I always keep my house stocked with one, just in case. We were sometimes gifted alcohol — a beautiful bottle of wine or calvados. We were of course grateful and gracious, and we would simply find an appreciative friend who we could regift it to.

Okay. Your turn. What would you say to Amy, Ali and Bobbie? Any advice? Did you grow up around drinking? If you stopped drinking, would your social life change? How would you describe your relationship with alcohol these days?

P.S. Three mocktail recipes.

120 thoughts on “Navigating Social Situations When You Don’t Drink”

  1. My parents gave up alcohol when we were young teenagers. They just decided that they did not want to drink any more. I remember thinking it was pretty cool! My parents had personal convictions. I really reduced drinking after I started having children. I just wanted to always be fully present and aware. I sometimes had a 1/2 glass of wine on occasion. Now 22 years have past and I drink very little, no one seems to notice or really care. I live in Park City which is a pretty social and fun community, but my not drinking seems to be a non-issue. I order lemonade or sparkling water with lemon, which I love!

    1. I love sparkling water with lemon too! It’s funny to me when I remember how much I didn’t like it when I first tried it, because now it’s something I always keep stocked in my own fridge.

  2. Kate the Great

    I live in the Northwest United States, where people tend to love their coffee more than other places I’ve lived. And I have non-coffee-drinking friends who feel it’s really awkward for them when they are in social situations like “let’s talk about it over coffee.” But I just don’t feel like that, even when I also don’t drink coffee.

    I feel like this also applies to alcohol. Intimate meetings happen over a drink, at bars or coffee shops. They can be really hip places and a good combination of public yet intimate. When someone asks you to “have a drink”, most likely, they’re not trying to get you drunk. They want to be your friend or they want a fun/casual place to meet with you that they don’t have to clean themselves. And the library isn’t open. :D

    So I go to coffee shops and order smoothies or hot chocolate or scones or cookies. And enjoy the atmosphere and the company and the fact that someone wanted to be in my company without being hostess.

    1. For sure! I remember getting to New York and having a friend invite me for coffee, and having this moment of thinking: Shoot. I’m going to have to explain that I don’t drink coffee. Is she going to prepare some special coffee for me and I’ll offend her?

      And then getting to her house and being offered coffee, juice, water, soda, etc. and realizing that “meeting for coffee” is just a way to say “let’s get together and chat — and we can eat or drink whatever.”

      Which makes total sense of course — lots of people prefer drinking something other than coffee. But I didn’t understand that until it actually happened. : )

  3. I’ve never tasted an alcoholic drink that I wanted to have a second sip of. Just don’t like it – period. I have no problem in drinking situations. I just say “No, thanks.” if offered. In a family of wine drinkers and having vacationed in France and Italy & visited the high end wineries in Northern California – nobody seems bothered or offended that I don’t drink. Well, maybe at some of the snootier places that looked at me like I was crazy not to taste their $$$$$ wine. But I’m okay with that. I’m automatically the designated driver in the family. Did you know that if you tell the bartender you are the designated driver it usually entitles you to free non-alcohol drinks at any bar? I won’t take care of anybody who has had too much though – I draw the line there.

  4. My husband’s job required a lot of social situations, most of which a cocktail hour was a request, but not completely obligatory -that said if you missed out on that hour chances are you missed many opportunities to voice your opinion on a job or a change to advance your particular situation. We’d usually find the bar, grab a coke or 7-up, and as you say, sip and keep that glass with us as we conversed.

    During other meetings where dinner was also part of the setting glasses would be already set at the tables, for us, we just quietly turned the wine glass upside down as a signal to wait staff that we didn’t need any, and at the first serve they took the glass away, no questions asked, problem solved.

    After a year or so co workers began to notice we never drank the alcohol offered and asked what was up, we replied we were “teetotalers” and most were fine and very respectful of our choice without further discussion. Some learned we also had religious alcohol restrictions, but never made us feel uncomfortable. At occasions where ‘bar tickets’ were offered, and again at those dinner tables, eventually word got out that we didn’t drink and all the sudden everyone wanted to be our table mates, because if they asked they just got out wine glass or tickets, haha! Luckily any place we had these situations was usually connected to a hotel or convention center with prearranged rides so being responsible for anyone else wasn’t even an issue.

    At Christmas he could count on receiving at least 3-4 bottles of wine or champagne, which he happily passed on to his office staff. One particular associate, after five or so years of gifting him with wine found out he never drank and from that year on we received the most amazing live wreaths I’ve ever seen in my life. Very gracious!

    When it is just he and I out for a meal and the wait staff urge us to try a special wine or whatever we simply say “we’re driving this evening” and that’s about it. No one wonders why we both say it, but there we go!

    1. Thanks for mentioning the wine glass turned upside down. That’s another thing that’s worked for me too.

      When I think of the non-drinking young adult Mormons I know heading out into the world, I wish I could give them lessons on all this stuff so they could avoid the awkwardness I felt. Even things like how to “cheers!” I didn’t grow up doing this and didn’t understand it’s a whole thing.

    2. I was taught that if you are in a restaurant where ordering alcohol is expected, and thus the cost is in the amount you’ll use to calculate a tip, just tip as if you did so the wait staff isn’t getting the short end of the stick because of my choices.

  5. An interesting post Gabby! We have a big drinking culture in Australia and it is awful. I too do not like to be around drunk people and intentionally avoid situations where there is a high chance of that happening. (I always leave parties when I sense things getting out of control.) I notice that among many young people in my orbit, they are shying away from drinking culture, which makes me happy. I am also noticing deliberate decisions to not include alcohol in certain situations where children are involved, like school fundraisers. This pleases me too because the relationship between alcohol and fun should not be normalised. You can have fun without having alcohol. That said, my husband works in the wine industry and I am spoilt for choice as to the fantastic wine I get to have. It is a great pleasure for me to have a glass of wine or champagne as much as it is to eat a chocolate or have an hour of uninterrupted reading. We have some neighbours who do not drink alcohol for religious reasons and but their adult children do not follow this way of life. They are very sad about that but accepting of their choices. Have you ever contemplated a situation like that?

    1. “We have some neighbours who do not drink alcohol for religious reasons and but their adult children do not follow this way of life. They are very sad about that but accepting of their choices. Have you ever contemplated a situation like that?”

      Yes, we know that may be in our future and it doesn’t worry us. My siblings are no longer practicing Mormons, so our family events often involve wine or cocktails now. And I know the same may be true for my own kids.

      1. Did their choices impact your family? Does it make you feel less comfortable being with them? Of course their your family, but did this put a kink in your relationship? Mostly curious & please feel free to not open this convo! Xo love your stuff

        1. To answer your 3 questions, I would say: No, no, and no. Happily, there’s really no difference in our relationship. I don’t drink, but I’m not bothered if other people do.

  6. I currently live in Moldova (Eastern European country), which has the second highest alcohol consumption in the world. Almost every family makes their own house wine, and also often house whiskey/vodka. Drinking is a HUGE part of the culture, whether at work (even schools!), celebrations, or just at home. Because the alcohol is often made at home, Moldovans are very proud of it, and can take offence if someone doesn’t drink it. I drink, but I don’t like to drink very much, and it can be VERY difficult to refuse (especially as the hosts drink with you and the more they consume, the more pushy they become).

    I’ve discovered some tricks that help: always keep your glass as full as possible (with whatever). Generally people don’t notice as long as your glass if full- bonus points if it looks like wine. Sit next to people who you know won’t pressure you (there are a few teachers at the school I work at that are especially pushy- I’m now careful to sit next to other teachers who don’t drink much and that mostly solves the problem). Say you’re on medication and can’t mix alcohol with it. Across all cultures, I think people will get this. Just say “no”. In some cultures, people are pushy because it’s actually considered polite. They will ask over and over again because they want to make sure you’re not saying no because you’re trying to be polite. Just say “no” firmly but politely. Sometimes turning over your glass or even hiding it helps to get the message across.

    1. Moldovians sound a lot like Sicilians. My grandfather and uncles always made their own wine (and still do) and it is very poor form to refuse a taste of it.
      Growing up, wine was considered good for our health and a tablespoonful was given to each child at every holiday meal. We weren’t allowed to leave the table if we didn’t drink it!
      A few tablespoonfuls of Marsala wine and a raw egg yolk mixed in was very common to give to children who were thought to be underweight or children who were often sick (I’m talking fever, not a serious medical issue). I probably had one of those every day one summer.
      Common breakfast when I was in elementary school: diluted (with hot water) espresso with sugar in a bowl and cubed pieces of Italian loaf of bread.
      **However, I have to say, as a adult, refusing a drink for the most part is pretty easy. After all that wine, I actually drink very rarely. I just don’t like it. I have NEVER refused coffee, though.

  7. If you don’t want to drink alcohol and don’t want to insult your host just say you have severe stomach problems like gastritis. Nobody will be pushy anymore.

  8. There wasn’t alcohol in my home growing up–not for religious reasons–but because my mom’s parents were basically high-functioning alcoholics (never spoken about but obvious in their behavior), and alcohol scared her.

    I have just never liked the taste very much–I would prefer a coke over an alcoholic drink almost any day (though I do like champagne). Recently I’ve also been pregnant, nursing or trying to get pregnant for so long that my default is usually non alcoholic. The thing I’ve discovered is that bartenders are usually nice about making you a non alcoholic but alcoholic looking drink if you ask, and it raises zero questions with friends if you take that back to the table. I’ve learned to say “could you make me something non alcoholic? I like berries and citrus” to give them an idea of what to make. Even if it isn’t on the menu, they can make something up!

    1. Such a great idea Rachel! I’ve gone off alcohol and don’t like to drink Coca Cola at night due to the caffeine so often the options are super dull.

      We were dry when we traveled India but the drinks choices were always so great we never felt like we were missing out!

    2. “I’ve learned to say “could you make me something non alcoholic? I like berries and citrus” to give them an idea of what to make.”

      I love that tip. Very helpful. And it’s one of those things I wouldn’t have known you could ask a bartender when I first started going to bars.

    3. My fav is asking for a pint glass (with low ice) and 50-50 pineapple juice and soda water or ginger ale with a lime. Very refreshing and often mistaken for a margarita! This was my go-to when pregnant and has continued for 16 years. It is known in my house as a 50-50 by adults and children alike!

      1. My favorite is cranberry juice with either ginger ale, sprite, or soda water with a lime! Will have to try pineapple juice sometime.

  9. I’m not a drinker but attend lots of events where alcohol is served both professionally and socially. I’ve never made a big deal about it and never had anyone else make a big deal about it. However, one theme of this discussion is bothering me: Why should non-drinkers have to pretend to drink? Could people who drink answer this question for me? Do you feel judgmental or unable to connect with people who abstain?

    1. I’m not an expert here, but do have an opinion to offer! I do drink, but often in social situations choose not too. Usually because I attempt to not spend money on expensive drinks (or food) “out”. The pressure can be unbelievable because I DO drink and people think some leaning will get me to partake on every occasion.

      My one thought is that people perceive sharing a drink with somebody as a mutual decision to be slightly more open and vulnerable. Not to say that one drink makes most people break down and share their darkest secrets, but I think it represents a willingness to cut loose and fully share that experience with the other person. I think often of post-work drinks, which are seen as an escape or release from the work day, and by partaking together you are emphasizing your togetherness in your desire for that moment. Am I making any sense?! This train of thought makes the most sense to me in the post-work drink environment, but it does apply loosely to most drinking social situations. Having a drink is the most obvious way to represent your willingness to share a moment, have fun, be together with the person who is drinking and making themselves more vulnerable.

      I do think this is a warped and unhealthy way to view human interaction. I also don’t think NOT drinking is in any way an intentional block to that “togetherness” feeling, but I do think that is how it can sometimes be perceived. I think most people as you get older realize that their perspective is not universal, and that physically showing up for people is a pretty nice gesture on it’s own.

      I’d be very curious to see if this line of thought resonates with anybody else, or if I’m totally out to lunch!

      1. I think this makes a lot of sense! Maybe because I am/was more of a goody-two-shoes type, but I have also gotten the feeling that people feel guilty or judged around me if I’m not drinking. This theory makes me wonder if it isn’t that–more of me breaking this sort of social contract that encourages vulnerability, which doesn’t work unless everyone partakes? I don’t know –interesting thoughts for sure.

      2. I think that totally makes sense – the whole “willingness to cut loose and fully share the experience” part.

        And, actually, I commented below about forcing myself to enjoy beer, and it sort of goes along with this. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to drink, I just knew I didn’t like the thing that most of my peers were drinking, and I wanted to be one of the “cool kids” for lack of a better term :D My thought is though, in those situations, maybe non-drinkers stick out, but so do those who “have to order a fancy drink” when we’re at a dive bar and everyone is drinking cheap beer.

        I think more than anything, the desire to “force” someone to drink along with you is an insecurity thing. Maybe the non-drinkers aren’t judging at all (or maybe they ARE!) Either way, when you’re drinking and insecure, it can feel like the person not drinking is being judgmental if they’re standoffish and not really participating fully in the social gathering part of things. So, just having a club soda or whatever eases the minds of those people. People I know who are perfectly confident and comfortable with their own drinking habits are very rarely seen harassing others to join them in their debauchery.

    2. I don’t think Gabby (or others) are necessarily saying they pretend to drink- they just make sure they have a non-alcoholic drink in hand because then people don’t try to offer them a drink which then (depending on the person) can sometimes prevent having to explain not drinking. I don’t think most adults care if someone else is drinking or not (in fact, I think most people have a harder time understanding why someone they know occasionally or often drinks is choosing not to at a particular time than someone that simply does not drink). I’ve been in many situations with peers (I’m in my mid-20s and think this is especially true of those in their 20s) and have chosen not to drink, and others simply don’t understand why I’m not drinking. I think for them, they see drinking as fun and so when you don’t drink they just think you aren’t really interested in hanging out or having fun.

      But I’ve also been around other people my age that don’t think that way at all. My college friends’ group is mixed- one friend doesn’t drink at all, a couple drink only on very rare occasions, and some others (myself included) drink a bit more often. We all respect one another’s decisions regarding alcohol and it’s not an issue at all. My brother also does not drink at all- while the rest of our family does, we also have fun creating various mixed drinks that can be made without alcohol. Obviously, you can have plenty of fun without alcohol in the mix, but I think some people forget that!

    3. I think Emily answered this really well.

      I will say, my now husband was first a coworker/friend. When I found out he didn’t drink, I automatically crossed him off my imaginary list of potential suitors. But then…he asked if I wanted to go to happy hour. And I ordered a pitcher for myself, and he was totally cool with it, so I was cool with it.

      I will say, I do totally miss patio day drinking on a pretty day. He’s been a good sport, but…it’s just not the same. It’s like that saying: “I hate when people say you don’t have to drink to have fun. You don’t need a match to start a fire, but it sure does help!” :P

      I also think I see it as sometimes – but not usually – as people limiting themselves, kind of like I see picky eaters (but nothing is that bad). Like, if you’re in the champagne region of France, and don’t try the champagne, that makes me sad for you missing out.

  10. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately as I just found out I’m pregnant (!!!) and am realizing how many of my social gatherings include alcohol. I rarely drink to excess, but I’m realizing I would often meet a friend for a drink or have a drink when spending time with family. And of course since I’ve been married for a few years, the first guess from folks is that I’m pregnant and since I’m not ready to tell people, it can be awkward. So far I’ve faked it once, which feels weird too. I’d be curious to hear how/if others have handled this.

    1. This came up a couple times in my first pregnancy–once I was at a friend’s house–I just took a drink anyway and sipped it and then had my husband finish it–they must have assumed I didn’t like it. The other time I ordered a non alcoholic version of an alcoholic drink (it was on the menu). I got busted, though, when a friend said “what she got looks great, I’ll have that!” I had to tell her it didn’t have alcohol–I’m sure she knew I was pregnant. Haha. So basically I have no advice other than to order a mocktail and hope it doesn’t look TOO good.

      1. Oh, my friend was a PRO at this! For those of us that do usually drink on the regular, you better believe there will be questions when you don’t (and even non-pregnant, it’s tough!).

        She would actually take the waiter aside and tell him that when she orders vodka soda, she just wants soda (or margarita, she really wants a virgin). If someone else says they want what she’s having, they want the alcoholic version.

        Also, it does help to have a friend/partner who does know who you’re not afraid of drinking after. If, say, glasses of champagne were handed out (or wine automatically poured) we would constantly switch glasses so that it looked like there was headway (and of course i wouldn’t let her pay for those/would venmo later, but dang, I had fun! Haha).

      2. Early during my first pregnancy, when all my girlfriends were still drinking heavily, I filled an empty wine bottle with grape juice one evening when my girlfriends were over. I then secretly filled my glass with that while filling my friends’ with real wine. I look back now and feel like that was totally nuts, but I definitely avoided questions! (Turns out that two other friends were also pregnant at that time and dumped their glasses out in the bathroom!!) Second pregnancies, we told each other after we took the test. Way too much work to fake! And now, not drinking is a non issue. Thank goodness.

        1. I’ve done this too – have non-alcohol fake drink to make people think you’re drinking so you don’t have to tell them about an early pregnancy. But then I worry about once they DO find out I’m pregnant and look back at me thinking how irresponsible I was for drinking wine (grape juice) when I was in early pregnancy! Hahaha, just another thought…

    2. I am Mormon and don’t drink alcohol or coffee. I also started a new job shortly before I became pregnant with my first. I would often politely choose another beverage when we went out or when there was coffee at a meeting and the team all knew it was because of religious reasons. When I finally told them I was expecting, they all asked if being a Mormon was a cover-up for the pregnancy hahaha. No, but it did make it very convenient during that early pregnancy time. We all still crack up about it and if any of the other ladies in my office decides to suddenly convert, we’ll know why ;).

  11. I am fortunate to have grown up in a family that can take or leave alcohol. I don’t think I felt any pressure to drink when I was underage and I’ve always been really turned off by people who drink to get drunk.

    I actually like the taste of some alcohol – mainly dark alcohol: Guinness beer, rum, scotch whiskey or bourbon. I’m much less a fan of wine, which often seems to be more socially acceptable as a compliment to a meal. I often avoid drinking any alcohol at social gatherings. I’d much rather enjoy the food and more than one drink affects my belly more than my head. I can easily go weeks without alcohol (but not chocolate!)

    But I don’t know what it’s like to feel like I have to resist a drink, nor what its like to have to explain myself. I am careful never to push alcohol on anyone (though I am from an Italian family and definitely have to fight the urge to push food on people – it’s in my DNA.)

    I suspect non-drinkers feel like if they pretend to drink, they don’t have to attract attention for not drinking.

    I married a man whose family and friends focus more on alcohol than food. Within the group, the non-drinkers are most often former heavy drinkers that decided to quit altogether. No one makes a fuss about it, but everyone knows who the non-drinkers are (it’s a small town and people have known one another their whole lives.)

    1. “But I don’t know what it’s like to feel like I have to resist a drink, nor what its like to have to explain myself.”

      You bring up a good point. When I consider those of us who abstain from drinking, for some of us there’s no sacrifice involved — we have no desire to drink, the taste and smell are not appealing, we don’t feel like we’re missing anything. And of course, there are others who are abstaining with great difficulty and summoning a lot of courage to do so.

      It seem like the second group should get tons of gold stars for making it through a social situation, surrounded by alcohol, and not drinking. But the first group (which is the group I’m in) doesn’t want, need or deserve and high fives for not drinking.

      1. That’s funny too – drinking is such a complicated subject! If I picture a fairly typical after-work gathering, we have all types there that might be drinking or not drinking.

        Quite a few social drinkers – they understand the bar scene and menu, maybe have a go-to beer they order or wine or mixed drink, have a few, but aren’t going to overdo it, especially not with coworkers.

        There are the heavy drinkers who dive in quickly, tend to pressure everyone else to continue drinking with them, maybe buy a bucket or 5 to share with the table to make sure everyone is having a good time.

        There are those who rarely, if ever, drink and will either make an exception and order an uber-fruity mixed drink, or for those who are stricter about it, will order a soda or, GASP, just a water.

        And then those who are known to “not drink anymore” if you will – those who have for whatever reason overdone it in the past, and no longer partake (at work gatherings or in general).

        And the judgments fly regardless of who you are! If you’re the heavy drinker everyone is laughing at you behind your back (and maybe teasing you to your face). If you’re pregnant or a former drinker, no one gives you crap and maybe even congratulates you on how awesome you are for not drinking (or gossips about your possible pregnancy that you’ve yet to announce!) If you’re a “water-orderer for no good reason”, you’re seen as lame and a buzzkill and people just hope you leave early so you don’t put a damper on the fun!

        I think the social drinkers and those with the most confidence in themselves and their own ability to socialize without drinking are the only ones who really escape the judgment game here.

  12. great topic. After having kids, I made a conscious decision to drink way less. I was never a big drinker, but I do enjoy a drink every once in a while. 1 drink is my limit. I don’t mind my kids seeing me enjoying 1 drink. But besides that it is too much. I never want my kids to see me drunk or think, why is mommy acting strange. and what if they needed to go to the ER or something. You can’t be a parent and be drunk.

    My family drinks a lot. and it bothers me. I have a sister in law that most likely has a drinking problem and I have conflicted thoughts about having my kids around her, when she is drinking. Anyone else deal with this?

    Also, have you heard about “mom drinking” ? and drinking among women has risen. Moms are using it as a stress reliever and dealing with mom related stress. NYtimes has had a few articles recently about this. I feel for people who don’t drink or are recovering. Our society is filled with alcohol. You walk into target and its the first thing you seen. For the recovering, go you! because I can’t imagine having to see alcohol everywhere!

    1. “I feel for people who don’t drink or are recovering. Our society is filled with alcohol. You walk into target and its the first thing you seen. For the recovering, go you! because I can’t imagine having to see alcohol everywhere!”

      I think the same thing. It’s easy for me to avoid or not even notice alcohol, but if I was recovering, I don’t know what I would do. It’s everywhere.

  13. As diplomats we find that alcohol is a big part of the functions we attend. There have been occasions where it has just been automatically served to us to make toasts with. We accept, make the toast and then put it aside. There is always a way you can not drink without causing offense or making a fuss. Most people are very understanding when you explain you don’t drink alcohol at all, but there are always the odd one or two who take it as a judgement on their own drinking habits!

    1. Yes! I think that you’ve hit the nail on the head: people take someone else’s not drinking as judgement on their own drinking habits. Often those people who feel judged are judging themselves, most likely knowing they have a problem.

      1. This is so true. Once I tell people that I don’t eat meat, they constantly apologize for eating it in front of me or even talking about it. It doesn’t bother me and I’m certainly not judging them. They just assume that to be the case because I personally choose to abstain. I guess alcohol would bring up some of the same feelings!

    2. “a judgement on their own drinking habits”

      Great observation. A friend’s wife is uncomfortable around us because we do not drink and she does. She drinks is social situations to relieve some social anxiety. We get around this by getting together for breakfast or brunch on weekends when it is easier for her and drinking is less expected.

  14. Growing up Lutheran in Minnesota, drinking was not part of my family culture. (My maternal grandparents were non-practicing Swedish Covenant, an even stricter religion that was part of their family culture even though they didn’t attend a church.) My biological dad was an alcoholic who abandoned us when I was two, so I imagine my mom had a general fear of alcohol and drank very little even as we moved to a Minneapolis suburb where drinking was more common. My stepdad drank some at work functions, and both my mom and I hated seeing him drunk.

    Then I married a Catholic whose family is from the Bronx, and they are big drinkers. And now I live in a Catholic area in Minnesota, and our neighbors and many friends are big drinkers. I’ve learned I love martinis and vodka and Bourbon, but neither my husband and I like to drink a lot. We’re both pretty sensitive to it, so we just drink small amounts and often I choose not to drink anything alcoholic–wine especially makes me headache-y and tired so not much fun.

    It is very odd not drinking either where we live now or at gatherings with my in-laws. When we’ve had people over and not served alcohol, we do get some looks and people will even bring their own alcohol! I too have learned to keep a club soda and lime in hand at parties and limit any alcohol because I’d rather feel awkward than drunk or falling asleep.

  15. My husband and I have a strict policy of not drinking and driving. If we’re going out we decided beforehand who’s drinking and who’s driving, or we use a ride service. I’ve never wanted to chance the idea that if you wait long enough you’ll be fine, it’s just plain easier to know for sure that you’re completely sober. And we have kids, so I feel like I want them to see for themselves that there’s no reason to take that risk. Surprisingly, people seem to think we’re way too strict about this — it’s very annoying!

    1. I don’t think you’re too strict. Did you use car seats for your kids? Do you wear seat belts? It’s totally part of being a responsible driver.

      Also, our kids know that we sometimes have alcohol and witness us turning down drinks altogether, or turning down “just one more.” Our hope is they see it doesn’t have to be all or nothing – just because you sometimes have a drink doesn’t mean you ALWAYS have to have a drink.

    2. I think that’s wise. My husband has a job that would make it difficult or impossible to be hired if he ever got a DUI, so he has a no drinking and driving policy too. He will drive if he has drank maybe one beer in 3 hours, but he is also not particularly sensitive to the effects of alcohol. I feel it after just a couple sips. I think it just depends on the person, and you should do what makes you comfortable.

    3. My husband and I have this same policy, Julie. If I’m meeting friends at happy hour I will just not drink if I am driving. I think my friends think it is odd, but they accept it.

  16. I think it’s funny you mentioned that you “used to hate” sparkling water but learned to love it, because as a college student (ok, maybe a very late in high school student), that was my goal to get to with BEER! :) Everyone I knew drank cheap beer and seemed to enjoy it, and I wanted to be able to join in. So I forced myself to drink beer until I could stand it, then sort of liked it, then REALLY liked it. And I have to say, it still makes me happy and relieved that when I walk into a drinking event, I can drink wine, or, a mixed drink, but if the “feel” of the event is beer-drinking, I fit in just fine! Silly but true.

    It makes me laugh to think of my best friend and I, hiding upstairs in her room taking turns sipping on a Bud Light and trying to swallow without making a disgusted face :D Anyway, I find it amusing that you pretty much found yourself in a similar situation and figured out a similar solution, whether or not alcohol was involved.

    1. Oh totally. Anytime I’ve had a sip of alcohol by accident I basically gag. My mental responses are: ugh! tastes like rotten fruit, or ugh! smells very much like rubbing alcohol. Hah! There is nothing appealing to me about it. I’m sure that’s part of why it’s so easy for me to abstain. I would have to drink a lot of alcohol before I “acquired” the taste and I’m just not interested at all.

      I was talking to my friend Laurie about this once and she talked about things like sweet and fruity wine-coolers that helped her acquire the taste of alcohol when she was young and first started drinking. If I wanted to become a drinker, I think I would have to go through those same steps. : )

  17. As a non-drinker who lives in urban Seattle and often finds herself at bars and pubs with friends, I would also add to remember to tip the bartender very generously. One of my anxieties going into a bar is knowing they don’t want my “club soda business.” When bartenders realize that you’ll be generous for their service, even when your drinks don’t cost as much, it relaxes the entire environment (in my opinion).

  18. Re: the comment about how to handle a wedding when a recovering alcoholic is involved, we did blood orange soda for the toast, and still offered wine at dinner and had a bar, but the bar was up some stairs, clear across the room in a corner, and you couldn’t even see it from the dance floor/dining area. It worked out well for the folks who didn’t drink (all long-time in recovery, so not folks I was worried about anyways, which admittedly made it easier for us to include alcohol for those who would expect it and to not tip off anyone that didn’t know about the alcoholism issue). Added bonus that we didn’t have anyone get stupid and annoyingly trashed. I had a good friend come up to me afterwards who didn’t know the reason for our low key alcohol approach, but said she appreciated that it wasn’t in your face because her partner struggled with alcohol. There are so many people out there who struggle with alcoholism or just don’t like alcohol, and you don’t know who all might appreciate a wedding not built around an open bar. Do what works for the spouse-to-be and any guests who might have similar struggles, and then don’t worry about it. I promise everyone will still have fun.

    1. This is a nice compromise.

      We don’t drink for religious reasons (Buddhist), and I was torn about what to do at our wedding. I like to make people happy, and I knew that some of our guests would expect alcohol even though we don’t drink. Ultimately, we decided not to serve alcohol, because I didn’t want to be around people who were drinking to excess (and we have several friends/family members who do). At someone else’s event it’s easy to slip out when this happens. We also don’t allow alcohol in our home for the same reasons.

      I find work settings to be the most awkward when it comes to being a non-drinker. For the most part I just try to own my non-drinking status and make it a non-issue as much as possible. But, there several times a year where we are expected to buy alcohol and bring it to work (which blows my mind). I don’t buy alcohol, so I try to opt out gracefully. At our office Christmas party for instance, the big event is a white elephant gift exchange where everyone brings a bottle of wine. There are several other non-drinkers, but I am the only one to bring a non- alcoholic bottle – like fancy sparkling water. I always feel a little sorry for the person who gets my sparkling water when they really wanted a bottle of wine!

      1. The gift exchange would be really awkward! I’m sorry you have to deal with that–I feel like if I were the person organizing it, I would change the gift so you and the other non-drinkers could fully participate. I mean, even if you bring sparkling water, you don’t GET sparkling water, so it sort of misses the mark on the whole gift-giving aspect.

  19. This is such a great convo- one that needs to happen a little more openly. I am currently struggling with being a non drinker in the mom friend circle. some of these women, whom I really like and enjoy connecting with, drink so heavily that I think many of them have a problem with alcohol. Sometimes group texts get directed to how much wine someone is drinking because their kids are being crazy or they just can’t handle things until they have their wine. It’s bothersome and frankly annoying. And it’s hard to find other moms to connect with. I know that peddling alcohol (or drugs) to mothers to “handle” their children is nothing new, but the culture of moms drinking is getting out of hand in my opinion.
    I find the pressure to drink at social events to be staggeringly high, and even when I’ve declared that I’m not drinking that night I will repeatedly get asked if I’ve changed my mind (“you sure you don’t want just one glass?”).
    I’ve had to distance myself from these women despite the fact that I enjoy many other aspects of them/our relationship. It’s a bummer.

    1. I totally agree, Meg. I’ve had a very hard time connecting. I even organized a Mom’s movie group which within 3 months turned into drinks with maybe a movie. It was so disappointing. I feel very far from at ease just drinking seltzer around all hose wine goblets. And it’s all anyone talks about…

      1. It kills me- the constant talking about it!! I mean, really bothers me. I want to shake these women and remind them that they’re more then just a person that can drink! It’s also like watching a car fall off a cliff… You can’t keep this level of drinking up without something going wrong.

        And the worst part is that moms NEED moms- we need friends to hang with while our kids play. It’s important to connect. But I’m finding myself feeling more and more alienated.

    2. “It kills me- the constant talking about it!! I mean, really bothers me.”

      The talking isn’t as familiar to me, but I confess the jokes/memes on Facebook make me roll my eyes. To me it feels like the same joke over and over again. It’s always a little hard for me to comprehend that people are SO EXCITED to drink alcohol.

      1. Thanks for your insight Gabby. Ultimately, when people are so excited to drink alcohol and that’s all they are interested in, it makes me sad that they don’t have anything else to do or any other way to relate to others/the world at large. But the constant bombardment towards mothers as a drinking demographic is completely and totally out of hand. I was really upset when I saw Kristin Bell in a short video where she interviewed young kids and asked them if their moms drank (while the moms were behind a two way mirror watching). The whole thing was just disgusting, and if you replaced “wine” with “cocaine” or “opioids” it becomes something out society would balk at…. But wine is juuuuuuuuuust fine.

        Thanks again for starting such a great discussion! I’m happy to be part of this conversation and I hope more and more people will realize there is a lot more to life then binge drinking!

  20. One thing nobody’s mentioned here that I think might be helpful for navigating these bar situations, especially for someone new to it, as Gabby describes her younger self: a bartender’s income is mostly tips, alcohol being expensive and thus lucrative to serve. So an easy (not to mention kind) way to keep your server happy, if you’re ordering mocktails or soda water, is to tip the bartender just as generously as if you were drinking.

  21. I do not drink. My parents had me very young (teenagers) and my childhood coincided with their 20’s. They were hard partiers and had lots of fun. But I never liked the taste and alcohol always left me feeling sick. In College, I found it nearly impossible to socialize without drinking. I blamed my allergy to cigarette smoke for leaving the bar or party early, or skipping it altogether. The pressure to stay, drink and “hang” was unbelievable. As a parent in Boston, Ma, I find the pressure has not relented but this time it’s from moms/parents. It seems that relaxing is all about drinking (mostly wine). I tried to organize a movie group for moms. It started out fine and then became drinks before the movie, and then quickly became skipping the movie so we could have one more drink and “chat” at the bar. It seems impossible to change the culture! I skip most school fundraisers because they feel a little like a Frat party by 8pm. Even when I attend home parties of friends there is almost never a non-alcoholic option just kid’s juice. I pay a pretty high price socially for not participating in the drinking culture. I think, presenting it as simply a matter of drinking seltzer with a lemon twist is really glossing over how aggressive the drinking culture is in this country. There seems to be little acceptance or even thought that goes into making non-drinkers feel comfortable anywhere, it is far from mainstream.

    1. Erin! I’m in Boston too and I feel your pain! It’s such a moms drinking club round these parts and it drives me bonkers. There is a lot more to life then drinking but I seem to be the only one interested in doing something other than drinking.

      1. Hi Meg,
        I agree and I don’t get it. I’ve really tried to speak up for events and fun that does not include drinking and I sort of gave up. But now that I have heard from another Bostoner, I will keep trying. See you in the hood!

        1. Erin, I don’t mean to be weirdly forward, but since we’re in the same geographical region and we’re both dealing with this issue, would it be weird to grab a coffee sometime or something? Do something fun that doesn’t involve drinking?

    2. “I think, presenting it as simply a matter of drinking seltzer with a lemon twist is really glossing over how aggressive the drinking culture is in this country.”

      I hear that. And I’m not trying to gloss over it. I have no doubt that since I’ve always been a non-drinker, and grew up in a non-drinking community, and still have easy and regular access to non-drinking events and social groups, that I don’t fully see how aggressive the drinking culture is in this country. If I want to avoid being pressured to drink, it’s as simple as going out with Mormon friends. But I realize not everyone has that option. Certainly I would have an inaccurate view of the drinking culture because I’m not part of it and never have been.

      I believe you when you say, “I pay a pretty high price socially for not participating in the drinking culture.” And I’m sorry to hear it.

        1. Wow! I thought I was the only one who recognized what huge drinkers moms in the Dallas area are! And it makes me sad- like “ I can’t deal with me kids without drinking”. What message does that send the kids? Even baby showers revolve around alcohol – what?!

    3. I completely agree with you. I live in Dallas and it is such a drinking culture. I would go to flag football games with my 4th grader (a league organized by the local Y) and all the parents show up with their YETI cups and coolers with adult beverages. The high school counselor has actually said in a parent meeting that the parents need to stop providing alcohol to their minor kids.

      I grew up in a non drinking community (for the most part), but I lived in NOLA for a number of years and compared to where I live now it seems tame. I laughed last year when they had an organization come to talk about adolescents drinking and in conjunction they encouraged people to identify their house as an alcohol free home to minors. It caught me off guard because.. isn’t that just common sense? I mean it is the law, why do you need to be told not to give alcohol to a minor? I know I’m sounding judgemental and I really don’t mean to, because quite frankly I don’t care that adults are drinking. I just think it’s odd that no one is acknowledging that maybe the kids are starting so young, because they see their parents and are mirroring their behavior. Clearly there are many parents in our community that don’t care, but I wonder if they understand the long term implications of their own relationship to alcohol and how their kids are learning through watching them.

    4. Wow, reading all of these comments makes me realize how right you are about the strong drinking culture. I’m not sure I realized it before now–of course for college kids, but not as much parents. Do you think there is a regional difference (being in Boston)? Did the phase of parenting you are in (young babies who may be breastfeeding vs. older kids) make any difference? Or do you think it’s universal?

    5. I found it really hard in college as well- it’s such a part of the college (especially on-campus) culture. I drink but didn’t want to party and found that because of that, I had very few get-to-know other people opportunities. I ended up joining the Christian Fellowship because many of them didn’t drink or didn’t party, but then ended up being the only liberal in a very pushy evangelical campus group (which I left- but that’s another story). I struggled with trying to make new friends for the entire four years I was at college. My senior year was a lot better- I ended up sharing an apartment with 4 other girls, 2 of whom I didn’t know before. I made some knew friends through those two girls, and everyone was really respectful of those who chose to drink AND those who didn’t.

  22. I have struggled with what to give as a hostess gift for friends who don’t drink. I like to give consumables so I don’t wind up filling friends houses up with tchochkes. We keep a case of nice wine the the basement to take along when we get invited to social events. I think I have finally found a solution that is as nice as a bottle of wine. Fancy olive oil. I can’t keep a case of it in the basement (needs to be fresh), but it is not hard to stop at Whole Foods and pick up something a bit extravagant and special to bring along.

    1. I love that idea, Eliot!

      Someone above mentioned being giving fresh wreaths at the holidays instead of wine. I thought that was nice too.

      I tend to give books, fresh flowers, or chocolate.

  23. My experience as a non-drinker living in India has been delightful. People never push me to try the exquisite alcoholic drinks. It makes social situations much easier. When we lived in Singapore and the US I was often pressured and questioned about not drinking. There were several occasions when the host would not back off and one time I had to be “rescued” from the pressure by another guest (who was drinking so he had clout). Your article has so many great ideas! Wish I could have read it 30 years ago!

  24. I grew up around alcohol and because of many experience as a kid decided that I didn’t want to have much to do with it as an adult. I’m a real adult (46 years old : ) and there are times, still, when people are uncomfortable around me not wanting to participate in what they think is the best way to socialize. In fact, I think that a lot of people use alcohol so that they can socialize. When I am around someone who is uncomfortable that I’m not drinking, it’s a pretty good indicator that they are socially insecure.

  25. I drink (very little, and not at home) and my husband doesn’t drink at all. Rarely, people question him about it but as we age (we are in our late 40s) we notice that our friends’ alcohol consumption has dropped a lot. It’s incredibly common to be out with friends and when someone passes on the wine she just says, “I’m cutting back” or “I quit – I just don’t feel good when I drink.” or something like that.

    For situations when someone who doesn’t know us well questions me about his non-drinking I just shrug and say that we all have to make the best choices for ourselves. It’s still really weird to me how much people care about others not drinking, but I think a huge portion of our culture has developed around the social contract of drinking.

    Love this topic, Gabby! Definitely will be talking about this in person with friends.

  26. I love seltzer water and it’s often my go-to drink, but a French friend of mine told me that it was unlucky and impolite to toast with water. Did you encounter this in France? I’ve been self conscious about this ever since, so I typically order a Diet Coke or a nonalcoholic concoction. Is this something I should even be concerned about?

    We live in NYC and neither my husband nor I drink. We used to struggle with it initially when we ate out or met friends/colleagues for dinner, but have learned to ask “Do you have any nonalcoholic specialty drinks?” when we first sit down. It’s a signal to the waitstaff and the table that we don’t drink, and there’s absolutely no awkwardness. We’re always offered mocktails or offer a virgin mojito or another suggestion from the bartender.

    Great discussion here!

  27. Gabby, I’m the Amy who asked the question… so flattered you chose to write about it! It was on my radar screen because I asked a new friend if she wanted to meet for a drink and she told me she was Mormon and didn’t drink, so we met for tea instead! I casually drink and my husband does, too. We have 2 teenagers and I’m finding myself drinking less now that I notice our kids watch everything we do! My husband and I are a moderate drinkers anyway; I just find it interesting that our kids are verbal about noticing drinking, at family parties, restaurants, etc.. We are trying to set a good example!!

  28. Valerie Sawatzky

    Hi Gabby! Great conversation. I am a wine and coffee lover. Basically, I am just a lover of life: People, places, cultures, food, drinks, music, books. For my entire life, I had never met anyone of the LDS Faith until I moved overseas, close to age 40. I knew nothing of the Mormon religion. At our international schools in both Tokyo and Munich, we met plenty of LDS families. This was eye-opening for me. Regarding alcohol, Japan and Germany are both cultures where alcohol is greatly appreciated, and woven into the social fabric – especially the business culture. I was always so curious how Mormons navigated the social scene. For example, was it easier just to say, “I don’t drink for religious reasons,” and close the conversation, or to say, “No, Thanks” every time. I really admire your openness to conversation, Gabby. On so many topics. Thank you for enabling conversations where people can learn from each other, and recognize the importance of non judgement. A life where we learn from each other is a very rich life. Now, how did a coffee and wine loving mom carry out a friendship with one who was not? Well, if I wanted to meet a LDS mother to chat, I would suggest “coffee” in wording that meant I just wanted to catch up with her life! I’d often rephrase “Let’s meet for coffee!” to “Let’s go to a cute cafe to chat after school drop-off – I want to hear all about your trip!” (Implied: Drink whatever you like!) When we went for dinner with Mormon friends, my husband and I discussed if we should order wine. We chose to do so, as drinking wine in a beautiful European setting is important to our values! I always felt our LDS friends respected that, just as we respected that they would not be drinking wine. We had lovely evenings together. Gabby, we live in a big, wide word. We have friends of all faiths, including many Muslim friends who also do not drink alcohol. We have friends who drink, who don’t. Who eat meat, who don’t. Who practice religion, and those who don’t. Honestly, it matters not. We have travelled extensively, and continue to learn from others. We will do so our entire life. Our view is to respect, and learn from everyone we meet. I have one guiding principle in my life, and that is to live a life of non judgement. Life is just way to short to think otherwise, and I have waaaay to many friends I haven’t met yet! Onwards!

  29. I don’t know exactly which comment to respond to, so I’m going to put this at the end, but in terms of people feeling judged for drinking/not drinking, I think that there’s added baggage for people when you don’t drink because of religious reasons. Maybe they feel like you are making a moral judgment on their behavior. I am Mormon and don’t drink and have felt this a few times.

    We had a neighborhood BBQ and some of our neighbors were drinking at it, which seemed like no big deal to me at all, totally normal social behavior. Later that evening, after the BBQ had ended and everyone had gone home, one of my neighbors texted me and said, “I hope I didn’t offend you tonight.” I had to ask her what she had said that would have offended me and she said, “well, because we were drinking.” Although I am sometimes perplexed by aspects of drinking culture, I am never offended personally because someone else chooses to drink and I don’t feel like they are immoral for choosing to drink, but apparently simply knowing that I have religious views that inform my decision not to drink makes them feel uncomfortable.

  30. I’m kind of the opposite of most of the commenters. I never touched a drop of alcohol until I was 37 years old. I had never been to a social event where alcohol was served until my 30s, and I certainly never saw alcohol as part of a normal adult life.

    So, after exiting the Mormon faith, I had a steep learning curve! Just ordering a simple cup of coffee gave me anxiety for years! Then there was learning how I feel when I drink, what I like, how much gives me a pleasant buzz, and how much makes me feel uncomfortable.

    I did have to learn to enjoy alcohol, because it wasn’t a taste I had ever experienced before. I wish I had been able to see responsible, moderate, normal alcohol consumption when I was younger, because I felt SO stupid about it all!!

  31. As a former Mormon who didn’t drink until she was 27, I never went to bars before I started drinking because I was so anxious about what people would think of me for not drinking. Now that I drink semi-regularly, I realized that nobody really cares if you don’t drink. There are so many reasons for abstaining nowadays–sobriety, pregnancy, health, weight loss, allergies. If someone probes you on your non-drinking habits, I think that’s their problem, not yours. I don’t think you need to explain to anyone WHY you don’t drink. Rather, a simple, polite “no thanks!” should suffice. If someone accuses you of being pregnant (eye roll), just say “nope!” If someone thinks you’re a prude for not drinking, don’t engage! It won’t be worth it anyway. Most drinkers don’t pay attention to who is or isn’t drinking, and if they do, they might just be projecting their insecurities about drinking on to you.

  32. Some of my friends seem to see going drinking as an “event” (similar to going to the movies or going bowling or going out to dinner). So I think they find it odd when someone accepts an invitation to an outing at a bar, but then doesn’t drink. Like, why would someone accept an invitation to go bowling and then not bowl? Or agree to go out to dinner and then say they aren’t hungry?

  33. In a brief skim of the comments, I didn’t see any related to Bobbie and her upcoming wedding. My thought is, if you don’t drink there is absolutely no reason to serve alcohol at your wedding. It’s your day, serve what you like. Everyone will be fine because they are there to celebrate you. And I’m saying this from the perspective of someone who doesn’t abstain from alcohol. We are capable of having fun without it! :-)

  34. I’m not Mormon, but I don’t drink alcohol (tried it in college and never acquired a taste for it), and I also don’t drink coffee (never tried it) or tea. I usually just order a soft drink in situations where people are drinking and well, I just don’t care enough about what others think. But I’d say the kind of crappy thing is not drinking coffee or tea b/c often in work situations or otherwise, really, people will suggest getting coffee… and all I can offer is to accompany them to go purchase their coffee..and sit. :) I do love the smell of it though.

  35. Im glad I jumped over here to comment after seeing your Instagram post.

    I live in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Wisconsin has a huge drinking culture, and Milwaukee has been home to so many major beer manufacturers. If you look at a list of “Drunkest Cities in the US” you’ll probably fine three Wisconsin cities in the top ten.

    I grew up around alcohol. Everyone always had a beer. In Wisconsin it’s legal to bring your children into bars. It’s also legal to buy them alcohol in public places. I remember being six or seven the first time I had some beer of my parents, because I was thirsty and that’s what they were drinking, but I’m sure I had it earlier than that.

    I would guess 40-60% of the people I know are functional alcoholics. Everyone knows someone who is. And probably everyone knows someone who is a not very functional alcoholic too. Binge drinking and drunk driving are pretty regular around these parts. The first time I heard the phrase binge drinking I was like “What? That’s not even a lot of drinks!”

    I drink, probably more than anyone else who has commented so far. Some weeks nothing, sometimes for weeks at a time, and sometimes three or four beers a few times a week. Or a pub crawl on a Saturday.

    No event here is without alcohol. Even kids birthday parties. Totally normal for the adults to be drinking.

    All that said, no one cares if you don’t drink. They’ll probably be sad for you, but no one thinks it a necessity that people drink. It’s sort of an odd combination.

  36. Helene Mclaughlin

    Grew up with non drinking parents. I started drinking at 17 , drinking age was 18. By 21 I was totally finished drinking . I always got sick. As an adult i was very shocked to learn how much alcohol abuse there is.
    I always order water , I don’t care what anyone thinks about it. When I was young people would try to talk me into having a drink, that was very annoying . I’m always the designated driver, especially on st paddy’s day.
    I had a boss of 10 years who didn’t trusted me because I don’t drink. Her and her husband always had crazy stuff happen to them because of excess alcohol. I find it disturbing when mom’s drink , like someone said in an earlier comment, moms need to be present at all times.

  37. It was posted above by Becca that she “had to learn to enjoy alcohol”. But why learn to enjoy it at all? It’s not good for you in any sense – and the “health” benefits of wine touted by folks can be found in other sources that are not deadly to every cell in your body. We use alcohol to kill things – bacteria, viruses, and somehow think it doesn’t impact every cell in our body in a negative way. It is the only addictive substance that we suggest you use in “moderation”! Look where that has gotten us. No one says use cigarettes in moderation, or weed, or heroin. I know a few people who are vegan/vegetarian/glutenfree but they drink alcohol like fish!! How can that even seem like a good idea?? Honestly I just don’t get the whole cultural obsession. Don’t even get me started on the “mommy needs a drink” thing…

    1. Oh and should we talk about the number of people killed by DUI drivers compared to guns? Probably not because somehow alcohol consumption has become a “right” these days.

  38. I’m so glad that you shared about this, Gabby. I’m a high school teacher that is preparing with colleagues for an information session with 9th and 10th graders on alcohol and drugs. We will share important information about how alcohol can be harmful or even deadly but we really wanted the focus to be on skills for responsible behavior in a drinking culture including how to manage social situations if you want to abstain or how to help a friend that has had too much or has gotten sick, etc. When we were brainstorming how to approach the topic with students we tried to think of the things that we wish we had know when WE were in high school and my reply was that I wish I had known that there are lots of people (cool, interesting people!) who don’t drink for reasons outside of alcoholism and religion. My dad’s family is Assemblies of God and never drinks and assigns a lot of judgement to people that do, so I grew up thinking that only judgy religious people don’t drink and it took me until my mid 20’s to find out that that just wasn’t true. I’ve had parents tell me that they envy their friends living in Mormon-heavy areas because there is a great teen social culture that doesn’t involve drinking. I think that our communities have a lot to learn from Mormons in that arena.

    I recently gave up drinking because it was aggravating my anxiety and I went to my first party where drinking was s big part of the experience and it was eye opening, not just to see everyone’s reaction to a non-drinker (overwhelmingly positive and no big deal) but also to experience the party totally sober! I had a great time and woke up the next morning feeling great! My advice for people making the transition into not drinking but still wanting to party is to bring a box of fancy soda to share. Everyone likes fancy soda and other folks can add alcohol to theirs if they like.

  39. Great question. I have been a wine drinker forever and I got to the point where I was tired of the impact on my sleep and metabolism. Have given it up about 99% now. Just spent theee days in Napa at a work conference where wine was the main event.
    I was nervous at first and got a few questions but frankly there is just too much other stuff to talk about.

    I never thought it was possible for me to give it up beyond my annual dry January. I simply thought my social life was too intertwined with wine and social events. But just happened to trip on a book by Annie Grace called This Naked Mind.

    Her book talks at length about the fact that drinking is a norm in our society and somehow we have to explain ourselves if we don’t drink. I have so many new perspectives. But mostly realizing that most people are just too dang busy and worried about themselves to care about what I’m drinking or not.

    1. Thanks for the book recommendation. Sounds really good! And I agree that “most people are just too dang busy and worried about themselves to care about what I’m drinking or not.”

  40. I am really struggling with an aspect of this at the moment. I used to be a very social drinker, then time happened, I settled into a long-term relationship, got a high responsibility job and had a baby and just stopped drinking so much. I might have a glass of wine at the weekend but rarely more than that. But in the same period of time my partner has consumed more and more wine on a daily basis without a break. It seems so unhealthy but he refuses to discuss it. Now after several years of pretty heavy consumption he has no energy for his family. I worry about his health, the effects on our child seeing this and the effect on me. Has anyone managed to get past something like this?

    1. Check out Al Anon. This is tough, in large part because you can’t force your partner to recoginize the problem or do anything about it. Al Anon meetings can help you, though.

  41. I don’t drink alcohol because I just don’t want to be drunk, I also don’t like the taste of it. My Dad said I should know my limit, and I decide not to drink outside my house, only drink some homemade wine (more like grape juice :)) in Christmas and New Year Eve.
    Some people around me like drinking and forcing other to drink. Driving is a good excuse for me, it works every time.

  42. This whole post and comments are so timely for me! I grew up with parents who drank-not “a lot” but definitely enjoyed their martini every night before dinner (and still do-even now in their 80s). I definitely “partied” in college and in my early 20s-but I cut way back in my 30s once I started having kids. My husband isn’t a huge drinker-maybe one beer on the weekends. (Although he’s in an industry that does a lot of drinking-and he gets asked all the time why he doesn’t drink at business dinners-and always has to say he only drinks on the weekend.) All of my girlfriends definitely enjoy their wine-we’ll meet for a glass or have it at our monthly book club. A few months ago, I got a medical diagnosis that put me on a long term medication that can be very hard on your liver-and the pharmacist and my doctor recommended stopping drinking. Even though I didn’t consider myself a “drinker” just the idea that I had to stop really threw me for a loop. I missed my Friday night margarita! What do I do when my parents are visiting and we always drink a martini? When I travel, I like to enjoy a glass of wine with my meal. A few of my girlfriends keep asking when I’m going off the medication. It really took a few months of mental navigation-and now I realize that I don’t really miss it anymore. In general, I’m sleeping better, I like feeling “in control” and not fuzzy and I don’t have the chatter in my head of “should I order a 2nd glass?” or “Even though it’s book club night, I need to get up early-I need to switch to water.” I can still enjoy life and having fun without alcohol-and it’s seeming weird to me that people make such a big deal about other people’s alcohol’s consumption. (

  43. I love this post! I don’t drink because I don’t like it but it was very hard in my early twenties to be social with out doing so. I find at least in america people think its a given that you drink and many to get drunk in their twenties. I meet a lot of ” playful” peer pressure to drink. I think people felt embarrassed to drink in front of non drinkers so they felt I was spoiling their fun.

    Some of the ways I got around this was to:
    1) Bring my own drinks in especially mixers like orange juice so I could share but also knew there was always a safe option for me. This works best for parties and get togethers at someones house.

    2) Bring water. Same as number one its safe and can be helpful for friends who over drink. In my twenties I was always surprised how many house parties did have bottled water for ppl who over drink.

    3) At bars tell the bartender your having a baby. I always made it like I was letting them in on this exciting secret that I hadn’t shared yet. They often became very sweet and protective of me and made sure I got water all night.

  44. This is such an interesting topic to discuss! I enjoyed reading the comments as well. I find that as I’ve gotten older and had kids, I drink much much less but it is still a big part of socializing. And I love trying new wines. That is definitely something I miss when being pregnant but I have learned to go to bars or restaurants and ask the bartender/server if they can make me something non-alcoholic. They will usually ask what flavor profile you are looking for and you can say “citrus and not too sweet” for example. To me it has helped make an evening more festive to have a fun drink when the others I am with are imbibing. Two thumbs up for restaurants that have a special non-alcoholic cocktail section on their menu!

  45. I went to law school in New York City and found myself at a lot of cocktail receptions. I figured out a drink to order so I would have something in my hand other than a glass of water, and that any bar serving mixed drinks would be able to make: cranberry juice + soda water + lime twist.

  46. I loved this post! I grew up in a non-drinking family in China. When I moved to the US 20 years in my early 20s, I wanted to fit in socially and felt so embarrassed about my inability to drink. Alcohol makes me blush, groggy and nauseous. I developed low self esteem then, thinking I was uncool, uncultured and unassimilated. I was also misinformed of America’s culture by teen movies like American Pie. Now at 43, I’m much more self-assured and I’ll turn down alcohol without feeling bad. Our approach to wellbeing and healthy living has also evolved a lot over the years, which made it easier to choose non-alcohol drinks. Wish my younger self had read this helpful post 20 years ago.

  47. Great conversation. My two questions to further the discussion-
    How do you HOST when its expected to have alcohol and you generally don’t serve it? While I don’t drink, and my husband drinks very little, I wouldn’t mind offering wine and beer, but I have no idea what to buy! In addition to the drink choice, you need to actually invest in the correct glasses to serve. I can’t tell you how dreadfully embarassing it was when someone brought a bottle of champagne to celebrate and I only had a few tumbler glasses to offer (not to mention I had small kids at the time so most of my cups were plastic). So do you purchase wine glasses for the rare occasion alcohol is served in your home to a group? When my neighbors and friends get together at houses, so much socializing comes with the early evening drinks. It doesn’t matter what fancy juices or mocktails you come up with, I feel like there is a disappointment and lack of camaraderie without the presence of alcohol.

    I grew up without alcohol and was so apprehensive in my early adult years around drinkers. I had no idea how to approach the situations. I’m more confident now to decline the alcohol without embarrassment and will even make light of it (“at least you always have a designated driver” or “after a day like today I probably would enjoy a glass of wine”)

    My second thought, that has been touched on briefly, is the coffee issue. I don’t prepare coffee in my home, but I will drink it occassionally when I’m out. I struggle immensely hosting a coffee/tea time when I don’t properly know how to make coffee myself- let alone have the things needed like mugs, etc (and I’m not much of a tea drinker). I feel like I’m a bad host when I don’t have a coffee to offer them. It was a terrible learning curve to know the differences of coffee drinks. I also think its not as common to have a non-coffee alternative versus a non-alcohol available. Possibly similar to alcohol, I think there is a real camaraderie built, particularly among women, when you ‘grab a coffee’ together.

    1. Alyson, I am going to tell you something I have to remind myself frequently: My home is not a restaurant. I live in a developed area, so you can buy nearly anything to eat or drink at any hour. We’ve gotten used to it. It does not mean I have to have the same offerings as the myriad businesses.

      As I mentioned in my earlier comment, I can take-or-leave alcohol, so it’s not a great disappoint to me if someone doesn’t offer it. If they do offer it, I’m not fussy about the glass. I have crystal that I inherited from my grandparents, and cheap wine glasses from Pier 1. And if I don’t feel like hand-washing stemware, I will drink out of a regular milk glass. If we are feeling like setting a pretty table and being a little fancy, we’ll use the stemware even if we’re just drinking water or soda. If you like the idea of a variety of glasses/tableware, buy a basic stemmed glass that you find attractive. If you don’t like having extra stuff around that you rarely use, don’t worry about it. My only expectation as a guest is that my glass is clean.

      And even though I drink coffee, I’m lousy at making it, and I always worry that people are going to be disappointed. I enjoy a fancy coffee drink out on occasion, but I never make them at home.

      If you have advanced notice before hosting, you can always borrow mugs or glasses, or keep a sleeve of paper “hot drink” cups tucked in a cabinet.

    2. I don’t drink alcohol or coffee (neither for religious reasons). If I’m hosting a ladies night or a dinner, our guests always know I don’t drink so they’re not expecting it. People always ask if they can bring something so my usual response is, feel to bring something you’d like to drink if you want anything beyond X, Y, Z (whatever I plan to offer). And they do.

      In terms of “grabbing coffee”, I use that phrase even though I don’t drink coffee. I either get hot chocolate or tea. A very dear Mormon friend of mine meets up with me at coffee shops and usually has a steamer (steamed milk with a flavoring) or tea. You can still do those things without coffee.

  48. We live in Sweden. The drinking culture here could be a post of its own. But we spend quite a bit of time in Italy, and I would say that alcohol is less charged there. At a restaurant in the evening you’ll see tables where some are drinking wine, some beer, and some coca Cola, other tables where young couples are both having a Coke or fanta, and others where it’s all wine and some water. It doesn’t seem to be as big of a deal as it is in Stockholm.

  49. These have all been soo fascinating to read! I’m a drinker, definitely partied in my early twenties and now in my early thirties with one child and another on the way my consumption has slowed wayyy down (currently at zero due to preggo status haha). I do still enjoy a nice glass of wine to unwind or catch up with friends over drinks and it’s something I look forward to once the baby is born. I agree that why people aren’t drinking really isn’t anyone’s business, especially when I see a woman of childbearing age avoiding drinking I go out of my way to make sure no one ELSE brings it up because I have so been there and it’s so uncomfortable. Drink, don’t drink who cares. There definitely shouldn’t be pressure either way and hopefully our culture is shifting toward one with more acceptance for the path less traveled.

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