What’s Your Excuse this Season for Not Drinking?
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What’s Your Excuse this Season for Not Drinking?


This post was originally published on December 24, 2014.

Over at The Daily Telegraph, a blogger by the name of Dannielle Miller has written a light-spirited essay on alcohol among adults in social situations, and people’s reactions to the fact she doesn’t drink. She’s called it “No, I Don’t Drink. Got a Problem With That?”

Lots of people do, she says.

If you’re sober, it’s probably happened to you. Miller calls him that “one bore”—that one person who just can’t get past the fact you don’t have a drink in your hand, and who’s got to know why. This time of year, when there are so many social events where alcohol is expected to be in hand, you’re bound to run into him. So, what’s your excuse? You’re going to need one. Can he get you a drink? Why not? What do you mean you’re not drinking? Do you never drink or just not tonight?

You get the picture.

Yep, we’ve all been there, and so there are plenty of suggestions all over the Internet on how to turn down a drink. Some of the better ones? “I have a legitimate medical condition.” “I drank too much yesterday and so I’m taking the night off.” Or how about, “I just don’t like the taste”? I know it’s inconceivable to an alcoholic that any of these reasons would actually stop someone from drinking. But for a normal drinker, any of these reasons are reasons enough.

When I was newly sober I’d wrack my brain to think of excuses why I wasn’t drinking, whether or not someone had asked. Lots of times, I feared the excuses I’d think up only risked inviting more questions. If I told them I was on antibiotics, for example, I feared they might ask, “For what?” If I said, “Too many calories, I’m trying to lose weight,” I’d fear that they’d look at me as if I had issues (I’m a size 2). What I found, after some time, was that it was mainly in my head. Most people didn’t care whether I was drinking or not.

I remember getting invited to a friend’s bridal shower weekend and suffering weeks in advance over an hour-long wine tasting event she had scheduled for that Saturday. When the hour finally came, I was one of a handful of people who, for various reasons, didn’t partake. One woman was visibly pregnant and another might’ve said that wine gave her headaches. I don’t remember—and no one probably remembers what I said, if anyone even asked.

But yeah, sometimes, there is that one person. So how do I handle him? Now I’m not suggesting this is the right strategy for everybody but, me? I tell him the truth.

The more I’ve come across this, the more I realize that when people do have a problem with my not drinking, it’s just that: their problem. In other words, I usually find that the people most curious are the ones that have a complicated relationship with alcohol themselves. I’m thinking of a house party that I went to once, where I got stuck being interrogated by a semi-well-known author. He was so curious why I lacked the telltale red cup that I ended up telling him the truth. And he ended up telling me his truth: how hung over he was and how guilty he felt about how much and how often he drank.

Cases like this, I just nod.

If you need a drink in hand to feel comfortable, have a rum and Coke, hold the rum. Or a vodka seltzer, minus the vodka. Or a screwdriver without the—you get the picture. At a fancy work event I went to recently, I asked to bartender to make me something special, adding, “Keep it virgin.” That way I walked around with a bubbly pink something in a champagne flute, just like everyone else.

One great reason to not be drinking? It’s healthier not to. And yet, according to Miller, this reason doesn’t fly. “Whilst we seem obsessed with questioning the health benefits of particular foods (or entire food groups),” Miller writes, “it’s considered wowserish to question our drinking patterns.” She’s right. The fact that heavy drinking is the norm is a point I find myself making again and again (and again). The fact that alcohol is not the health elixir that some make it out to be is something I’ve also discussed. And yet, while it’s socially unacceptable to admit enjoying many “naughty” foods and drink—Miller names diet drinks, carbs and sugar as examples—somehow alcohol always gets a pass.

Miller talks about how it’s hard to quit drinking given how prevalent the habit is. On this point, I definitely agree. It can seem pretty normal to walk around a party with a drink in hand. It’s when your head’s hanging over a toilet (if you’re lucky enough to make it to a bathroom) that the normalcy ends.

One of my favorite excuses? “I’ve had enough,” because—well, it’s true. I might not have been drinking earlier that evening, as I’m purposely leading whoever I’m talking to when I use this excuse to assume, but in my lifetime I’ve had more than enough of my share in the festivities. No matter what anyone else thinks, tonight, I’m sticking to seltzer.

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About Author

Melissa Petro is a freelance writer and writing instructor living in New York City. She has written for NY Magazine, The Guardian, Salon, The Daily Beast, The Huffington Post, Jezebel, xoJane, The Fix and elsewhere. She is the founder of Becoming Writers, a community organization that provides free and low cost memoir-writing workshops to new writers of all backgrounds and experiences.