By my own admission, I used to be a big drinker.
Downing 6 shots in the first ten minutes was my pre-game; having a bottle (or two) by myself in a night was standard.
Ten months ago, I decided to go teetotal.
I still love going dancing in clubs though, and you can count on me to show up for karaoke at any hour.
I just don’t touch the booze.
The hardest thing wasn’t giving up the alcohol.
The hardest thing was dealing with the people around me.
Alcohol is so closely tied with socialising that showing up at a work get-together, a dinner or a night out often comes with the expectation that you’ll have “at least one drink”.
Not having one always draws a reaction.
These range from:
- Admiration: “Oh wow! You’re not drinking! I’ve been wanting to drink less too…”
- Curiosity: “Is this because of religion or something?”
- Gentle coercion: “But I’m buying a round of drinks! You’ll have one right?”
- Hard coercion: “Don’t be lame! Take a shot!”
When really, all I want is a non-reaction “oh ok”.
That said, most people have the best of intentions.
Even the hard coercers are just trying to make sure I feel included in the social atmosphere.
But it can get tiring explaining myself over and over again, reassuring folks that yes… I can have fun without alcohol.
So I came up with a bunch of tactics for the times when I just don’t feel like telling the whole story.
If you’re thinking of going teetotal, or just want to have a night off the drinks:
These tried and tested tactics should make it easier for you to deal with the social pressure.
Or easier for others to deal with you not drinking.
It works both ways.
For the occasional night without drinking:
1. Have a decoy.
The moment you arrive, go straight to the bar and get yourself a glass of… anything.
It doesn’t matter what’s in there, so long as you’ve got a glass that’s at least half-full of liquid.
Do this before showing up at the table with your friends so that they don’t overhear your order.
If you’re real cheap like me, my go-to is a glass of tap water “on the rocks” and a slice of lime.
Give your biggest winning smile, and there’s a high chance the bartender won’t even charge you for it.
Enjoy your sober, reaction-free night.
2. The ol’ antibiotics excuse
… but let’s say you do get called out on the decoy, or someone absolutely insists on buying you a drink.
If I really don’t want to explain myself, the “I’m on antibiotics,” excuse never gets questioned.
Tactics 1 and 2 are a little sneaky, and better for situations that don’t repeat often, like an annual company D&D.
(It’s obviously cause for concern if you’re on antibiotics every weekend.)
Better for the long-term:
If you’re thinking of going dry more often, then being sneaky won’t be enough.
Friends will eventually start to notice it’s just water in your glass, and wonder why you’ve changed.
Hiding behind tricks all the time won’t feel good either.
I’m not saying your friends are necessarily shitty people for not immediately accepting your choices.
But if you’re usually drinking and suddenly don’t, then there’s a break in the predictable pattern.
People need to have guidance on how to act around the new you.
Sometimes people get defensive when you’re not drinking because they feel like you’re adopting a “holier than thou” attitude.
Or they might be worried that you feel left out.
So in these next two tactics, start owning the narrative, taking out the painful guesswork for them.
3. Pour drinks for everyone else.
Take the initiative to pour drinks for everyone, maybe even get a round.
That’s the surest way to say, “I’m not judging anyone else for drinking and I’m actively participating.”
It’s a great way to show everyone else how you want them to act around you: ie, normal.
4. Have the most fun.
Sing the loudest at karaoke, throw out the most outrageous moves on the dancefloor, crack the worst puns at the dinner table.
My first couple of nights going dry, the social anxiety was killing me.
In my brain, I just wasn’t as interesting without the liquid courage from alcohol.
Learning to have fun in situations where my awkwardness would normally cripple me took a little longer.
Pushing myself to out-fun the rest without any booze was a challenge at first.
But it got easier the more I did it.
Not only was I learning how to have a good time without alcohol, my friends too got more comfortable with this.
They were initially just as self-conscious as I was about having a sober witness to their drunk antics: “how stupid do we look in front of you when we’re drunk?”
When I was just as ridiculous as they were, it stopped feeling like there was a parent in the room.
My obvious enthusiasm also didn’t make anyone think twice about continuing to invite me to parties:
“But all we’re doing is drink, think she’ll still have fun?”
“Of course she will, did you see her last week?!
(I especially love karaoke!!)
This last one’s the hardest, but I definitely encourage you to give it a try.
Even just for random practice.
It’s empowering knowing you can have a good time, with or without the booze.