Everyone’s journey down the path of sobriety is different. One shared experience many individuals in recovery face is handling a social event where drinking occurs. In these social situations, the question always seems to come up: Why aren’t you drinking? It’s a question I used to fear.
While often asked innocently enough, it can put a lot of unexpected pressure on the individual choosing to stay sober. There is still plenty of stigma surrounding alcohol use disorder. This makes it hard to know how to answer this question. It is essential to realize there is no correct answer, and you’ll have to decide on the response that makes you comfortable.
Drinking has become such a norm in our culture that those who choose not to drink can often stand out unintentionally. In my experience, most people who question my drink choices don’t require a complicated response. Simply saying, “I don’t drink” can be enough for most people who don’t really care but are simply curious. In other situations, people may want more information and can even get pushy about it.
In my experience, this stems from a place of personal insecurity that becomes projected onto me. Other individuals are simply curious because it isn’t their journey. When it comes to telling people you don’t drink, several options can fit any situation.
Responding to the Question at Social Events
It can be hard to navigate your social life once you’ve decided to consciously remain sober. This is even harder for individuals where alcohol plays a significant role in their social life, such as participating in bar sports such as pool or darts. You may need to completely stop participating in some of these social events, shifting to alcohol-free experiences that remove you from the direct pressures of alcohol.
You may also find yourself comfortable enough to go to these locations without being triggered. It is important to never put yourself in a situation where you know you’ll have a hard time. Your social events should still be fun.
When you participate in social events with your friends, it might feel uncomfortable at first. You may worry about your friends’ ability to understand and accept your decision to remain sober. While feeling nervous is completely normal, you should never forget that deciding not to drink is your decision, and you don’t owe anyone an explanation.
How you respond to people asking you why you’re not drinking is entirely up to you. You should never feel as though you have to share your entire story with anyone. You may experience these questions from strangers, coworkers, and even loved ones like your friends and family. You have the right to control how much information you are comfortable with sharing.
You may be at a stage where it is difficult to share or a stage where you want to tell the world. Regardless of what stage you may be in, you can give several great responses.
Tell People That It’s a Personal Choice
You don’t have to provide more information than that if you don’t want to. It is considered normal for people to choose to drink, so choosing not to shouldn’t be different. For most people asking, this is a sufficient enough answer to let it go.
No Thanks, I’m Taking a Break
Even those who don’t consider themselves having a problem with alcohol will choose to take a break from time to time. This could be for a challenge such as dry January or because they want to focus on their health. Telling people that you are taking a break answers their questions without diving into your alcohol recovery journey.
I’m Not Drinking Tonight
Just because alcohol may be provided at an event doesn’t mean those attending the event need to be drinking. Normalizing choosing not to drink shouldn’t be an issue. You can still enjoy an event without drinking. This response is a quick way to express your disinterest in drinking at the event. This response usually ends any further line of questioning.
I’m the Designated Driver
If you don’t want to provide much information, simply pointing out that drinking and driving aren’t smart should end any further questioning. Your friends may appreciate the fact that you are a designated driver, even if you aren’t looking to provide a ride for anyone else.
Doesn’t Work Out Well for Me
This response isn’t as quickly dismissive as the previous responses and does open you up to more honesty concerning your drinking decisions. This provides you with the means to say that you could be drinking alcohol, but you know it isn’t the best choice for you. This could be told in a few different ways, such as, “I get a little crazy,” “You don’t want to see me after a few drinks,” or even “Once I get going, it is hard for me to stop.” These responses can allow you to be a bit more lighthearted if you are at a point where this is comfortable for you. Making light of the choice can help provide the answer a person is seeking and relieve some of the tension a more serious response can bring.
It’s None of Your Business
This may not be the nicest response, but it is an honest one. It is no one’s business why you are choosing not to drink. You may not be comfortable sharing your story, and you might not want to provide an excuse. If you don’t want to respond to the question, you don’t have to. This is one clear way to end any further discussion. If someone tries to persist in their line of questioning, don’t be afraid to walk away. You don’t have to provide any information to anyone. It is your personal choice. If someone can’t accept it isn’t their business, their questions stem from a deeper problem they need to face themselves.
Getting Deeper When Comfortable
These quick responses are helpful for situations where you may be answering a stranger or someone you know but don’t want to be fully open with. The stigmas surrounding alcohol dependence and recovery can make it difficult to want to be open about your journey, and that’s okay. You don’t have to provide more information than you are comfortable providing. If you are at a stage in your journey where you are comfortable being more open, you can provide a person with your edited truth or your full truth.
You may be more inclined to give an honest answer to a friend or family member asking you why you aren’t drinking. Many individuals choose not to share their struggle with alcohol with their friends and family, so they may be unaware of your previous struggle and the journey of sobriety you are now on. If you want to provide more information without being completely open, edited truth is completely acceptable. You can respond by saying, “I’ve stopped drinking; it was becoming an issue.” or “I don’t like who I am when drinking.” These responses make it clear to your listener that you’ve made a conscious decision not to drink because it’s impacted your life on some level. This allows you to open up without necessarily having to dive deep into your personal story.
The Full Truth
“I’m recovering from alcohol dependence.” It doesn’t get more open and honest than that. Reaching this level of openness may not be easy, and it can take quite some time for many individuals going through recovery. Admitting this to someone can be extremely difficult because of the shame and guilt we are conditioned to feel due to stigma. This response can provide the opportunity to share your real, raw story with someone you feel you can truly open up with. If you don’t want to put a label on it, you can also respond with, “I used to drink too much, and I don’t anymore.” You are still being open and honest about your journey but avoiding the terms and labels that help drive many of the negative stigmas associated with alcohol recovery.
Dealing With Negative Responses
The journey through recovery isn’t always easy. You have to make an active commitment every day to your new life. You also have to learn to handle new social pressures and situations that can feel foreign at first. When friends, family, or social contacts question your drinking, most will be satisfied with a simple response and move on. Your good friends will show support and understand your choice without needing further clarification. You should also be ready for situations where you don’t get a good response.
You may have friends who insist on knowing more, or they may tease you for your decision, or they may even try and tell you that you don’t have a problem. These responses can take you by surprise, but it is helpful to understand that these reactions aren’t necessarily about you. A friend could be forced to question their own drinking choices, or they might be afraid of the friendship changing, especially if you would drink together. In these situations, the person may just need time to process their thoughts and feelings. If they remain rude or disrespectful, you may want to reevaluate your friendships.