The Perils of Being a Non-Drinker in a Drinking Culture

Autumn is upon us: the season where we wrap ourselves in cosy jumpers and enjoy a whisky (or two) in front of a roaring fire after a long walk through a damp forest. It’s a shame summer has ended: didn’t we have fun, dining alfresco with a bottle of prosecco or two on the side? Luckily, it will soon be winter: the season where we can sip eggnog and stuff ourselves on mince pies to forget that we won’t get a white Christmas yet again.

See what I did there? For many people I know happy moments always come with booze. Especially in the UK, where a good night out is bound to include a few Jaegerbombs and a dodgy kebab afterwards. There’s always a good reason to sink a drink: the first Friday of the week, the end of the weekend, someone’s birthday, or my personal favourite: just for the hell of it.

I’ve been practically teetotal for years and it’s only when you stop drinking that you notice how much alcohol those around you actually consume. For me, not drinking is a logical choice: I was never a massive fan of alcohol, the few hangovers I’ve had in my life kept me out of action for at least 24 hours, and I generally feel healthier and happier when I stay off the booze. I’m not completely teetotal and might enjoy a glass of wine if I feel like it (which is maybe three times a year). For most of the time I’m perfectly happy to be nursing a soft drink while those around me bring on the liquor.

It’s hard not to feel like a killjoy sometimes. I don’t judge other people for drinking, I don’t find drunk people inherently annoying, and I believe that responsible adults should be free to make their own decisions. But I’ve often been told that not drinking is “boring”, that I’ll have more fun if I do down that bottle of wine, and that I won’t fit in if I don’t take part in regular bacchanals. My response to those accusations is always simple: get to know me, and you’ll find out that I do dancing on bars as well as anyone without a drop of alcohol in my system.

Usually, people are okay with that. After all, most people don’t spend much thought on other people’s life decisions because they’re too busy with their own, and that’s how it should be. But what bothers me is that some of those people who do judge me as abnormal don’t apply the same judgement to their own actions. It’s proven that excessive alcohol consumption isn’t particularly healthy (and even if you don’t believe that, your sore head will confirm this the next day). Yet when you suggest people cut down their drinking just a little bit, they respond as if you’re trying to rob them of a basic human right.

Again, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a drink or two after work, or getting hammered during an occasional night out. But I’ve known too many people who drank for the wrong reasons. Because they were anxious about engaging with other people while sober, because they had problems they were trying to forget, because they felt pushed into doing so by their friends. That’s not healthy, it’s not fun, and it’s potentially dangerous.

When in Rome, do as the Romans do. My lifegoal is not to change an entire culture when I could be leading my life and let others do the same. But I do try to show people that it’s perfectly possible to have great nights out while you’re sober. Added benefits: you’ll feel okay the next day and you’ll actually remember the cool (or slightly embarassing) things you’ve done.

Final point: if only bars would catch up with this and start stocking a decent range of non-alcoholic drinks. I’ve had funny looks when I tried to order a soft drink before, and have been told that those drinks were intended as mixers, not to be consumed without a shot of gin. Other bars only stock the regulars: coke, diet coke, and tepid orange juice. It’s not all doom and gloom though: tonight I’ll be visiting a bar that does a mean elderflower cordial on the rocks. I can’t wait!


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