#905: “I’m a college student who doesn’t drink. How can I make my peers understand that without killing the mood?”

Dear Captain,

I’m a 20-year-old college student and I don’t drink, nor will I likely ever drink in the future. My father is an alcoholic, and every family member on his side has some form of substance abuse problem. I know that having a drink now and again will not necessarily hurt me or lead to a drinking problem of my own, but I’ve decided to just abstain completely anyways.

Most of my peers/classmates, however, like to drink and will often talk at length about it. I’ve been asked multiple times about my beer preference or some other alcohol-related question, to which I simply reply I don’t drink. For some reason, most people can’t seem to accept this and will ask me why not, or even try to convince me how great drinking is if I say it’s because I’m not interested. I don’t have a problem with other people drinking or listening to stories about it, but I don’t know how to explain my “disinterest” to other people.

I really don’t want to be a huge bummer in front of other people and say outright, “I don’t drink because my dad is an alcoholic,” but I don’t know how to get people to stop asking questions. “I don’t drink for personal reasons,” also feels like either a bummer or might lead to people asking what those reasons are.

So, Captain is there any way I can sidestep these questions without having to divulge my personal circumstances or bringing down the mood of the group?

Thanks for any help,

Sober in South Florida (she/her)

Dear Sober in South Florida,

For close, trusted friends, consider telling the unvarnished truth at a time when you’re one-on-one with them in a calm, quiet place and not at a party or immediately heading to one: “The [party last week] [where the topic came up in a big, awkward way] wasn’t the time to talk about this, but I wanted to tell you: I don’t drink because of some serious addiction problems in my family. I’m fine if other people drink, but sometimes it’s exhausting when people try really hard to sell me on how great it is or pry into my reasons. I know for sure that it’s not for me.” 

You don’t owe anyone your whole family history, but you don’t owe your family a shield of never talking about it, either, and maybe it would be helpful for people close to you to know a little bit about your reasons. If they know, they can stop pressuring you about it right now, forever. They can have your back when others do pressure you. You can ask them directly to do this, like, “Not everyone has to know about my family, but now that you do, can you help me out sometimes? Remembering that I don’t drink and not making me re-negotiate that every time we are out and about would help, a lot. When others don’t get it, helping me change the subject (i.e. ‘Dude, she told you she doesn’t drink. New topic!’) would also help and make me feel less alone about this.”

You never know: They might have their own complicated families. You are not alone.

Now, repeat after me: “Reasonable people who are cool to hang out with will accept what I say at face value. The people I generally want in my life will not pressure me, demand elaborate reasons, or make it their mission to sell me on the wonders of booze once I’ve said I’m not into it.”

Also, repeat after me: ‘The mood of the group’ is not my job. 

Culture being what it is, there is no one way you can communicate that you don’t drink that will magically stop people from having feelings (or occasional annoying reactions) to that fact. However, if your perfectly reasonable life choice ‘brings down the mood of the group‘ then that’s on the group. The stuff you’re already saying, like:

  • “No thank you! But you go ahead.” 
  • “Not interested, thanks! But your story is interesting – what happened next?”
  • “I don’t drink, but I don’t mind if other people do.” 
  • “You do you! I don’t drink.” 
  • “I don’t have a favorite drink, but what’s in yours?

…is just fine. You’re not being mysterious or unclear or judgmental or a jerk.

You could try throwing in a subject change and see if it changes the vibe. Does the other person take your cue?

  • I don’t drink, thanks. How did you hear about this band?
  • Not for me, thanks. Where’d you find that t-shirt?
  • It’s not my jam. What’s your favorite place to eat around here?

When you encounter someone who just won’t let it go, remind yourself: It is NOT COOL to pressure you or interrogate you or make you feel weird or somehow “less than” because you don’t drink. You are the sole boss of what goes into your body! You told them, straight up, how things are. You don’t have to continually negotiate. In fact, it’s better not to, because negotiating & giving reasons to unreasonable people communicates that things are up for negotiation.

For example:

Random Party Person: “What’s your favorite beer? IPA? Stout? Porter?”

You: “I don’t have one. I don’t drink.”

Random Party Person: “You don’t drink. At all.”

You: “That’s what I said. So, what’s your favorite kind of beer?”

Random Party Person: “But how will you know until you try it?”

You: “I guess I’ll miss out! I hear that [Subject Change] is happening soon, what do you know about that?”

Random Party Person: “But you have to try [drink]. [Drink] will change your mind.”

You: It really won’t. So, what are your thoughts on [Subject Change]?

Random Party Person: “But my favorite drink that I love drinking is so awesome! Are you sure?”

You: “Positive. So, howabout that [Subject Change]?”

Random Party Person: “So, do you think we’re all alcoholic reprobates? Are you silently judging all of us?”

You: “Yes, absolutely. So, [Subject Change] is [Subject Change-y]. What’s your plan for [Subject Change]?”

Random Party Person: “But how can you have fun at parties in college and not drink?”

You: (Choose your own adventure, depending on your energy level and how invested you are in talking to this person after they continually ignore your wishes and talk over you)

  • “Ooooooooooookay then. Bye.” (Walk away)
  • “I manage to have a great time, except when I meet people who Will. Not. Let. It. Go.” 
  • “Was something unclear? How many times do I have to say that I don’t drink?”
  • “Why are you trying so hard to sell me on this? I’ve already said ‘no thank you.’ Once should be enough.” 
  • “By my count I’ve tried to change the subject three times. It’s your turn for a new topic.” 
  • “Drinking/other people’s drinking/your drinking/Friends’ drinking mostly doesn’t bother me. Being interrogated & pressured about it really does, though, so, I’m gonna cut this short.” 
  • “You seem smart – you really can’t think of any reasons that a person just wouldn’t be into drinking? None?” 

When you have these conversations, pay attention to the people who say “Oh, I didn’t realize. That’s cool!” and the ones who embrace the subject changes you throw out. They are communicating an important thing to you and that thing is “I can hang with who you really are. I won’t pressure you.” In other words, they are giving signals that they are good at consent.

Pay attention to the ones who shame-spiral in front of you about their own drinking habits or who admit that they don’t really like it but feel like they have to because “it’s college!” You don’t have to intervene or becoming a sounding board for or fix their issues, but sometimes saying, “It’s college, exactly, so we can do what we want,” is a good thing to hear. They’ll mark you down somewhere as a safe, cool person who won’t pressure them.

Pay attention also to the people who Will. Not. Fucking. Let. It. Go., the ones who keep trying to override your choice, the ones who hint that they will spike your drink “as a joke,” the ones who call attention to it in a way that feels belittling or coercive. Avoid them, where possible, and if they’re in your social circle, keep an eye on them. Don’t leave your friends, especially drunk friends, alone with them. Don’t leave your drink unattended with them, or drink unidentified things they hand you. Someone who meets your “no thanks!” with half an hour of manipulation and second-guessing is communicating that they are bad at consent. 

You have great reasons for never drinking and there is nothing particularly strange about making choices about what you want to consume. When people want to push and question your choices, remember: They are the ones making it awkward and weird by not taking ‘no’ for an answer. College drinking culture *is* really pervasive, but the more you hold your ground the more other people around you who don’t want to drink or don’t love drinking are going to feel safe to push back against people who pressure them.

P.S. If you are a college student who is friends with someone who doesn’t drink:

  • Remember that they don’t drink – don’t keep offering it to them or calling attention to it. Treat it like the non-big-deal that it is.
  • Don’t bring booze to or make booze the center of every hang your group has.
  • Don’t make a big deal of their reasons, disclose things they’ve told you in confidence about their reasons, or demand reasons.
  • Drink or don’t drink, as you will. Don’t make the non-drinker your Drinking Confessor, Repository Of All Your Complex Feelings About Alcohol, Secret Keeper of the Order of Drunken Hookups.
  • When y’all meet someone new, and that person starts to make a big deal, step in. “[Friend] doesn’t drink, it’s not a big deal. What are you having?” 
  • Try thinking about this in terms of coercion and consent. Is it every okay to pressure someone to do something they don’t want with their body? Who in your social circle understands that the answer to that is “nope!”? Who has poor boundaries and won’t stop pushing people? Someone who would spike your friend’s drink when they aren’t looking or who makes constant fun of someone for not drinking is telling you, “I do not actually respect other people when they say no.” Take care of each other out there.




270 thoughts on “#905: “I’m a college student who doesn’t drink. How can I make my peers understand that without killing the mood?”

  1. I feel you, LW. I didn’t have a drink for the first time until I was 23; my own family, particularly my sister, pressured me multiple times about it. I finally succumbed to peer pressure and tasted champagne (which then gave me a migraine). I have since done a couple of vodka shots, one whiskey shot and had less than half a dozen cocktails. The result? Alcohol does nothing for me but make me a little sleepy. It’s also ridiculously expensive and frankly I have better things to spend my money on. I now tell people that I don’t drink.

    And you better believe some people just can’t let that go. It’s mind-boggling to them. But I’m getting used to dealing with people thinking I’m insane, since I don’t want children, and I’m an aromantic asexual who isn’t interested in sex either.

    1. It sounds like you are able to give seminars in saying “Enjoy [that thing] all you want! I’m good, thanks.” ❤

    2. I think I got really lucky in college because I rarely if ever ran into people who felt the need to pressure me into drinking. I was part of a group that loved throwing raucous, boozy parties and I usually just walked around with a cup of sprite, and nobody bothered me. Even if I didn’t have a cup in hand, if someone asked me if I wanted something to drink, I’d just respond “I’m good, but thanks.” And the most I got was the “you sure?” you give someone when you want to make sure they know your original offer wasn’t just for show/letting you know it’s OK to take advantage of it.

      It is completely normal for someone to *not care* that you’re not drinking – and it’s not really normal for them to care or make a big deal about it. Just reinforcing that message that the Captain gave and confirming that this was the case for me and my group of friends. I managed not to drink a drop of alcohol for 3 years of college, and only maybe one person gave me grief for it at the time (they thought it was funny – it wasn’t, and I just stopped hanging around them). I still had a wide group of friends who did their own things, some of whom were drinkers and some of whom weren’t.

      My mom on the other hand – she kept trying to encourage me to drink more and was a little disappointed in me. She cared way more than the other 18-22 year olds I was around all the time. Meanwhile every time I turned down a drink or told my mom I was fine without, my dad would laugh or smile with approval (and my mom would realize it wasn’t that important).

      1. I had a similar college experience.
        Though some people found me having the occasional drink even weirder than being teototal. It wasn’t that they pressurised me; it was that they were utterly baffled at the idea of only having one drink.
        I spent years socialising with people in pubs while never getting drunk and no one had problem with it.

    3. Hi! I’m an aromantic asexual who doesn’t want children and isn’t interested in sex as well!

      I don’t drink for medical reasons.

      My parents did a lot to demystify and deglorify alcohol for me.

      From the time I was six years old they let me taste whatever they were drinking. Just a tiny sip, mind you, so I would know what it tastes like.

      And seeing my parents drink some wine or beer on the weekends and generally not making a big deal about alcohol in general went a long way in me not seeing the need to drink alcohol to seem grown up.

      Later, when people asked me why I don’t drink, I always told them that I don’t like the taste.

      1. You’re practically my twin! I’m not aromantic but otherwise (and I don’t knit but I do spin and am learning to weave.)

        For a long time I didn’t drink. I couldn’t stand the taste of beer – still can’ – and that was *the thing* in the area where I lived as a kid and young adult. It was also an area where the problem in the OP continued after college. I pretty much gave up on having a social life in that city (small city in Pennsylvania) because I knew the barrage of questions would happen because they saw that I didn’t have a beer in hand. Notably it became an interrogation about if/how much per week I drank, etc.

        My parents didn’t much help it, though, as they went teetotalers when I was a kid. Alcohol was evil, etc.

        I do drink liquors now and my tastes are more expensive so it tends to mean that I only do a drink periodically.

    4. We must be long-lost twins. I am also an aromantic asexual not interested in children or alcohol. Most people don’t understand even if they try, but the ones worth hanging around chalk it up to personal preference and don’t push.

      The captain’s advice is spot on. If none of that works and you’re getting too frustrated to keep your tone light, I’ve had luck with “Why does it matter to you so much that I don’t want to _____?” The issue here is not that you’ve chosen to refrain from drinking, the issue is that they’ve chosen to make a big deal out if it. Put that right back on them.

  2. Ahh I relate to this so much. I don’t have much of an alcoholism history in my family so it’s not the same reasoning, but I’ve discovered over the years (I’m 25, so it’s been a few years that i’ve “tried”) that my body really can’t metabolize alcohol, and it’s not just a matter of “building up tolerance.” After a night where I had one (!) drink and blacked out, I decided not to do it anymore because my body was telling me that it couldn’t handle it. So many people don’t get it. No, I’m not pregnant, no, I’m not a recovering alcoholic, no, it’s not because of religion, no, it’s not because I’m watching my figure, no, I DON’T CARE if you drink, yes, sometimes I do wish I could do this thing that’s a bonding experience for most of my peers, but I can’t, so stop bothering me about it.

    1. I had a friend in college with a mutation in the gene for alcohol dehydrogenase that they got to find out about the hard way, and a lot of people didn’t seem to get that their experiences weren’t universal. I figure these are also the people who stare in shock at someone who doesn’t like chocolate or cake, or tell lactose intolerant people that they’d ‘die without cheese’

      1. “a lot of people didn’t seem to get that their experiences weren’t universal.”

        Ha, understatement of the century! ❤

        College, fortunately, is a GREAT time to start learning that.

        1. This is why I like the advice re confiding in some peeps if they seem like a good sort. It’s a good step in their learning process and they’ll (hopefully) think twice about pressuring the next person they meet who isn’t drinking.

        2. IME, over time, you not drinking will probably become less of an oddity in your peer group, because things like Now I’m On Medication, or Oh God Too Many Blackouts, or It’s Not Shiny and New, or How Could I Afford Booze And Pay For Day Care.

          As a bonus, figuring out how to handle intrusive questions about your life choices now is excellent practice. Because the [topic] may be alcohol, but the issue is a constant. Why do you have [job choice]? Why are you [choice to have a life partner, more than one, or none]? Cat vs dog vs guinea pig? Are you *really* allergic to gluten or are you just on some fad diet? Why is your wedding not [like the other person thinks weddings should be]?

          Until everyone is magically good at respecting boundaries, this shit comes up. And you still have to be able to communicate said boundaries anyhow, so. You’re just getting extra practice in now, which is really valuable for when higher grade boundaries need to be enforced.

      2. tell lactose intolerant people that they’d ‘die without cheese’

        So many people. So. Many. People. Have said that to me. *grits teeth*

        1. So. Annoying. Like, no, you wouldn’t, and furthermore, fuck you for being insensitive.

          I may have some feelings about this.

        2. Ugh, yeah. Not lactose intolerant but vegan and people holding long monologues at me about how life isn’t worth living without cheese is something that happens all the time. All. The. Time.

  3. I was a non drinker in college, and one strategy I used was offering to be designated driver. It’s an easy out if you’re not within stumbling distance of your home. Plus, it’s awesome for the drinking buddies not to have to worry about who will drive!

    1. I do drink on a regular basis, but any time I’m going out with a group and I’m not feeling it (budget, need to get up early, just don’t want to, whatever) I always offer to DD. People appreciate it, I can pay it forward and provide a helpful service to my friend group, and it’s an instant, ironclad, unassailable reason for people to lay off. Not that “I don’t drink” shouldn’t also be all of those things, but it immediately shuts down any peer pressure before it can start. I could see it being a drag if I was the DD every single time, but it’s an easy way to handle occasional one-offs if you really just don’t feel like getting into it with new acquaintances.

    2. The problem this approach can have is that there are people who think this is an excuse to abdicate all responsibility to the Sober One, and frankly I have better things to do with my time than deal with that.

      I have no problem being the designated driver for friends who otherwise respect me and are pleasant company, but it’s not a strategy I am willing to use on people I don’t know well.

      1. Even if one isn’t driving people one doesn’t know, “Sorry, can’t drink, I’m driving” is a script many people will take at face value who won’t take “I’m not drinking because I’m not drinking” without a fight.

      2. Yes, this is a problem with that strategy (well, also, the fact that I don’t own a car). Being responsible for very drunk people is kind of scary. Someone mildly tipsy who just needs to not be driving is fine, but the people who used to give me a hard time about not drinking were often rather heavy drinkers. A 200 lb adult without the judgment and ability to take care of themself of an adult is not something I really want to take on. Even if they’re very nice people.

    3. Although, note to drinkers, don’t ALWAYS assume your sober friend wants to be the DD. Ask always, and once in a while consider offering to stay sober, too, and drive.

    4. When I was college age I’d sometimes spend a month or two not drinking – and I’d drive during that time. I learned, very quickly, that my rules for being designated driver were that I leave when I leave (I’d often give a rough idea of when I wanted to leave – say 1am) and if anyone also wanted to leave at that time they were welcome to. Otherwise they could figure out their own way home.

      Because it was decidedly not fun to be the sober person who was promised ‘but we just have to stay for one more song’ and feeling resentful when a friend went home with someone they’d met because I’d waited hours for them to be ready to go home. Unless I thought that they were too drunk to be left alone – I’d go home before I got grumpy and I’d get regaled by the tales of what I’d missed next time I saw them and I was a lot happier for it.

  4. Love those scripts. I often find “It’s just a choice I’ve made” plus, if necessary, “it’s really not for anyone else to make that choice for me” + Subject Change usually works but I am gonna try some of the Captain’s ones in future.

    By the way, I do drink, just not always, and when I am not drinking, people get really weird about it and nearly always assume I must be pregnant because why the hell else would anyone choose not to drink? (Er, I love beer, but: the crappy feeling the next day, the expense, the risk of doing even more stupid shit than usual, just not feeling it, feeling too vulnerable, being too tired to enjoy it, the list goes on).

    I can sort of see in my case why people would want to know why someone who often drinks is suddenly not drinking at all, but a) that doesn’t give them carte blanche to grill me and b) in your case LW they have no excuse at all, since you have always made it clear you don’t drink.

    A friend of mine just airily tells people who ask why she doesn’t drink, “Oh, because of my beliefs.” She isn’t religious, just believes drinking isn’t a good idea for her. If they ask “what beliefs” she goes “I don’t discuss my beliefs with strangers/that’s a bit deep for a fun night out, so how about [subject change]?”

    1. When I’m out with friends and not drinking I usually go with “I’m taking it easy tonight” or “I need to wake up early tomorrow,” and don’t really bother to elaborate. As long as I’m casual about it and don’t offer anything that might be seen as judge-y/passive aggressive, it’s pretty easy to gloss over and move on.

      There was a period of about a year when I couldn’t drink for medical reasons, so with close friends I would tell them “I can’t drink right now because of a medication I’m on,” and most people were polite enough not to pry.

  5. My father and all his siblings were alcoholics. I told myself (quite self righteously, I’m sure!) well back in my teens that the times when I might WANT a drink were the times when I should not have one! And then I managed to marry an alcoholic, not that I recognized that at the time. I have had MANY talks/discussion/monologues with my children about not abusing alcohol, using grandpa and dad as examples of the poor behavior that resulted. Also the joy and rapture of being vomit drunk. I do drink myself, but not usually more than 1 drink of whatever, unless we’re at a family dinner where we’re having wine, AND I’m not driving…

    I have seen recommended to have a drink in your hand that can masquerade as booze, but it’s ginger ale, or cider, or some such. The Thing In Your Hand can help with people who refuse to drop the pressure on you. And changing the people you hang with can help too. Like the Captain says, real friends like you for who you really are, they don’t need the affirmation of you being as big a partier as they are.

    1. My mother, and many relatives on both sides are/were alcoholics. So I decided not to start drinking. I did start hanging out with the stoners in jr. high, though. At the time I thought we all just liked each other, but now I think hanging around them was sort of familiar because of my mom. Overall nice people who turned out well, though. And if a new person would start to pass the joint or whatever towards me, they’d all tell them that I didn’t do that. I can’t recall ever really being pressured to drink or use drugs. I went to college, too, maybe times have changed?

      I have met people who are curious, and I’m also a vegetarian. I don’t mind curiosity.

      I guess I might tell someone who won’t let it go something like this:

      None for me, thanks, I don’t drink…I just don’t, do you have soda water and juice?…Are you asking me for the third time why I’m tea total? Do I need a reason to not drink?

      I think I could remain calm, and maybe bemused.

      Sorry LW and others that people are pressuring you to do things you don’t want to do.

      1. I was never pressured to drink in university, though I was often left out as many events were very focussed on heavy drinking, without much else to do but play drinking games.

        Actually the only people who ever gave me a hard time about not drinking were a) my dad and b) some friends I had when I was in my late twenties and early thirties, and they were in their thirties and forties.

    2. Yeah, the “club soda with lime” or “ginger ale” (or a Shirley Temple or virgin whatever, if you want to get fancy) glass-in-hand is a handy thing to have. “I’ve got a drink, thanks! How’s that local sports team doing?” People who are jackasses are still gonna jackass, but it can be a deflector of “what are you drinking, can I get you a beer, whyyyy aren’t you doing the same thing I’m doing?” thing.

      1. Until you get the person who grabs your drink, sniffs it, and starts complaining loudly about how there’s no alcohol in it and demanding that someone get you a “real” drink. I wish I was making this up.

        1. That’s odd, I’ve never had anyone grab my drink and complain about a lack of alcohol in it. Of course, it could be because the one time this happened to me, I tipped it out all over the rude person before things progressed to sniffing my drink. By accident. Maybe. Coulda been an accident. That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.

          I have no tolerance for anyone transgressing my physical boundaries. None. Zero. Zilch. And my physical boundaries include my clothing and anything I am holding.

          1. Yeah, this was when I was a freshman in college, in a dorm that had a campus reputation for “working hard, playing hard”. Looking back, I suspect he was so caught up in that identity that he felt he had to enforce it for everyone there.

    3. I never drank in college, but that never stopped people from getting nosy into what was in my (non-alcoholic) drink in my cup. They’d ask “What are you drinking?” and I’d say “Oh, just Coke.” “Just Coke? You should put some rum or vodka in it.” “Nah, I’m good.” “Come on, you’re young, live a little.” Nngh.

      The biggest WTF is when this came from one of my college’s administrators!

      1. “What are you drinking?”
        “A drink”
        “What’s in it?”
        “Stuff for drinking.”
        “Haha, but what is it?”
        “-awkward silence- …How about that (subject change)?”

        I would so do this. With a pleasant smile on my face the whole time.

        1. A firm “Why do you care?” tends to shut that down, too, as whatever reason they think they have is usually not a great one. (e.g., “Because I want you to have fun.” “I AM having fun, thank you.”)

  6. I feel this, sort of. Here’s the thing.. I LIKE to drink, but I can’t. I’m a bit of an introvert, so being able to have a drink or two really helped me in social situations, and also the occasional wind-down at the end of a hard day.

    I don’t drink anymore because I’m on a medication that is very hard to regulate if I drink, and keeping the meds regulated means not going anemic, and not potentially bleeding out from a paper-cut. Going into this usually results in going into my full medical history, which is.. frankly, boring, and confusing, and then I also end up getting unsolicited medical advice (“Have you heard of {wonder-drug}?” “Try making your own Yogurt!” etc) and questions about whether a little bit would hurt etc. Truth be told, I do occasionally have a small glass of wine a couple times a year if all my levels have been steady, but that’s my call to make, nobody else’s.

  7. You are not alone, LW. My family has alcohol issues too, and so I never drank in college, and only rarely after. When I did start trying alcohol, I found that I don’t like the taste of alcohol (unless it’s covered by fruit juice, and some of those taste better without the alcohol…), and that alcohol slows me down when I want to dance. I think it’s been a decade since I last drank more than a sip of wine.

    It has not impaired my social or professional life at all. My husband drinks wine and beer, and he’s fine with the fact that I don’t. Same for our friends. I sometimes parlay it into an advantage by being the designated driver, *especially* on New Years Eve.

    I am definitely seeing more people stating, ‘I don’t drink, but I’m facing pressure’ than I did 30 years ago when it became relevant to me, so hang in there, and find the people who like it when you do you.

  8. I was in that boat in college with pot. The “but whyyyyy” and “you’re missing out” comes from the same place as “you’ll change your mind about not wanting kids” I think. People see the rejection of the substance as a rejection of them and judgment of their choices.

    My shut downs were “why are you so invested in me doing this? It’s uncomfortable” or “health reasons” because mental health reasons are just as valid

    1. Hi, I’m the LW here! Thank you everyone for your comments and support. CleverNamePending, I definitely agree with what you’ve said about some people taking it as a personal offense/rejection if you don’t drink but they do. I wish I could know more about the psychology/reasoning behind that, because I’ve never really seen that kind of reaction from people except when it comes to drinking/drugs.

      Funnily enough, I encounter more of the probing drinking questions during class more than anywhere else. My major requires a lot of group work and all of my classes are comprised of 99% of the same exact people, so of course we get more socializing done than classwork. Once the topic turns to parties/drinking, it usually stays there as people like to trade “war stories” and such. Maybe the novelty of drinking and partying hasn’t worn off for my peers, which is why they’re so eager to talk about it at length!

      1. I’ve seen the “If you don’t do what I do, you must be judging me” a few times. Particularly with homeschooling. My mother homeschooled me and my siblings, and she sometimes gets people who think she’s judging them for sending their kids to public school. Seriously, she’s
        not educating her kids *at* you!

        I think it’s an insecurity thing. When something is so much the norm in your (general you) group, it makes it easier to go along with it, maybe not realizing that there are other options. So when someone does something else, you realize that there are other options, and you’re not sure you made the right one. You project that onto the person who made a different choice, and so think they’re judging you. And so you try to bring them in line with the “default” option, to reassure yourself that it’s the only option.

        This kind of thing happens with lots of lifestyle choices.

        1. I really want to underline the whole “I am not having my choices AT you” concept because it took me a long time to learn and I think it’s a pretty common issue.

      2. So I could be very very wrong here, but speaking as someone who has also gone to college and also does not drink (alcoholic grandparents in my case), I think you’re getting probing drinking questions during in-class social-time because you not having drunk stories to share is making your classmates feel like you’re failing to participate in the social bonding ritual called “sharing drunk stories during class” (as opposed to the social bonding ritual called “getting drunk on cheap beer”). If I’m right, you can probably get people to back off by sharing *other kinds of stories* –preferably ones in which you are somehow vulnerable and/or not at your best. For example: “Wow that sounds like a crazy night. My weekend was pretty crazy too– I was so tired after class on Friday that I fell down walking up the stairs, and hit my head so hard I bent my glasses*”(optional addition: “and I was stone cold sober”). This doesn’t help if your classmates are really emotionally invested in you drinking, but if they just need you to show that you trust them with information about how you, too, are only human/young and dumb… it should help.

        Unfortunately, even if successful, this gambit will not stop people telling you about what happened with Bob, the ping pong table, and the stuffed rabbit at the party last week**.

        * This example not selected at random. In my defense, the stairs in question were wet and slippery. Not in my defense: it was actually a Tuesday

        **This example is entirely fictional. No one my age goes by Bob, and while I have too much brain space devoted to other people’s drunk stories, none of them involve ping pong tables.

        1. I totally agree with this, and was thinking something similar. I think there’s this weird thing with alcohol that it’s sort of a pre-excuse. People, especially college-age people, often feel anxiety about what other people will think about their decisions, so the alcohol offers a little plausible deniability there, in case people react negatively to whatever it was they did. They can just play the “omg, your totally right, I would never do that sober, it was just the drink” card. So I think one of the reasons people tend to bond over drunk escapade stories is that it’s a way of being vulnerable, but not too vulnerable, because the drunk-shield is still there. As an athlete in college I’ve been know to share stories like “my arms were so tired after practice that I had to shampoo my hair by bringing my head down to my hands, because I couldn’t lift my hand to my head long enough to suds up.” This story bears a lot of similarity to my stories like “omg, I was so drunk last week, I just sat in the shower for like 45 minutes and totally forgot what I was doing” and serves a similar purpose about learning about limits and how awesome showers feel.

          Also, these stories tell you a lot about people and how they will be as friends. People who laughed at both stories and asked, “how the heck did you shave your legs” (slowly and with lots of nicks, in both cases) remained friends, while people who responded to the practice story with “aww, poor preppy athlete can’t wash her hair” turned out to suck and be judge-y about all kinds of more important things (they also totally did not know what preppy meant, as I am leaps and bounds from preppy). Which, I know, does not help you in the short term, but did ultimately help me find my people in college, which made all of my “weird” decisions complete non-issues.

      3. Hi LW! I’m sorry your peers are giving you such a hard time.

        I was just talking with a friend about a similar dynamic among people who have had kids and are personally offended by those who choose not to have kids. It often seems to come from a place of insecurity and envy, something like “I secretly regret this choice but feel stuck with it and am angry that you’ve decided you get to make a different choice”.

        When I was a non-drinker in college, I got really into unusual sodas. Dr. Brown’s Cel-Rey celery soda! Root beers brewed by beer-brewing companies! I could hold my own in any conversation about drinks that actually had to do with liking the drinks themselves, and anyone who asked me more than once what I wanted to drink would get a very boring spiel about how I don’t drink alcohol but I love ginger ale but honestly they don’t have any good ginger ale here, Canada Dry is undrinkable and they put artificial sweeteners in Seagram’s now and didn’t even mention it on the label, ugh, and some places have Schweppes but I think this place has PepsiCo sodas and Schweppes is only on tap if they get their sodas from Cokes distributor and… by then the person would usually give up and go away.

        If the person who’s pressuring you to drink is male, you can always say, “Look, man, I’m sure you don’t mean anything by it, but when you push people to drink you sound like a rapist. I know that’s not an impression you want to give so I want to make sure you’re aware.” This is both true and effective (assuming the guy is not in fact a rapist) and might even have the bonus of discouraging him from being pushy to other people.

        As for the post-facto war stories, one option is to very matter-of-factly say, “Hey, you all know I don’t drink, so when you get very into telling drinking stories, you exclude me from socializing with you. Can we talk about books or movies or music or something else we all like instead, or maybe even get some actual work done?” And after that, every time the talk turns to drinking, say “Sorry, I can’t participate in this conversation” and leave (or pull out your phone or start doing actual work or suggest a change of topic, if you’re stuck there). Make it clear that the problem isn’t your lack of drinking; it’s their failure to socialize in a way you can participate in.

        Finally, if there’s an Al-Anon group on or near campus, joining it might be a good way for you to make friends who don’t have this dynamic going on, and who will be very understanding about your family background.

        Good luck!

      4. On why some people seem to take it so personally, I think part of that might be reactions they have gotten from non-drinkers before. For instance, these are real things people have said to me before when I offered to grab them a drink (as a way of communicating to me, for the first time, that they don’t drink):

        –“No, I don’t drink. I’m capable of having fun without alcohol.”
        –“No, I don’t drink. Drinking prematurely ages women.”
        –“No, I don’t drink. I like being in control of my actions.”

        I think many drinkers can be defensive because they have usually encountered people who shut down a drink offer with an insult before, and so they wonder if you’re having similar negative thoughts about them. That’s why I’d suggest not answering “Are you judging me?” with “Yes” (even jokingly).

        I definitely don’t mean this as any kind of excuse for someone hassling a person who chooses not to drink. I just thought it might be helpful to give some input on a common knee-jerk emotional reaction from the other side, since you expressed interest in your comment.

        1. Yeah, I think there’s a kind of feedback circle sometimes.

          I rarely drink, and there have been periods of years when I didn’t at all. And I have had enough bad experiences with some people – not most, but often enough – of them being very judgmental, immediately and loudly labelling me as boring and not fun, or repeatedly pressuring me to drunk with them – that for a while I did start to get pre-emptively tense when people were drinking in certain environments, and if someone was even a little negative, I could feel my anxiety and anger coming out immediately. I DID start to feel judgmental and angry. I don’t think I ever snapped back at someone who didn’t say something rude or pushy to me first, though.

          But I can easily imagine a series of people-who-have-had-bad-experiences-being-judged-or-pressured by drinkers/non-drinkers who then react preemptively to some innocent drinker/non-drinkernon-drinker who then feels attacked out of the blue, who then reacts preemptively…

      5. If it makes you feel better, that’s probably a lot of it. I’m in my 30’s, and while there are still the occasional people who are asses about it, I think it becomes much less common once the novelty of being smashed has worn off.

      6. I think that sometimes it’s about hospitality. Obviously the dickheads are dickheads, but some people may genuinely feel that they are failing to be a good host even if they’re not formally hosting and not be sure what to do in that situation. They want you to have a good time! Why aren’t you doing this thing that is part of having a good time?

        I admit that I have this theory because while I also didn’t drink at all at university and living in a drinking culture country, I also didn’t drink soft drinks or tea/coffee. And while these days I drink alcohol regularly, I still dislike soft drinks and tea/coffee. Overall, I have had FAR more pressure to drink tea/coffee and greater awkwardness that I don’t than I have alcohol, and I think there is an element of rejecting the norm about it and uncertainly as to what that means. I am offered tea/coffee, I refuse politely – and then fuck, what does the host do? Because I have just gone off the script and they’re not sure what comes next. I am used to navigating this situation, but they’re not, so it’s not surprising that they then start asking am I sure. After all, they need to make sure I’m not doing a polite refusal while dying for a cup of tea, because that is also a thing. I find that it can be reduced by a “No thanks, but could I have a glass of water”. Asking for something else lets people fulfill their hostly-duties.

        My non-drinking response if asked for a reason was a simple “I just don’t like the taste, I’m really pick with drinks” (true). Which could be expanded with the fact that if I don’t like coke I’m not going to like rum and coke, am I?

      7. Vegetarians and *especially* vegans get it allllll the time too. “But bacon is so tasty, how can you live without it!” “But what do you eat, how could you possibly get enough nutrition?” (to a grown person who is right in front of them and clearly has survived so far) And it’s absolutely rooted either in people’s guilt about their own dietary choices, or people who for some reason just can’t stand anybody to be different. I never get these reactions from people who have really thought through the ethics of it and decided that, on balance, the tradeoffs are worth it and eating meat is the right thing to do. Only from people who want to live in denial and totally avoid thinking about any negative aspects of our food production system.

        I think it’s the same with drinking – someone who suspects they might have a drinking problem, or that they don’t have any clue how to socialize without booze, is going to get panicky and defensive. Someone comfortable with their own relationship with alcohol won’t feel so frantic to justify it.

        1. I was a ovo/lacto vegetarian for seven years, back in the 1980s. I’ve also worked on a cattle farm and helped take cattle to slaughter (again, back in the 1980s); the farm used natural management practices to raise grassfed beef. So I’ve seen a lot.

          It may be because vegetarianism wasn’t so popularly understood in the US 30+ years ago but, when I was eating vegetarian back then, a significant subsection of people who made comments or asked me questions genuinely did not know how someone could be adequately nourished without eating any sort of meat. They weren’t trying to justify their own choices, they weren’t criticising mine, they were just completely unaware that it is possible to be healthy* without eating meat and they were curious.

          *it isn’t healthy for everyone, including me

    2. “People see the rejection of the substance as a rejection of them and judgment of their choices.”

      YES. I spent a lot of time in very toxic, dysfunctional circle where this thinking ruled over every interaction. In that case, I’m pretty sure it was an culture based entirely on pervasive shame + projection. Partaking in whatever self-destructive activity was occurring was mandatory and there were A LOT of destructive activities going on. Consent was . . . non-existent . . . in every setting. One example: there was one girl who had a lot of casual sex, and she would regularly lock me in a room with a random drunk guy in hopes I would have sex with him.

      By no means am I saying peer pressure to drink is comparable to my situation (that a seriously awful situation I almost did not survive) but often I think the peer pressure itself is an intense fear of being judged, shamed, ostracized etc. Sort of “if we all do this thing then you can’t shame me for it because you do it too!”

      But that’s not your burden your carry – you do not need to manage anyone’s feelings or fears and these scripts sound super helpful and non-judgemental. And take seriously the captain’s advice to pay attention to how people respond – that will tell you a lot about them and your safety when around them.

  9. My daughter is 23, and neither she nor I drink very much; perhaps a sip of champagne at a wedding or half a glass of wine at a graduation. The reason is that her dad left when she was 4, and died when she was 18 of the effects of alcoholism. Nobody knows what she has had to cope with but the end result is that she simply does not drink and she finds it immensely difficult to be in the presence of very drunk people.

    When she started uni she and I both tried the adult route with her flatmates. The day the students moved in I went with her to help unpack, and quietly told the flatmates, one by one, that her dad had died only 6 months earlier, and that she would not be able to join in drinking parties. I tried to keep it light, but I didn’t want my daughter to have to have the awkward explanations, so I briefly mentioned it and asked for consideration (which they all promised), then I apologised for the bad news and then spoke of the excitement of a new term. And they all forgot; every single one of them.

    They did what is described here; they invited her to join in drinking parties, over and over again. She kept on saying yes to meeting for coffee, no thanks for drinking parties. She ended up spending a very unhappy year effectively locked in her room while her flatmates consumed bottle after bottle of spirits in the kitchen Very Loudly, then went out drinking, then came back and drank some more, Very Loudly. She came home at the end of that year and spent the next 2 years commuting 120 miles from home until she graduated.

    Then she went to another university, and again commuted from home because this works for her. She still does this.

    She is now a few years older and she can now sit in a pub with her work friends, drinking whatever she wants, and it is no longer an issue. She does not have the same kinds of friends any more; she has respectful adults who allow her to choose for herself, and who incidentally do not drink themselves under the table at every opportunity.

    No matter how we try, some people won’t get it. They will push and push at those boundaries, and we have to be strong in maintaining them. My daughter is very strong, fortunately.

    The scripts are good, as is the acknowledgement that sometimes nothing will work. Sometimes there is no alternative to walking away and doing your own thing.

    1. I’m so sorry for your experience. You and your daughter sound like strong and courageous people, and I wish you all the best.

  10. Also, man, this sucks now, but it does eventually get better and people stop pressuring you quite so much to drink. (I mean, the “Hey, let’s all go to a bar” thing seems to have not changed at all now that I am in my 30s, but there’s much more chill about what you actually drink at that bar–club soda is totally a thing.) So LW, if you can survive the next few years, you’ve gotten through the worst part.

    1. This has been my experience as well. As people get into their late 20s or so, it starts to be a lot more common for people not to be drinking (often for personal/medical reasons that make it a bit rude to interrogate). So you get less grief for it.

  11. You can try saying cheerfully, “I don’t drink, I’m a puritan! So how ’bout that sports team?”

    Unfortunately, people who insist on talking about alcohol are usually already drunk and unreasonable, so walking away may be your only option.

  12. It’s funny, I had similar reasons; and I was fortunate enough to have my friends support me. (Family was another story). I’ve gotten to the point – in my mid thirties – where I have a few kinds of wine I like, a few cocktails, and maybe 3 very-specific kinds of beer – so I can have a drink to hold and sip at to just deflect the questions.

    Recently though, I had the oddest conversation with a family member who I was sure was either a) alcoholic or b) well on his way there where he said he’d quit drinking (except when he came to my house and we served wine with dinner) because he was trying to loose weight and adding 600+ calories a day in booze wasn’t working for him. So once he drank through what he had, he was done. No shakes, no withdrawal.

    So, LW, depending on the crowd you’re in, how horribly pushy people are, and how willing you are to lie, “No thanks, I’m watching my figure” might be a good way to get them to back off. True or not, there’s a lot of (horrible) leeway for women to be on diets.

    1. Thanks for your comment! Reminder: We don’t do weight-loss, diet, or “calorie-count” talk on this site. I would not recommend adding this strategy in when people are trying to coerce you to eat or drink something.

      1. Thanks for pointing out that the weight talk is more dicey than it seems. There are certain situations where I think that’s more likely to put someone off than assuage them…

        I really did get away with keeping it vague for the years and periods when I wasn’t drinking – “No thanks, I’m taking it easy tonight” is a perfectly fine reason, and reasonable people won’t do more than ask “you’re sure?” before dropping it. Even “No thanks, I’m good” or “I’m good for now” worked when I was at parties in college, usually because there was too much going on for anyone to focus on making sure I personally drank.

  13. You have several options. One is just, *smile*, “Thanks, I don’t drink”. And then repeat if pressed. Or you can also just say “no thanks!” pleasantly, and leave it at that. I am a drinker, but I have friends who don’t for reasons ranging from religion, to family alcoholism, to pure taste. It’s natural to drop into “drink advocate” mode, especially when (like myself) you get really into whisky, or craft beer, for instance. But this can be extremely hostile to someone who is tired of hearing it over and over again, and I try to make sure I keep myself in line.

    The basic truth is that in the end, no one truly cares whether you drink or smoke or whatever. They want you to have fun. So have fun, order coke at the bar, and don’t make it a big thing, and I don’t think you’ll have any problems with the people you actually want to hang out with.

    1. The basic truth is that in the end, no one truly cares whether you drink or smoke or whatever. They want you to have fun.

      I disagree with part of this. People, especially those who are invested in some behavior do care whether you do it. The secret is to find people whose self worth is not tied up in your behavior.

      1. Yes! Well said. Some people really are heavily invested in other people mirroring or participating in their particular behavior.

      2. Ditto ditto. I’ve been disinvited to outdoor concerts (yes, plural; same ex-friend) because wine was integral to her enjoyment of the events. Her email said, “It’s not the same experience if not everyone participates fully.”

        Invested in the behavior much?

    2. It’s not that they care whether you do x or y behaviour, but more that they are invested in you fitting into their worldview, or their idea of how a certain situation should play out/how they want it to play out.

      People of goodwill can fall into this way of thinking (c.f. the Kindly Grandma who Nurtures by Feeding People*) which is why I rate the Captain’s advice of asking ‘why are you pushing this?’ as a way of pointing out that this is a them-problem, not an LW-problem.

      If they continue to push the issue you then know that you have an asshole on your hands (c.f. the Emotionally Manipulative Darth Grandma who uses Food as a Weapon).

      *I have one of these and if I say thanks but no thanks, she lets it go. I love my Grandma.

    3. “The basic truth is that in the end, no one truly cares whether you drink or smoke or whatever. They want you to have fun. ”

      I so wish this were true.

      With the best company, it is. But with a great many people, it is not.

      Some will even seem annoyed if you seem to be having fun doing something different than what they are doing.

      1. “Some will even seem annoyed if you seem to be having fun doing something different than what they are doing.”

        …And that’s an excellent way to figure out who should be an arms-length acquaintance (the people who struggle to accept your different ways of doing things), and who might be OK to actually befriend.

  14. The Captain’s advice is good. I would like to add that I don’t think you are obligated to be honest with nosy people or people you won’t see again. If it’s a venue with people you aren’t close friends with, I think it’s perfectly fine to lie by omission and vagueness. My mom used to drink one beer and then refill her can with water and carry it around all night. It saved a lot of arguments and people pressuring her to have another because look! she had a drink in her hand! she was good! I know you don’t drink at all, but you could save a friend’s empty can/bottle or fill a cup with something colorful and non-alcoholic and go from there. If you are looking to avoid another awkward interrogation, you can just appear to already have a drink. You don’t have to disclose that you don’t drink at all. If people ask about your favs you can always be vague about it and change the subject. “What’s your favorite beer?” “Oh, I’m not picky! [Subject change]” “Oh but have you tried x, y, or z?” “I’m not really into beer, actually. How do you feel about [subject change]?”

    Note that I don’t think there’s anything wrong with not drinking (I’m not much of a drinker myself, and didn’t drink at all in college), and I don’t think people should give you shit for not drinking. If you feel like having that chat (however long it turns out to be with the Captain’s excellent scripts), then go for it! It might make it easier down the line for the next non-drinker that person encounters! And it’s a pretty great screening process for cool friends. By the end of college, my non-drinking was never an issue because I had (mostly inadvertently) weeded out all the people who were assholes about it. But I also don’t think you owe any rando peers the truth about your drinking habits. That’s for friends. Best of luck avoiding awkwardness and the third degree and good luck finding cool friends!

    1. Uggggh…. beer water. I had a full body shudder when I read that. I feel so bad for your mom that it was easier to just drink beer can water than to not drink. That really says a lot of bad things about how well people take no.

        1. Unless it was fizzy, I feel like I would just be confused every time I took a sip. Apparently can=fizzy in my mind.

    2. Yes, or just saying “eh, I’m not a big drinker” can often work really well for those times when you just don’t feel like dealing with someone potentially making it a big thing. And definitely seconding the people saying that it becomes a lot less of a deal in a lot of crowds as you get older.

    3. Yeah, some of it – not all, but definitely some – is just an automatic host type/caretaker/social response; “make sure everyone has food/drink at this food/drink event”. Unfortunately, for a lot of people, that automatically translates into drink = alcohol at parties. ‘You are at a party. Party is for drinking. You are not drinking. Problem?!’

      Just having *any* drink in hand heads a lot of that off; it’s not that these people want you to drink alcohol specifically, it’s just that it doesn’t occur to them to suggest anything else, so it instantly devolves into a Do You Drink Alcohol discussion.

      (I grew up drinking small amounts of wine at dinner, but I don’t like most alcohol and it has weird effects on me AND I find drunk people really boring, so most of my conversations escalated through:

      “no thanks!”
      “no thanks, I’ve got/I’ll get some/thanks, I’d like some juice/water/whatever” (taking ‘drink’ at literal face value 😀 )
      “I don’t really like beer/alcohol much”
      “I just don’t, it doesn’t taste nice”
      “It just puts me to sleep, so there’s not much point”
      “I don’t like alcohol, and I find very drunk people REALLY BORING so thanks, but I definitely don’t want to come hang out at Drinking Event/Group/Whatever”
      “I already said I don’t want any”

      Basically, matter of fact, assuming face value good will, then escalating to ACTUALLY NO stuff the more they pushed, until they hit the ‘you have used up all my patience’ wall. Just being super matter of fact and then assuming that particular conversation is over usually solved most of them – “but why” “because”. The rare people who pushed just got a more irritated *BECAUSE*)

  15. I want to echo the Captain here: “Reasonable people who are cool to hang out with will accept what I say at face value.”

    I drink very little*, my best friend doesn’t drink at all (for similar reasons to yours). We aren’t friends because of that, but we did find ourselves a group of friends in college who: a. didn’t drink to get wasted at every single party, just drank to have fun; b. respected our low/no alcohol choices and didn’t press us. I think the closest it ever got was “Hey, I know you don’t drink but I know you love coffee so if you want to try a sip of this coffee stout lemme know because I want to know what you think.” These were the people we enjoyed hanging out with, because they respected their choices.

    College is hard. It can be hard to find those people, I know (my social circle for years 2-4 were completely different from freshman year!). I wish you luck!

    *My not drinking is in part due to the fact that alcohol and anxiety meds are a bad mix. These days I explain it to people outright “Beer makes me Eyeore. Wine makes me sleepy Eyeore. Mixed drinks make me Tigger rapidly transitioning to Eyeore.” The response is usually “that sucks” and a change of topic.

    1. “my social circle for years 2-4 were completely different from freshman year”

      First year was pretty isolating, but I found My People and the rest of was much better 🙂
      Hang in there LW!

  16. LW, stick to your guns. I find that having a non-alcoholic drink in my hand reduces the amount of “whyyyyy aren’t drinking” comments from strangers (however don’t leave it unattended). Also, a great way to redirect is to compliment the other person on something unrelated, like “wow, I like your shoes, where did you get them?” Many people love to talk about themselves, so the sooner you can get the focus off you, the better. If you can’t redirect, excuse yourself from the conversation. You are not socially obligated to continue to engage someone who is making you feel uncomfortable. I find that “I’m going to find the bathroom” or “whoops I have a missed call from my friend” are safe ways to exit the conversation.

  17. I don’t drink for undiagnosed medical reasons, so that makes it fun to explain to close friends – I feel like the real reason comes across as alarmist, though most of them have been accepting.

    When I don’t want to share why I don’t drink, I usually stick with, “I don’t drink for medical reasons,” and if they ask for more details, I either make something up like, “Yeah, you know, my digestive system does this weird thing and it’s really gross, I’d rather not discuss it,” or “Thanks for the concern, but I’ve got it managed as long as I don’t drink. So what do you think about [political candidate]?”

    If something like, “It’s not my jam,” or, “Thanks, but I’m good with water/soda/juice,” doesn’t fly, it’s a perfectly valid option to offer up a white lie or something that gets them off your back.

    Or just raise your eyebrows and let it be uncomfortable if they push the issue. They’re the ones making it uncomfortable by continuing to ask.

    Not drinking does have a few amazing people come out of the woodwork sometimes – the highlights are my friend’s wedding where they had professionally made virgin versions of my favorite alcoholic drinks and the camping trip where the main organizer (there were like 30 of us) made sure to get me a bottle or two of grenadine I could use to make myself Shirley Temples while everyone else drank.

    1. Although you gotta be careful with offering white lies sometimes, if you don’t make them vague enough. A lot of times, giving no reason at all is more helpful than a light “explanation,” because people have this natural tendency to want to think of a way around the reason, and they may even argue, even if they don’t feel like they’re arguing. For instance, my non-drinker friend used to try to deflect me by cheerfully saying that if she drank, then she wouldn’t be able to say she didn’t know what alcohol tasted like anymore, as if that was an achievement she was going for. It didn’t help, it just made me go O_o and say stuff like, “But knowing what alcohol tastes like isn’t a good thing or a bad thing, it’s just a thing???” It was easier when she basically just said, “Look I don’t drink and I don’t want to, end of story.” Sometimes people see an explanation as a barrier to be overcome, because they assume you must want to do this fun thing if only you could overcome the barrier. So yeah, I think captain is right: Perhaps the honest truth with close friends, but perhaps a polite but firm refusal with no explanation for strangers. (But hey, know your audience. Do what works.)

    2. Given that alcoholism is a medical issue, and you have a family history, this isn’t even a lie. In fact you don’t drink (alcohol) due to medical reasons.

  18. I’ve had several periods of non-drinking in my life, for various reasons. Most of the time, if I drink at all, I drink lightly. I simply do not enjoy getting smashed. Apparently this is a HUGE ISSUE for some people. I’m 42 now, this has been going on since I was 14, and I’ve yet to find a script that will work with everybody.

    What I have realised, though, is that it’s neither my problem, nor the scripts’. The problem is with the people who demand that I justify my personal choices, particularly in public; those who do not accept my choices and try to over-rule them; those who insist that the limitations on what I put in my mouth are somehow affecting their lives (I mean, wtf?); those who maintain that the only possible reason for me not to drink is that I must myself have a history of drinking problems, decide that they want to help me, and take my denials as confirmations that I’m hiding a secret from them or from myself; and those who have secondary motives, and think that they can get me to do drunk things I wouldn’t do sober.

    I honestly don’t think the problem is even with drinking per se. I’ve had the same kind of issues because I can’t/won’t go on roller coasters (I’ve tried and they make me dizzy and nauseated for *hours*), or don’t eat mustard. Some people just can’t seem to be able to leave people alone with their own choices. Personally, those are not the people I want in my life.

  19. I didn’t drink when I was underage and am very picky about which situations I’ll have more than one drink in, and while everyone absolutely should just respect your “no,” I also can’t overstate the value of having a cup of something else in your hand if you’re more invested in just not having the conversation. At situations like house parties or bars, I feel like at least 85% of those conversations never start if someone sees you drinking SOMETHING, because they assume it’s alcoholic. I used to bring a slushie to house parties and be very demonstrably ABOUT my slushie. “What’s in that?” “Slushie. Want some?” “What alcohol?” “None. It’s a slushie.” “Do you want me to get you something to put in it?” “And TAINT my slushie?” (Or, alternately, “What alcohol?” “Vodka.” “I can’t taste it.” “Wow, that’s so weird!” depending on your moral compass.)

    Clearly your friends and people you consider part of Your Group need to know that you don’t drink and respect that, but there’s nothing wrong with throwing in a red herring to ward off the randos.

    1. I hung with a heavy-drinking crew in college, and the prototypical red Solo cup full of water or ginger ale was my go-to when I wasn’t feeling it (or hadn’t offered to DD like I mentioned above). Now it’s club soda with lime. I can toast, I can wave it around, I can signal my full participation in all relevant social rituals, and nobody needs to know what’s in it.

  20. Oh man does this resonate with me!

    I don’t drink. I don’t like the taste of alcohol. I don’t have any need to get buzzed. I was lucky enough in college to find a group of friends who also either don’t drink at all or only drink the occasional beer. Our primary social activity is playing D&D rather than bar hopping. Most of us are of the opinion that playing drunk fantasy characters is much more fun than actually being drunk.

    But I’ve had my share of “Oh, you’ve GOTTA try this drink!” ” You should at least try it once before you decide you don’t like it!” (“it” of course is in reference to whichever particular cocktail they’re insisting on, as the fact that I have tried ALCOHOL and don’t like ALCOHOL AT ALL is lost on them, as if I just try this one combination it will revolutionize my world and open me up to the wonders of booze).

    And my personal favorite, usually comes up when I explain I don’t like the taste. “Oh don’t worry, you can’t even taste the alcohol!”. In which case
    1. If I can’t taste it why am I paying extra when I could just be ordering a soda or a virgin version of the cocktail?
    2. YES I CAN BLOODY TASTE IT. I have yet to actually meet an alcoholic beverage where I could not taste the alcohol, no matter how much it’s masked by the other flavors.

    I haven’t had a chance to implement this yet, but I’m at the point where next time someone insists on me trying something I want to pull out $50 and go “wanna bet”? Have the server set up a blind test.

    But yeah….by the time my 21st birthday rolled around I was so goddamn sick of everyone going “so you gonna go out barhopping on your birthday??!” or “Oh I bet you can’t WAIT to go party *wink*!” that I finally swore that I would not touch alcohol for the entirety of my 21st year. People didn’t believe me on account of the fact I was about to go study abroad in Ireland for a semester *sigh*, but I did it without regrets. And mostly just kept going after that.

    The good news is that my friends and family have adjusted by now…in fact they’re so used to it I was actually able to pull it out as a wedding toast to my sister at her wedding a couple years ago….I downed two whole glasses of champagne, just for them! =) It’s the first and only time in my life I’ve ever been tipsy. Don’t need to do it again, really, but as that side of the family is much more into booze they were quite touched.

    1. Addendum: One thing I read that might be a good response is equate it with vegetarianism, because for some reason people seem to respect that more, i.e…
      “If I were a vegetarian, would you be this insistent that I eat meat? No? Then why do you get to pressure me about alcohol?”

      1. As a vegetarian, I can’t recommend this approach. I get plenty of the same kind of vaguely-coercive bullshit from meat eaters who wish to convert me, so while it may work on some people it does not on many others (I’ll concede there are some circles in which vegetarianism is a more socially-acceptable choice and liable to be respected on that basis, but that’s far from universal).

        There’s a tendency some non-vegetarians have to view vegetarianism as an attack on their own choices, I think. It doesn’t matter how non-confrontational you try to be about it, some people view “I’m vegetarian” as a statement that everyone should be and that the vegetarian must view anyone who is not as a horrible unethical person. It’s been stated earlier in this thread that “I don’t drink” may function similarly, so I can’t recommend opening another similar can of worms in order to try closing this one.

        Just my 2c.

        1. Rats! Well you would definitely know better than I, I’m a shameless carnivor =P. Thanks for the input! I’m sorry you have to put up with similar things on the vegetarian end, though =(.

      2. Non-drinking vegetarian here. Let me tell you, people can be reeeeeeally invested in bacon sometimes. ::eyeroll:: (I feel like I have a certain amount of it coming, karmically speaking, since I spent my first few years of vegetarianism telling people they were eating Bambi and Wilbur, but that was 25 years ago and I was 7, so I think I’ve done enough penance.)

        Re: the drinking, I’ve had decent luck with saying “I can’t drink” rather than “don’t,” and shrugging off follow-up questions with a matter-of-fact “medical reasons.” (Which is true in my case, and certainly within the bounds of truth in yours as well, LW.) It’s very uncommon for people to push past that point, but if they do, the conversation usually resembles the Cap’s scripts from that point on.

        I’m also weirdly curious about other people’s alcohol tastes, so I’ve picked up enough knowledge to be able to recommend drinks. (“Oh, you like sweet, strong cocktails? My friend so-and-so has been really enjoying periodistas lately – they’re rum-and-apricot-liqueur-based, and apparently, they were the favorite drink of reporters covering the Cuban Missile Crisis, which is how they got their name….” etc. etc.) It dispels the lurking dread that I might be judging people for drinking, lets people know that I, too, can be the Boring Person Talking About Nothing But Alcohol Without Stopping For Breath, and also apparently matches people up to drinks they end up liking! It’s a win all around! 😉

        1. Yes, I was a vegetarian for a short period of time, and I feel like I need to apologize to everyone I knew then, for being so obnoxious about it. :/

          LW, I know this isn’t helpful advice now, but it does get better. I’m in my 40s, with little kids at home, and most of my friends are in the same position. At this stage of our lives, the go-to excuse is “I’m too tired to drink,” which is readily accepted – if it even comes up. Most of the time, people don’t notice or care what anyone else is drinking any more.

          I assume you’re a long way from your 40s, but truly, college years are likely the worst for that kind of peer pressure. Hang in there, use the scripts plus the drink-in-hand tactic, and you’ll be fine. Good luck!

      3. Yep, ‘nother vegetarian here. When I read the OP it actually reminded me of when I’m out with a group and people discover I’m a vegetarian for the first time. People really do get defensive about it and assume that because I don’t eat meat, I must be judging everyone else because they do. I can usually change the subject with “Yep! I haven’t eaten meat since I was a kid, but I don’t mind when people around me do, so feel free to order that burger.”

        Which sadly I know does not translate to booze, because I was also the “Oh, I don’t really drink,” friend. (Not to the extent of the OP here, I drink on occasion, but it was really rare in college.) Where people talking about vegearianism will mostly just give me an incredulous “But don’t you miss burgers/bacon/etc???” with booze it tends to be a lot pushier towards trying to get me to drink now.

    2. Ahhhh, another person who doesn’t like the taste and the “masks” don’t work. So glad to know there is another one out there.

      I avoided my 21st birthday by double majoring and working. Living in the lab from 8am – 5am and sleeping the remaining 3 hours was a great way to avoid any social obligations.

      1. Just wanted to add my voice – I *hate* the taste of alcohol, whatever form it comes in. (I’m a supertaster and find a lot of foods unbearably bitter that most people consider not or only moderately bitter.)

    3. “And my personal favorite, usually comes up when I explain I don’t like the taste. “Oh don’t worry, you can’t even taste the alcohol!”. ”

      YES. ALL OF THAT. I have weird food stuff so I just treat it the same way; I don’t like the taste, it’s just my preference and YES I WILL TASTE IT.

      1. Seriously! Just ’cause you can’t taste it doesn’t mean I can’t. Forget drinking, I don’t even like most things cooked in alcohol.

          1. Seriously, why would you ruin cake with alcohol.

            I used to get a dessert at a “pretending to be fancy” restaurant that they brought it to the table, poured alcohol over it, and set it on fire. Which was fun to watch, but tasted AWFUL. So when I ordered it again later, I confused the heck out of the waiter by stopping them from doing that part.

  21. My husband doesn’t drink. At parties, he finds it helpful to have “his (non-alcoholic) drink” around. It gives an easy answer to “what are you drinking?”: cream soda, actually. We bring a six-pack to any party that we go to. It’s not going to deter everyone, but it does help.

    1. This is a GREAT trick. I’ve found (as an adult, anyway) that being excited about what I’m drinking made people not offer me booze as a ‘better’ alternative because I was clearly drinking exactly what I wanted.

      “Oh, thanks so much for the offer of a drink! I’d love a club soda with a squeeze of lemon, that’s my favorite!” (actually my favorite) goes over way better than “oh, I guess I’ll have a club soda…”

    2. I bring fancy sparkling juices to parties – like sparkling blood orange or sparkling blueberry lemonade or something – and there is always someone besides me who is really excited that it’s there, which is nice.

  22. I drink very seldom and very lightly, when I do. Being designated driver (which I am happy to do) or shrugging and saying “There’s a fair amount of alcoholism in my family so I’m just careful about it” have worked for me when people are curious. Not sure why but I’ve never found this to be embarrassing. I like that it also gives others the freedom to admit the same.

  23. If you’re interested in meeting new people on campus, and want to mostly avoid the alcohol issue, there are some student groups that are, say, community-service oriented and have bylaws which ban alcohol at official/sponsored events. (Some of these groups are Greek organizations, and some may have a religious bent, so you may need to vet them to see if they otherwise meet your needs and interests, but I was a member of one of them for a while and the lack of alcohol at events thrown by the group was nice.) I do drink, but not much (both not very often and not in large volume), and don’t care for beer at all, so if that’s the only option I won’t drink even if I had felt like it. Interestingly, I’ve found that people were much less likely to pressure me to drink in the first place than they were to pressure me to drink *more*. I have Askenazi Jewish ancestry, and like a number of ethnic groups, we tend to carry a faulty alcohol-dehydrogenase gene, which means my tolerance is low. It also, in my case, means I have to make a special effort to get *drunk*, because the sleepiness that sets in after a few drinks makes me disinclined to get another one. There are definitely people who will feel judged by your decision not to drink, or someone’s decision to drink less than they do, but I have had decent luck with “no thanks, I don’t feel like it, but you go ahead” with both alcohol and marijuana (weed smoke makes my sinuses angry, so I simply abstain and tell my friends who do smoke that I may have to leave the area. Most of my friends who smoke (anything) are very good about designating smoking and non-smoking areas at parties, so I can move in and out of those spaces to modulate my reaction without feeling socially isolated).
    I’m also, now, in a position where I can make jokes about being “too old for that crap” when I’m spending time with my lab-mates, as I’m a semi-nontraditional student who is five years older than the next-oldest grad student in my lab, so the undergrads call me “mom” and I rag on them for bringing Fireball.

    1. I don’t know if BACCHUS is still an active club/organization, or if it is widespread beyond my old alma mater, but it offered non-alcoholic alternatives to alcohol, including frozen fruit juice drinks and sodas, and one way to get out of being nagged about drinking was to volunteer for a shift behind the BACCHUS table. (Bonus: free non-booze drinks, which, given that otherwise they’d be $2 or more, was a bargain.)

      I found it was a good way to shrug off booze pushers: “But I am working a shift at the BACCHUS table. It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to set a poor example by drinking and having booze breath or getting tipsy when the entire purpose of BACCHUS is to offer non-alcoholic alternatives, would it?”

  24. Similar boat here LW. In my case, family history of alcohol problems, personal decision to just never start.

    I was fortunate during my school and work years to have had my acquaintances be pretty cool about the decision. They would ask, of course, because it is a big obvious conversation hook, but my answer was mostly just a casual summary of “my family has a history with it and it is easier for me just not to start”. My acquaintances have been pretty cool about accepting that at face value, and never seemed inclined to argue it or feel I was judging them.

    It probably helped that during most of those occasions I had access to a vehicle and was happy to serve in a Designated Driver capacity. I think being seen as automatically ‘useful and valuable’ went a fair ways towards reducing the potential awkwardness of others drinking in the company of a non-drinker. But being so car-focused I’m sorry this won’t apply to everyone or everywhere. 😦

    Interestingly, I got more push-back from family members on the topic than acquaintances. (Yes, the same ones that largely inspired the decision in the first place.) “You should learn to drink a little at least! People get uncomfortable drinking around sober people!” Any my answer to that was a simple “Everyone I know are relieved that they don’t need to worry about choosing a Driver.” And that largely nipped the conversation in the bud, as the alternative is to advocate for drinking & driving, and no one wanted to fight for that cause. 🙂

  25. I recommend developing an “allergy” or “sensitivity” to alcohol. Nobody will know whether it’s real or not. For years I was able to drink socially, and then everything changed in my thirties. Now when I drink alcohol, my face gets very hot and swollen. I never actually feel drunk–I feel woozy like I’m having an allergic reaction. The hangover feeling–headache, nausea, body aches–starts about an hour after I consume one drink (or less) and lasts about three days.I feel like I’ve been poisoned. (For some reason, alcohol in food doesn’t bother me–probably their isn’t enough of it.) The times that people have noticed and ask me if I don’t drink, I tell them, “I can’t. For some reason it makes me really sick. I’m not sure why.” Sometimes people ask what happens when I drink, and I just tell them that the hangover starts after I drink and lasts for three days. It’s been enough of an explanation for everyone so far.

    Or, sometimes it’s just easier to carry around a beer and pour it out little by little, lose it, accidentally drop it, etc. If someone notices you aren’t drinking it, you can say it was upsetting your stomach.

    1. My personal experience is that maintaining an inauthentic narrative tends to be more awkward (and exhausting) than the alternative. But other folk’s mileage will vary.

      1. I tried the “I’m allergic” narrative for a while, when I first started at university. It did not work for me. I did actually have bad reactions to alcohol when I was younger, though they eventually went away, so I did not feel I was lying (I wouldn’t realise the reactions stopped happening until I did start consuming alcohol more regularly), but regardless I was never believed and most of the people trying to push drinks on me just refused to believe it was even possible and mocked me incessantly for it.

        While I did eventually end up changing my mind about alcohol (though not necessarily the kinds people attempted to push on me, I developed my own tastes), I didn’t about other things (I had lots of people trying to push marijuana and LSD on me at uni also). Though sometimes I think my acceptance of alcohol made them more willing to respect my refusal of other things, which won’t help the LW here.

        That said, before I decided to start drinking, what I found worked best was just being openly nonjudgmental and continuing to socialise with people without changing my behaviour dependent on whether they were or were not currently under the effects of something. I’m not sure that would work for everybody and I’m not sure I would behave the same way now, but these were people who lived in the same building as me so I thought it best to maintain goodwill. I eventually found myself in the weird situation with these people that they’d invite me to their drinking/etc parties knowing I wouldn’t participate, because they appreciated my conversation (some of them seemed to prefer to socialise with me when intoxicated, which seems bizarre now but didn’t bother me at the time).

        1. I once had a colleague who kept telling us she was allergic to alcohol and used it to try and make us feel bad for “excluding” her from work events, because they were in pubs. We always tried to include her by saying “it’s cool, you don’t have to drink, X doesn’t drink either and nobody’s gonna care if you drink lemonade!” but she just got all passive aggressive about it and flounced off every time. (We did do non-pub related stuff too.)

          After she left, we noticed an awful lot of pictures of her cropping up on Facebook clearly having a great time in bars with VERY definitely alcoholic drinks. If in the first instance she’d just said she didn’t want to go to the pub and could we please plan a social activity that didn’t involve one, we’d have happily done so. But now, everyone just thinks of her as someone who lied to try and make us feel bad. I kind of understand why she would if she felt pressurised but that sort of thing can backfire.

    2. On behalf of those of us with life-threatening allergies, I beg you on bended knee: please do not ever suggest that someone should lie about having allergies. Please, please, please, please never do this.

      This is why those of us with life-threatening allergies can’t trust restaurants and processed foods and even most friends: because they’ve been lied to before, and they assume we’re crazy attention-seeking malingering liars too. Unfortunately, “I’m sorry” doesn’t do much when said to someone in a coma – or a casket.

      1. Charlene, I agree with you in the case of other allergies, but when it comes to drugs and alcohol, I have to disagree. A young woman or a young man at a party (or people of any age, actually) should be able to say whatever they need to in order to get people to back off.

        I wouldn’t recommend lying to friends this way, because you’re right, they will come to distrust true allergy sufferers. But if you’re at a party where you don’t know half the people, and someone you barely know seems hell bent on making you drink for no apparent reason, then it’s time to do whatever it takes to shut that person down.

      2. In my case (as a recovering alcoholic) I very much have an allergy to alcohol, and this is my go-to explanation now for anyone asking why I don’t drink, and nobody questions it or takes it any further than that. Worst case I may have to follow-up with “My body reacts very poorly to alcohol. I just can’t drink it,” (which is true) and I end the conversation there. And it wouldn’t be a lie for the LW to suggest/imply/outright state she has an allergy to alcohol as well, being a potential alcoholic based on her family history. Alcoholism is a chronic and fatal disease, requiring lifelong vigilant abstinence as the only “cure”. My allergy may not manifest itself in the form that most people consider an appropriate allergic reaction to something (ie: anaphylaxis), but my body reacts to alcohol in such a way that once I ingest so much as a single drink, I am physically incapable of stopping regardless of my desire to. It’s an immediate chemical reaction that occurs in my brain, which science has now proven, and I am 100% powerless to control – no different than anyone willfully trying not to go into anaphylactic shock after ingesting peanuts or getting stung by a bee.

        I only wish I was able to resist the peer pressure in my college years as the LW is so far successfully doing. Alcoholism runs rampant in my family too, and I was warned by my mother (who doesn’t drink for the same reason as the LW) throughout my childhood that I should not ever drink either, lest I open the genetic Pandora’s box. I made it to around age 21 without ever drinking, until after sheer exhaustion from being repeatedly alienated from “grownup” social events and/or unable to make a convincing enough argument to my “friends” for why I didn’t drink up to that point, I caved.

        I was surprised to find out that nothing bad happened. Not at first. People were right – drinking felt good, made me much more sociable and confident, and it was a whole lot of fun. And it stayed fun for awhile. Until it wasn’t fun, and became a necessity, and by age 25 I was a full-blown alcoholic. I wouldn’t get sober for another 8 years, and only after losing a near-6 figure salary/career, a two bedroom apartment in Boston, my car, my license, almost all of my personal belongings, all of my family/personal/romantic relationships, and winding up homeless. In exchange I got numerous trips to drunk tanks and jail cells and psych wards and emergency rooms (with a .44 BAC in one case), and ultimately a single inpatient rehab stay that lasted over a year.

        Then, after 4 and a half years without a drop of alcohol, I still somehow wasn’t completely convinced I had a permanent allergy, and after a devastating breakup with “The One” and its resulting 10 month-long depression decided that I could get some relief by having a couple drinks like any other normal person. Less than two months later I found myself coming to in a county jail 5 states away from where I was the night before. I need no further proof that I simply cannot drink ever again. My allergy will never go away, no matter how long I stay away from alcohol and no matter that my jerkbrain will forever try to convince me otherwise.

        So I beg you, LW, on bended knee: Say you’re allergic to alcohol if that’s what you want to say. Say anything else the Captain suggested. Say whatever you need to tell other people, and more importantly yourself, to justify your decision not to drink. Lie your face off if that’s what you need to do to Shut It Down. I only wish I had thought of simply saying I had an allergy to alcohol when I was your age and stuck with that. How so so very different my life would be today if I had.

        TL;DR – Don’t feel bad for a single second how you’re coming across, what you might not get invited to later, or about whatever it is you feel you need to say (true or not) to avoid a potentially devastating future for yourself. Trust me, there isn’t a single person today that thinks I’m somehow better off, having more fun, or cooler for ever taking that first drink.

    3. Does not work. Does not work at all. My husband is violently – VIOLENTLY allergic to tequila. Something about the cactus? Just a drop of it in his drink will bring on horrific vomiting. And people DO NOT believe him and try to get him to drink it all the time. I have a better time avoiding drinking tequila by telling people it tastes like bad decisions than my husband does by telling people he is allergic.

  26. Based on my experiences (I drink, but only very infrequently) people who pressure others to drink don’t realize that it’s a matter of consent. I’ve redirected pressure there when people pushed hard and didn’t accept my “no, thanks”. (“I have the right to be in control of what happens to my body, and just like you wouldn’t pressure me to have sex against my will, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t pressure me to drink against my will”).

    Anybody who pushes at this point is someone I’ll simply stop hanging out with, because it’s not safe for me to hang out with people who clearly communicate their unwillingness to respect my boundaries. Fortunately, this has been a very infrequent occurrence.

    1. Busting out the “No means no” language can work here, too. (Incidentally, that’s what really turned me actively hostile to folks wanting Elizabeth Warren to run for president — not that I oppose the idea, but when she pulled out a sharp, “No means no,” I concluded that anyone still hassling her about it was an asshole who didn’t give a damn about consent.)

  27. If you’re comfortable with lying:
    (Instructions: Use with random people with whom you just want to end the interaction. Add a subway change or question on the end.)

    -What are you drinking? “I’m not drinking tonight, but I’d love a Shirley Temple!”

    -You sure you’re not drinking? “I can’t drink for boring and complicated medical reasons, but I definitely still have fun when I’m partying with you guys.”

    -Do you want a beer? “I’m good, thanks. I’ll take a Sprite if you have it.”

    -Why don’t you drink? “Bears… The bears… They… *Fake sob* haha just kidding. I’ll spare you the details, but I’m am Not Fun when I drink.”

    I don’t eat pork for reasons that boil down to “don’t wanna” and I have experienced the same things. I think people want you love the thing. They love the thing! The thing is widely loved by people everywhere! Of course you’ll love the thing! I’ve noticed they tend to back off quicker if they’re under the impression that I’ve tried the thing already. (I have: my elementary school hid the pepperoni under the cheese and I took one bite and GROSS.)

    Good luck! There are other non-drinkers that would absolutely love to go bowling or dancing sans alcohol.

    1. My alcohol intake is limited to a glass of champagne at weddings and Easter, so, realistically, once to three times a year, and communion wine. I am just generally Not A Big Fan.

      My strategy — which I need less often these days, admittedly — is to use only *parts* of Option 1 and Option 3. So, don’t say that you’re not drinking, say that you’re drinking a Shirley Temple. If someone asks you what you want to drink, that’s very kind and you’d like a Sprite. It doesn’t work on everyone, but acting kind of wilfully dumb in your interpretation of “drinks” as “beverages” catches enough people off guard that I get away without further explanation.

      Optional extra:

      [frowny face] “You don’t drink?”
      “Oh, just not alcohol.”
      “If you don’t have Coke, I’m fine with juice or water.”

      1. I love that last bit especially! I love context like it’s going out of style, but sometimes taking people at their literal word can be very powerful! In this case especially it challenges the assumption that only alcohol is a “real” drink!

    2. My husband doesn’t drink or eat pork (he will occasionally eat a pork chop but not often; turkey bacon is fine, though). He’s gotten a lot of “Why?” and he goes into the long, boring, complicated reasons sometimes… and he does long, boring, complicated reasons really well. 😛 Most of the time it’s curiosity, and I don’t think anyone’s really pressured him (except me, when we were first married, but I stopped being the asshole a while ago).

  28. Non-drinker here too, so it’s definitely not just you struggling with people who fail to realise some people just don’t.
    When friends/colleagues press me for answers I usually tell them with a bright smile that I don’t like it, but I LOVE watching people get drunk and 1) tell them all the details they forgot the day after; 2) make lots of noise the next morning; 3) watch them fall on their faces.
    If they’re obnoxious enough not to get the hint after that, I turn very serious and ask them in a low voice if they know alcohol dilates your blood and even a small wound just won’t stop bleeding, let alone a large one, because I do. So far only one person had the guts to keep pressing on after.

    1. I dunno if I’d use these. I mean, I think there are some pretty good alternatives to essentially making drinkers feel bad about their own choices. Two wrongs don’t make a right. On the other hand, if someone is being really obnoxious and pressurising I think that gives you the right to do anything within reason to get them off your back. It just wouldn’t be my first port of call. Apart from anything else it might get you a reputation as a sanctimonious party-pooper whereas I think the Captain’s scripts are pretty good for returning the awkward to sender and showing everyone else that it’s not you who’s being a bit of a dick.

    2. Do you really?
      I find drunks tremendously boring and awkwarder-than-usual if I don’t already know them well.

    3. That’s… not what alcohol does, though. It doesn’t dilate your blood; it constricts blood vessels and thins blood, but not to the extent that someone wouldn’t stop bleeding unless they had a super-high BAC. There are other horror stories of what alcohol does to the body that are both more horrific and more accurate, like making it more difficult to sustain an erection and, with habitual use, compromising the liver.

    4. I…have a hard time getting behind your first approach. That sounds like something to pull out when you want those people to stop being your friends/colleagues. “I deeply enjoy watching you suffer! Your attempt to offer me a beverage I don’t like means I will now explain how much I like your pain and embarrassment and hope to see more! I don’t believe you’re able to drink responsibly, and revel in thoughts of your inability to do so!” is kinda the nuclear device of social interaction.

      I suppose it’s effective if your point is that you don’t want to be on polite terms with anyone who presses you for answers.

  29. Yes to all the scripts on how to turn down alcohol. Then keep this trick in your back pocket. I hope you never have to use it, but it might bring you peace of mind to know that you can. If you’ve ever in a situation where you feel like there’s way too much social pressure on you to have a drink, maybe something where for the purposes of a job you have to show that you’re a team player, you can ask for vodka or gin, any clear alcohol, either on the rocks (ice) or with water, and then quietly slip into the bathroom, pour the alcohol down the sink, refill with water, and sip on that for a long long time.

    It can also help to have a cool funny story about not drinking. Again, this is a last resort, but when everyone’s telling stories that amount to “I was so wasted last night”, you can come up with some funny story about some stupid thing you did that happened when you weren’t drinking. You forgot something important, or you got dizzy on an amusement park ride, or you blurted out something stupid. It makes you seem like you’re part of the crowd. (How much you want to be part of a crowd that only talks about how much they drink is another story. This is a one time survival method for when something is called for and you need to say something.)

    But really, as I was reading your letter, I was thinking “this person needs different friends.” A few conversations about alcohol when folks are in college and learning about these things- that’s fine. When there are so many conversations that you feel like they’re putting the screws on you to talk about something you have no interest in– well then you just have different interests so you seek out people you have more in common with.

  30. I never started drinking so now I’m a bit older than you LW, I can actually get away with using that as my “reason”: I never drank before, why should I start now nearly a decade after my peers?

    ” oh, medical stuff. Subject change.. ” can work pretty well.

    As someone who does not drink alcohol, eat meat or take a recreational drugs, I’ve found it’s really hard to communicate to many people that these are decisions that I have made about MYSELF and not about other people’s choices at all! Food, sex, alcohol, drugs etc seem to be things that many people think you would only refuse if you thought that everyone doing them was doing something morally wrong.
    So if I say “I don’t drink, thanks” some people hear “drinking is bad and wrong and I think you are bad and wrong for drinking”. I’m still trying to find ways around this other than *most people* will take what you said at face value. If people press you, try “I’ve no problem with other people drinking, I just don’t want to drink myself”.

    For repeat “but whhhyyyy”ers on any topic, I find a slightly louder ” just drop it!” can help by returning the awkward to sender.

    Last tip: while you absolutely should be able to hang out with friends wherever without being harassed about this, having a drink (non alcoholic) in your hand can deflect strangers / acquaintances / friends of friends from asking at all.

  31. Ugh I have been there. I do not understand why drinking is such a big deal to some people. Choosing not to have an alcoholic beverage is not a referendum on anything, other than the fact that I don’t want a drink.

    I didn’t try alcohol until years after most of my peers did. My reactions to many alcohols are unpleasant, and now I’m on medications that mean that I sometimes can’t drink at all and sometimes I can have one drink. It got better after college, and most people I encounter now accept “no thanks,” but I’ve had people continue to push even after I told them I’m not drinking *because of medication.* “But one drink won’t hurt, will it?” “Is that what your doctor said?” “But you have to have a drink it’s [tradition/a special occasion]!” “But you had a drink [other occasion].”

    Some people really can’t comprehend that there are people who do not want to consume alcohol. And it’s especially annoying when I do in fact want a drink but can’t have one. Besides, I don’t owe random acquaintances an audit of how I’m managing my health in order to justify not putting a substance in my body.

    The one thing I will say is it makes it very easy to sort the pushers into the “people I do not want to make friends with” group.

  32. I’m in my 40s and don’t drink alcohol (never have) – the “social pressure” thing does get easier as you get older, or perhaps I’ve just gotten better at not caring if people think I’m odd/am now moving in circles where many people are often driving etc. That said, things that did help, particularly when I was College aged and in my early 20s:

    1. “What is this, junior high?” High school doesn’t quite work in the same way in my country, so that’s a rough translation. But it’s a fairly light comment that still conveys “surely I don’t really need to deal with peer pressure at the grand old age of 20? Isn’t that rather childish? I thought we left this behind in the playground.”

    2. Throughout College and into my first graduate job, I drank Coke and orange (i.e. half a pint of Coke and half a pint of orange mixed together). It’s surprisingly tasty – the two flavours combine to be quite tangy, without the artificial sweeteners you sometimes get from drinking soft drinks all night. But it also looks pretty much like mud – my friends called it swamp water. It’s amazing how no one stops to notice whether or not you drink alcohol when all their attention is on the very odd thing you are drinking instead.

    (And 2 has almost certainly outed me if anyone I’ve ever known is here)

    1. Agreed, it does get better with age! LW, your social group will also somewhat self-select with time, partgicularly after college. Some social groups tend to still be alcohol-centric in their late 20’s (which is fine! it’s just not my jam), and others are not. When my friends and I get together, some people have a drink or two, some don’t, but honestly, no one even notices anymore who drinks and who doesn’t. We’re all too busy figuring out how to stop Ryan from getting the “longest road” VP in Catan for the fifth time in a row…

      1. I’m in my 40s and I’m continually amazed by how many social groups in my age cohort are STILL alcohol-centric. I would think after 25 years of regular heavy drinking, people would either be bored with it or have cut back for health reasons, but apparently not.

    2. Came here to say this. I was the awkward non-drunk person at many a drunken college party. It got SO MUCH BETTER after I graduated and we all matured some and I made some new friends. For a lot of my friends, graduating college meant 100% financial independence from their parents, which in turn led to a decline in disposable income. All of a sudden, going to a bar on a Friday night was a terrible and expensive idea. Buying a bunch of liquor at a store and bringing it home seemed equally wasteful. So that helped. People also suddenly remembered all the love they had for things they were too cool for in high school, and I started getting invited on weekend hikes and board game nights and things like that. For a lot of my friends, pairing off into monogamous relationships correlated into fewer nights at bars, and now it’s really common to just have friends over for dinner. We are boring old people and it’s GREAT. Hang in there, OP!

  33. I really feel you, LW. As an Irish person growing up in Ireland (hence the username, LOL) with EVERY family having at least one alcoholic in it, be it a parent or aunt/uncle/grandperson, the crowd I grew up with basically saw alcohol everywhere and decided that they were going to become part of it. Me? I had an alcoholic father (functioning alcoholic, but still, it really sucked) and I decided that No Alcohol would Ever Pass Mine Lips. In secondary school I didn’t socialise in order to avoid the whole but-whyyyyyyyyyyyyyy-won’t-you-tryyyyyyyyyyyyy-it chorus, and when I got into college the phrase “I’m teetotal” became my watchword.

    The word teetotal somehow ended up not being questioned so much, it was kind of “but you could try- oh, teetotal, okay then, you want tea/coffee/coke/sprite instead?” Then I made some friends who were so good at not making alcohol the centre of all things, and one in particular who, I’m fairly sure, would basically ensure that nobody’s well-intentioned wish to offer hospitality crossed my boundaries (I love people but it seems to be the prevailing attitude that one is seen as Rude-with-a-Capital-R if they don’t ensure everyone’s glass is filled. I have one friend who gets honestly worried that the 7up that I want to drink somehow “isn’t enough” despite my reassurances).

    I also had success with “it’s outside my budget” because even student specials had €5 pints and I’d get at least two non-alcoholic beverages for a fiver, so booze being poor value sometimes got the really persistent ones off my back, on days that I didn’t feel like breaking out the whole big o’ argument. Also “I have something waiting for me at home, and I’d rather not take anything alcoholic out tonight” has worked on people for me. But generally, “I don’t drink – I’m teetotal” did the job for me. (And no accusations of not being “Irish enough” either, when I trot out the fact that Ireland has, per head of population, more teetotalers than any other European country. The “you’re not Irish enough” thing came about because I don’t actually drink tea LOL)

  34. Former member of a conservative, non-alcohol-drinking religion here, and man do I relate to this! I went to a religious college so didn’t encounter alcohol there, but during graduate school I confronted having to navigate the drinking culture for the first time. Some of these points have been made by other commenters, but to reiterate them here:

    – Having a buffer of friends who really get that you don’t drink and can back you up and deflect people who question your choice to not drink is a LIFESAVER at social gatherings that revolve around alcohol. I was so grateful that once I explained to my grad school buddies that I didn’t drink, that they didn’t constantly badger me. Also +1 to Captain’s advice that people who nag you about this are not people you want around you, and about being really careful about what drinks you accept when you’re around people who aren’t trustworthy.
    – Not drinking doesn’t mean you can’t go to bars and parties! Use this as a chance to discover great-tasting non-alcoholic drinks. Experiment with different sodas and juices and so forth, and Google around for some fun mocktail recipes. Having some kind of drink in your hand can deflect a lot of questions you might get about drinking.
    – Not sure I can co-sign the advice about being the Designated Driver. I found that there was definitely a time limit to how long I could stay at bars and parties and still find it enjoyable (at a certain point, being sober around a bunch of really wasted people is no longer fun at all), and being the DD sometimes meant staying way later than I’d planned and feeling really resentful.

  35. Dear LW,

    I’m sad that so many of your acquaintance are obnoxious. It will get better over time, as you prune the more unpleasant, and as others realize they too don’t quite match some social script.

    Meanwhile, here’s another thing you can try: throw a party yourself. Tell people to bring their preferred drinks and offer snacks (or more substantial food, your party, your choice). If you want to serve alcohol, do so. If not, don’t.

    I’ve found that people don’t question my food and drink choices when I host.

  36. OP – I’ve got family members with problems too. I have chosen to carefully limit when, where, and how much I drink. I’m not as extreme as you overall, but I get what you’re dealing with. When you’re in college, SO MUCH is about drinking, so it’s a “problem” that you don’t. It’s annoying. It’s rude. It’s exhausing. It feels like it never ends. But, it does. A lot of this will calm down, because everyone will grow up. Ever notice that people in their 30s tend to drink way less than people in their 20s? It’s true. So, you just have to get through your 20s for most groups. Take heart!

    Practical tip: If you’re the designated driver (DD), it gives you a socially acceptable reason not to drink. Conversations go like this:
    “So, what’re you drinking?”
    “Can’t, DD tonight.”
    “Oh, ok. Cool!”

    The end. And it’s ok to lie about being a DD. Chances are, drunk person won’t remember anyway. Plus, you side step the exhausting questions – DD is known, accepted, not an issue. And you might even get free non-alcoholic drinks at the bar.

  37. Jim Gaffigan has a great stand up bit about this, which my Google Fu is failing me on, but basically he’s like, why do people care if you don’t drink? If someone doesn’t eat mayonaise, are people like, well have you ever TRIED mayonaise? Maybe you haven’t had the right KIND of mayonaise?

    1. I was coming here to say this! It is so very funny. I think the bit is called “People who don’t drink” So good. I recommend listening to it as you can use it to de-rail by quoting funny comedy bit – which I do all the time. “Why won’t you drink” “Hey – did you ever see that Jim Gaiffigan bit? So good. He’s talking about how he doesn’t drink and people always pester him about it – Which never happens with anything else! It’s never – you don’t use mayonnaise – why? Are you addicted to mayonnaise? Is it ok if *I* use mayonnaise? I can go outside! He also has a great bit about seahorses…” and conversation derailed.

    2. “If someone doesn’t eat mayonaise, are people like, well have you ever TRIED mayonaise? Maybe you haven’t had the right KIND of mayonnaise?”

      Yes. I don’t like most condiments and dressings, and people get So Concerned about my poor naked salads/burgers and are convinced that their artisanal aioli will somehow not be mayonnaise.

      1. Yeah, likewise. The Gaffigan bit is funny in theory, but in actuality, people can get just as weirdly pushy about effing condiments as they do about alcohol. (My opinion: the only good mayonnaise is the homemade kind that elderly Southern ladies bring, as an accompaniment to tomato aspic, when there’s been a death in the family. I don’t like the tomato aspic, but the mayonnaise is damn good.)

        1. Can confirm: have had an incredibly frustrating talk with family over why I hate mayonnaise, with reasons like “I don’t like the taste” being met with “but you eat the ingredients that are in it” and “but whyyyyy?”

          I have never gotten into such a snit over anything else, mainly because the other party just. refused. to. listen. and take “I don’t like it” as an answer. It’s not like I’m hating mayo AT you or anything, ffs.

    3. As a picky eater, I wearily say that people definitely do that about food as well as drink. Sigh.

    4. For all of the others who agreed, here is the actual Gaffigan link. I think it’s worth it to say I couldn’t remember his name (and I didn’t want to post about it if tons of people had already done so*), so my google search was “comedian mayonnaise”. Guess what popped right up?


      *I often can’t find it in me to plow my way through 270 comments, even when I know that most if not all will be wonderful. So I was going to try to find the comedian’s name on the page. Which is when I realized I was absolutely brain-farting on it.

  38. If you’re pretty outgoing already, you can always take a page out of Kathy Griffin’s book: “What, you think I’ll get more uninhibited???”

    You can also reference the articles coming out now in various magazines by people in their late twenties who have decided to stop drinking, and write about how amazed they are that they sleep better and feel better and suddenly have all this money, blah blah; and still get pressured by friends to get wasted. “I read this thing and decided I’m just going to skip the middle part. Now where did you ever find those gorgeous earrings?”

  39. All of Cap’s suggestions are A++. I’m a non-drinker too – and though I didn’t get quite as much pushback in college as most people because of the very specific, very competitive program I was in, I still did and do get a fair amount. (The pushback has shifted, now that I’m in my mid-20s, to my deliberate singledom. I’m probably on the ace spectrum, dislike children, and have never bothered to experiment because my work is both the major joy of my life and an incredibly difficult, time-consuming thing to do – but the argument is generally the same on both fronts, and it boils down to “but how do you knoooooow you won’t change your mind if you won’t tryyyyyy iiiiiit??” with an undercurrent of “you can’t make unilateral decisions about your own life without it being a negative judgment on all the people who choose differently!”) Two things I have found to be effective conversation-stoppers for the types who Will Not Let It Go: “Hey, I’m not judging/shaming you for doing [thing]. Why are you judging/shaming me for *not* doing it?” and “Well, I wasn’t judging you for [thing], but I’m sure as hell judging you now for refusing to respect my choices about [thing].” I think it’s good to bring into the light the fact that the conversation isn’t really about [thing], it’s about their insistence on pushing your boundaries.

    I also think, for a lot of people, the addition of some form of “I’m not judging you poorly for doing [thing I don’t do]; you do you” goes a long way towards ending the conversation. Alcohol and sex in particular are things that most people enjoy, but that Western society on the whole has tarred with the brush of shame (especially for women). Like the Captain said, there are some people who will push because they feel like someone else’s refusal is a moral judgment on them, and they’re trying to justify their own choices to themselves or to you; I’ve had a surprising number of people be willing to back off and stay off when I’ve explicitly framed it as a personal preference, the way another person might dislike the taste of broccoli, or be completely disinterested in skydiving, or find practicing an instrument five hours a day to be supremely unrewarding. I wish I didn’t have to do this – and I don’t think it should be my job or anyone else’s to explain their choices for other people’s comfort, especially when they don’t feel like it – but it’s what I’ve had the most success with in situations where I like the questioner and would like to continue spending time with them socially, rather than making a point to a boundary-pusher I’d be happy never to talk to again.

    1. I hate that “you’ll never know unless you try it” argument. Look. I don’t have to eat a dog turd to know I really won’t like eating a dog turd. Sometimes you can learn from other people’s experiences rather than having to suffer first-hand.

  40. I didn’t drink until I was well into my 20s and still drink only sparingly (I hate feeling crappy and hung over more than I like drinking). On a couple of occasions in college when people were all up in my shit about why I wasn’t drinking, I stared them straight in the face and said in a confused voice, “You are REALLY invested in this and it is REALLY weird,” and just let that hang there. And then followed up with “Seriously. Really. Weird.” if they tried to double down.

    If you are comfortable returning the awkwardness to sender, I highly recommend it. (And if you’re not comfortable returning the awkwardness to sender I highly recommend getting good with that, too, because it’s immensely satisfying and dammit they started it.)

  41. I think a lot of people pressure non-drinkers to drink because they are afraid you’re judging them. They push back because getting you to drink too makes them feel better about their own choices. This isn’t an excuse, just a thought that might be helpful when dealing with them. They don’t care about you drinking for YOUR sake (no one cares THAT much that you haven’t had the glorious experience of a beer or whatever), they care about it for the sake of their own ego.

    And try just carrying around a drink. Any kind of soda in a cup (maybe with a lime) looks like a cocktail. It isn’t about deceiving people—you shouldn’t have to do that—but it will often just keep them from asking about it.

    1. Absolutely – people who aren’t totally secure feel judged even when no judging is going on. And that is not your fault if it happens, OP!

      I was told I wasn’t going to be welcome in a campus activity group if I was going to “push my beliefs on people” because I turned down booze repeatedly. I was underage and we were at a restaurant, and I’m very much a rule-follower, so I didn’t want to have an illicit beer and possibly get everyone in trouble. But the leaders saw it differently, so I didn’t come back.

      Cap is very right – the people who respect “I don’t drink” are good at respect, and worth hanging out with. People who don’t respect that (or “I don’t eat meat” or “I don’t drive” or whatever) are people who you may want to exercise a little caution around.

      1. Wow! Can’t fathom having a group leader tell you that choosing to not break the law was pushing your beliefs on people. Probably better off done with them. That just boggles my mind.

    2. I’ve had good luck with a clear glass of something brown – usually some kind of ice tea, or root beer.

  42. I second the Captain’s scripts. They are good scripts. I would like to add that it’s good to remember that most people who say x drink is so good, here try some, etc. aren’t trying to be pushy. They just genuinely enjoy a thing and want to share it with you. I have had a tendency to do this in the past. I have a good friend who doesn’t drink at all. I don’t drink much, but I do quite enjoy trying the different things. I kept offering to share with her, and it took her flatly stating in a serious, almost-offended tone that she doesn’t drink and it’s just a personal choice she has made for herself to finally get it: She does not want me to offer her alcohol. I thought my cheerful overtures of, “Oh this is good! Do you want a taste? No? You sure? You can have some if you want!” were just friendly offers to share a good thing, and she was totally free to decline if she wanted. But she thought I was being pushy and annoying and trying to pressure her into something she didn’t want to do.

    I second the idea that with close friends, if you’re willing, it can really help to just outright state your reason(s) for not drinking. You don’t have to! You don’t owe anyone any explanation. Anyone who doesn’t respect your preferences is not a good friend. But yeah, especially for sharers like myself, knowing that you have A Reason for abstaining is helpful. Not only will it stop me from awkwardly offering you alcohol you don’t want, it will also, yes, encourage me to stick up for you if you encounter someone who doesn’t seem to be taking the hint that you don’t want any. It’s just helpful to know, even if you don’t say the exact reason, that there is one, and that this isn’t just a “No, not today” situation, it’s a “No, not ever” situation. If I think it’s just not today, I’ll probably keep wanting to share. If I know it’s a not ever, I know that YOU do not want me to keep offering to share, and that’s really helpful.

    But again, you do not owe even your closest friends an explanation, and you certainly don’t owe one to strangers who just refuse to get it. If someone keeps being pushy or acting like you’re judging them or whatever, they are not a nice friend and you owe them none of your time. And people who “joke” about spiking drinks! Gaaahhhh! I wish for more people to respond to that threat with a look of concern and a statement along the lines of, “That’s really not a good idea. You never know what kinds of medications or medical issues people have that could make alcohol actually be dangerous for them.” Because for real. It’s not just a rude, terrible boundary violation (though that should be reason alone), it could endanger lives! Again, you are not obligated to say any such thing though. You’re number one priority is to keep you safe, and if someone responds to your refusals with such a threat, well, they are probably not a safe person.

  43. I just want to reiterate that people who pressure you to drink are not good friend and that there are many people in the world who don’t care if you drink and you should be friends with them instead. I didn’t drink til I was 21 and hung out with/lived with/hosted parties with VERY heavy drinkers who partied twice a weekend and played lots of drinking games. The most someone ever pressured me to drink was one time where they asked twice if I was sure I didn’t want a drink. It is totally possible to hang out at booze soaked parties with boozed up people, even to play drinking games (with water, or have someone drink for you) without anyone feeling awkward if your friends are good people with good boundaries.

  44. LW, please take “the mood of the group is not my job” to heart. If you don’t want to talk about your family history, that is perfectly valid; but if the only thing stopping you from saying “addiction runs in my family, so I I think not drinking is the best choice for my health” is that you feel like it would be a downer please try not to worry about being a downer. The people who are pressuring you to drink are the ones making it awkward and you should not feel like you should have to shelter them from the consequences of their bad behavior.

    I don’t drink these days for medical reasons. So far the people I’ve had to refuse drinks from have all been close friends who I feel comfortable telling about my medical history (and who wouldn’t pressure me anyway, but but since they are friends I’d rather tell them why in hope it will help them remember that I’m not going to be drinking for the foreseeable future). But I’m recently single and am probably going to re-enter the dating market soon so I appreciate this refresher on how to handle the issue with new people.

  45. I think for me when asked the reason, I’d be less inclined to say my reasons are personal and more inclined to put the onus where it belongs, i.e., “That’s a really personal question.” And it is.

    But I really don’t mind letting it be as awkward as other people make it.

  46. I have this problem sometimes, though less recently (this has to do with selectivity in my going out companions, but I’m 20 years past uni).

    I found it helped once I realised that the people who had most of a problem with my not drinking were people who could not imagine surviving the social occasion we were attending without booze. So actually, my (British) work colleagues have been the worst. And people at big weddings.

    Work events and large parties where you don’t know many people are the very definition of events that many people can’t face unsupported.

    You can see if that maps your experience of the worst offenders, and use the slight smugness to cope. Or you can mention it as an observation, carefully not applying it to them, before they get really started. Usually, they stop dead and start assuring you that they would never be one of those people. Subject change at this point works well.


  47. I stopped drinking a few years ago whilst still in college because of health problems which meant that I literally could not drink unless I wanted to be up all night in Super Excruciating Pain. What this taught me is that some people are just ridiculous about drinking – some people wouldn’t let it go even when I told them this reason!

    I generally either laughed at these people or used it as a platform to talk about how peer pressure is Not Cool. I found that both of these I-am-not-ashamed-but-you-should-be routes were pretty effective at shutting people down 🙂 Some people were still weird about it. I promptly filed them away in my head as People I Don’t Care About And Won’t Hang Out With Again, which was also effective in allowing me to stop caring what they thought about my perfectly legitimate life choices! YMMV of course.

    So yeah, having a good reason won’t necessarily stop people being weird about it, but you shouldn’t even need a reason at all. So if people are weird about it, that’s on them, not you. And if they really won’t let it go, then they are probably not people you want to be hanging out with.

  48. Do they have non-alcohol beers and/or wines where you live, LW? If so, you could try if you like them. If you do, you can have a glass of wine or beer in your hand and people will assume it’s the regular stuff. If you don’t, you can truthfully say that you’ve tried and don’t like beer/wine/”it”.

    I have a friend since university who doesn’t drink because she simply doesn’t like it. She used to say things like “I can be weird without it” or “I’m weird enough without it”. Which was true, incidentally, she really became as drunk on excitement as other people did on alcohol. I had the same talent, which probably was a factor in my starting to drink only when I was 20. And soon found out that 1) 1 drink made me tipsy, 3 made me really fall over drunk and 2) it often gives me migraines right after the first half of a glass, and I get hungover really easily.

    The tipsy/drunk has gotten less when I gained weight through the years, the migraines got worse… I just say I “don’t handle it well” or “it doesn’t agree with me”, which is especially true now that I have meds that influence the ability to break down alcohol. You could also say that it doesn’t agree with you and secretly mean that it doesn’t agree with you in the sense that it doesn’t feel right for you.

    Tldr: you could try wine/beer without alcohol or try either saying that you’re weird enough without it or that it doesn’t agree with you or similar things. I hope you’ll meet fewer pushy people in the future. And just keep doing what’s right for you, you’re the only expert on you!

    1. I use “it doesn’t agree with me” a lot with respect to alcohol. I drink occasionally but a couple sips of anything and I flush bright red and spend the rest of the evening feeling overheated and uncomfortable. And if it’s red wine, I also get a sore neck, which is weird and uncomfortable. It’s not as extreme a reaction as other people in this thread, but it is unpleasant and I don’t even have to finish a drink to have it happen. I like “it doesn’t agree with me” because it’s nice and vague – I don’t risk people not thinking it’s serious enough to warrant abstaining, or more nosy questions about my medical history and rosacea or anything else. It just doesn’t agree with me! (well, ok, some people will keep prying even with a vague answer, but then it’s a screening process to see who respects boundaries!)

  49. I didn’t drink as much if at all in college. Here’s what worked for me: I spent a lot of time with people in similar arts and music hobbies and with those who were focused on their careers. Basically, I just found people who had other things in common than drinking. It could be movies or something different.

    I also tend to like those who march to the beat of their own drum. Because they aren’t trying to push their drum on others either. Those in the “You do your thing, I do my thing” camp aren’t pushy and focus on what we both like. If I was offered, a simple “No thank you” is enough. Anything beyond that, I treat as curiosity rather than pushiness – even if it can seem pushy on the surface. That’s what worked and still works for me.

    Letting people self select takes a lot of pressure off of myself and makes me a better friend. Sometimes being direct, kind and honest is helpful too. “Oh no thanks, that’s sweet of you to offer! I’m good and you go right ahead! Have fun!”

    Having a cup of water or soda in your hand also keeps back offers.

  50. Being only about five minutes younger than dirt, the legal drinking age when I was growing up was 18 (rarely to never enforced) and the legal limit for driving was 0.12. The first time I ever tried alcohol was when I was 17 at a party; I turned bright red and then projectile vomited without warning all over the person I happened to be facing. Mortifying!

    I am half Korean and about 20% of all Koreans lack the gene that creates the enzyme to metabolise alcohol. I had no idea at the time that such a thing existed but fortunately I had a disreputable Korean uncle who was a great resource for information I wasn’t comfortable asking my parents about (he’s only about 8 years older than me, so he has always been my go-to adult throughout my life). I grew up in a university town which made a top ten party school list relatively recently and it takes significant effort to beat out all those other contenders!

    I can tolerate very small amounts of alcohol, such as what might be found in coq au vin. I can safely consume some desserts flamed with brandy but I will turn bright red and have been known to repeat the projectile vomiting thing with some of them when I haven’t been sufficiently cautious.

    I agree wholeheartedly with the Captain’s scripts and her observation that watching how people react to your choice not to drink is a useful filter for that individual’s respect for other people.

    I have little tolerance for having my boundaries pushed. So asking me if I want an alcoholic drink is fine and one round of enthusiastic encouraging is fine but after that, I am Out. Of. Patience. It isn’t such a problem for me now because I am a) mostly homebound and b) there are lots of people my age who cannot drink for boring medical or personal reasons, so I no longer stand out as an oddity. When I was younger, it occasionally turned into a mood killer because once someone kills my mood for no good reason, I feel no compunction about returning the favour (yeah, I’m a horrid person but I hit peak niceness long ago and I just keep getting worse with age).

    So if someone was being really rude about my not drinking, one of my mood killer lines was “I had two close friends who were killed by multi-DUI drivers” delivered with a hard stare. (true statement and I have never gotten over that neither of those drivers spent any significant time in prison or in fines after killing my friends)

    As a child of the 60s, when I was in a puckish mood, I used to try to time the line “when I want to alter my consciousness, I prefer LSD” so that the other person shot their drink though their nose. Doesn’t work so well with people who are too young to remember the 60s, though (they often miss the humour in it).

    For the very rare social occasion where it would not be possible for me to be snarky to someone being rude about it, I found that saying “oh, I’ve had my limit so I’ll stick to (non-alcoholic beverage)” has worked quite well. Possibly only because the conditions where I’m not comfortable being snarky also tend to discourage overt boundary tramplers.

    I’m also not shy about recounting my one and only drinking experience in living detail. Really graphic detail. I’ve discovered that the people who see the humour in it tend to be excellent fits for friends for me.

    1. The first time I ever tried alcohol was when I was 17 at a party; I turned bright red and then projectile vomited without warning all over the person I happened to be facing. Mortifying!

      I am half Korean and about 20% of all Koreans lack the gene that creates the enzyme to metabolise alcohol.

      I’m half-Arab, and boy, do we have this gene, too. My mom’s side of the family contains all the alcoholics, but my dad’s side is full of the people who can single-handedly destroy all the carpets in the house if someone happens to have sprinkled brandy on the fruit salad at Christmas.


  51. In my experience, the people who get insistent and demand that everyone imbibe are usually alcoholics who are trying to justify their own consumption. Captain and the commenters gave you good lines to use. If one or two of those do not work, the pestering busybodies are not worthy to be in your life.

  52. I am just turned 39 years old and in my entire life I have had 3 sips of alcohol. 1 because a boyfriend in college forced me to have a toast at Easter dinner (I broke up with him 2 days later cuz boundaries), 1 at my wedding dinner because I was rushing around and left the sparkling cider in the car, and the last (10 years ago) because I went on a winery tour with my friends and a tasting was included. The tour was $40 I felt that since I had paid for it I should at least try one of the offerings. They did provide me with some sort of juice beverage. Anyway. I have always just told my friends that I don’t drink alcohol and if they press I say, “Alcoholism runs on my dad’s side of the family and the risk doesn’t seem worth it to me.” 99% of people, even strangers, just say, “Oh, okay.” and move on. It is not a buzz kill. I don’t offer details and few people ask for them unless they also have alcoholism in their family. If someone does press me on it I will abruptly go to the restroom and sit somewhere else when I get back. That person will have invariably found someone else to talk to. Then, when they are sober, I talk to them about it repeating what I had said originally, remind them of what they did or said, and tell them it made me uncomfortable. If they do it a second time I don’t go out with them anymore. If you keep it brief and matter of fact, most people, especially your friends and total strangers, will follow your lead. Expect people to ask though, and just have a brief response ready.

  53. I have so many feels for you LW. I’m 21 and swore off alcohol years ago for almost the exact same reasons, and I’ve gotten so much push-back for it. I even had someone say “Oh, I’m going to fix that.” Um, what? No.
    If you’re getting tired of the push-back, I suggest finding some gatherings that don’t involve alcohol at all. Drinking SEEMS ubiquitous, but us non-drinkers are more common than you think. My sorority’s constitution forbids alcohol at our events, and it’s so relaxing not to have to wonder what weird drunk behavior might come up.
    Hope you can find some fun times your own way! Good luck LW!

  54. I’d like to offer up a story that has a line I used to great success, A+ Would Use Again (and I think I did at a work event with shots, actually):

    I was over at Close Friend/Tattoo Artist’s house hanging out, and planning to get some ink from him later in the night. Other friends of his were over and also getting work done, and one of them was passing around a joint. Now, I smoke weed occasionally and enjoy it, but I’ve learned the hard way that it makes my body *more* sensitive and as that is the exact opposite of what I want before getting a needle jabbed into my skin at high speeds for an hour, I declined. And the guy pulled the classic “c’mon, have some!” not just one, but twice. On the second push, I turned to him and said “Dude, I’m 30 years old. Do you really think PEER PRESSURE is gonna work on me?” in an incredulous tone, and we all laughed (him included) and he did not pressure me in the slightest after that. So…I highly recommend flat-out saying something calling them out on using peer pressure on you! I think it really highlights how juvenile that behavior is, and most adults like to think of themselves as…adult lol.

  55. I didn’t drink in college (not for any particular reason, I just…wasn’t into it), and I was lucky to have friends that weren’t particularly pressure-y about it. Part of it is definitely not making a big deal about it yourself, obviously – don’t make the overriding characteristic about yourself be that you’re “that guy/gal who doesn’t drink”, make sure you’re known for some other thing.

    The other strategy that I learned – not from myself – when I was in law school (and was an occasional drinker by that point), I had a good friend who was a recovering alcoholic. Everyone who knew him well knew his status and didn’t bug him about it (of course!), but for bigger parties where he didn’t want to have to explain himself to a bunch of strangers or be a mood-killer, he ALWAYS made sure he had a drink (non-alcoholic) in his hand. It headed off 99% of questions, because no one needed to ask him what he was drinking. If someone was ordering “another round”, well, as far as anyone knew, he was already “drinking”, so saying he was going to switch to water/seltzer for this “round” just to keep from getting too crazy was a good dodge.

    When we hosted parties, we always made sure to buy a six-pack of non-alcoholic beer that he liked (not that O’Douls crap, there’s better stuff out there). He would usually stick to drinking seltzer, but sometimes he’d grab a bottle of the ‘special’ beer from our fridge to simply blend in.

    1. I was going to suggest these, as well. The LW shouldn’t feel like she has to hide her non-drinking, but having something in your hand (juice, soda, even water, especially once everyone else is a few drinks in) will stop most people from grilling you about your alcohol consumption. To avoid getting into it with strangers, she can also omit the fact that she’s generally teetotal and answer questions as though they only apply for the event that she’s at. For example:

      Stranger: “Can I get you a beer?”
      LW: “Not now. [Subject change]”

      Stranger: “Why aren’t you drinking?”
      LW: “I’m just not in the mood at the moment. [Subject change]”

      In my experience, no one is going to be keeping track of what anyone else is drinking all night, so once you get past the initial offers to get drinks, you’re home free.

  56. I never had a problem not drinking at events and never assumed I would. I always assumed it was like that for everyone, and was surprised when people in various groups over the years commented how awkward not drinking made social situations. The climbers eventually found that ‘I’m in training’ gets them left alone, but otherwise there’s a certain amount of subtle abd not so subtle pressure and disapproval.

    The thing I was doing all those years was ordering the weirdest non-alcoholic drinks I could invent (bonis points if I could get an umbrella) and generally being the first to invent some stupid stacking-everything on the table until it all fell over game. When I got bored I’d leave. Somehow I’d managed to become the ‘oh so-and-so doesnt drink, did you see what she got the bartender to make her this time?’ person, without really realising it. It was just accepted that I never drank.

    So it sucked when I realised that the pressure to drink was a real thing for different people in the exact same social group (I think to an extent some
    social groups assume that the non-drinking people will be no fun to get drunk around, which is crap, but certainly a ‘reason’ Ive been given).

    Cheerfully not giving a damn and not apologising for it at all seems to work though, and when it doesn’t, well, that tells you something about the company.

    You’re welcome to give ‘oh I never drink alcohol, but Im going to get them to make me a pint of non-alcoholic mojito with some pineapple and a yellow umbrella’ a go if you like:) Bartenders seem to enjoy making totally ludicrous drinks if its not slammed. If its slammed I just get a aoda. With an umbrella.

    Started to realise how invest I am in this umbrella thing.

    Good luck!!

    1. Nice! My problem was that I also can’t stand the taste of carbonation, so the number of options I have is even more limited. Though the bar/restaurant that will do a house-made lemongrass soda for me with still water rather than carbonated, and the vegan restaurant that carries three different kinds of artisanal grape juice, have a very special place in my heart.

      The college that I went to had an official policy of “EANABS” — “equally-attractive non-alcoholic beverages”. Not sure how much that really happened at the student parties, but it did happen generally at official campus events, and it became a thing where all the event announcements mentioned “beer, wine and EANABS”. I liked the idea of making it “a thing”, and I’d highly recommend it as a policy to anyone hosting a party.

  57. Hello fellow non-drinky person! I also did not drink in college. I still don’t really drink. My friends have gotten used to this. At one time, answering the query of what alcohol I was having would inevitably lead to the conversation suddenly revolving around this fact, even if I was with non-pushy people. They meant nothing maliciously by it. But I did learn some coping strategies.

    – When people ask you about it, as annoying as it may be, the majority of them aren’t actually trying to pressure you into anything. They are just trying to make conversation. You know how you are diverting with ‘but tell me about your drink!’? They are diverting with ‘but tell me about you [and your not drinking]!’ They are just trying to be friendly.

    – White lie for reasons why. I went with ‘sorry, medical condition/allergic’ a lot. Some people just won’t drop it and it makes the encounter for everyone around them, but it also brings anyone trying to make a conversation topic out of it to a screeching halt. ‘I don’t like the taste’ or ‘it doesn’t agree with me’ or ‘I don’t like feeling drunk’ will get people enthusiastically trying to tell you about their favorite sort of alcohol (again, most of them are friendly; they are doing the ‘let me share my favorite thing with you potential new friend!’ dance, they have just chosen their subject…poorly) which they will insist you will like the taste of or will agree with you or will get you nice!drunk.

    – Try to choose drinks or drinks containers that don’t make it immediately obvious you aren’t drinking, or it gets brought up. All. The. Time. I am a female looking lady, so things like cranberry juice or orange juice often do not merit comment as it is assumed I have put vodka in them.

    – The captain is right to say Look Out for those who won’t drop it regardless of what you say or do or how firmly you set the boundary. There has never, not once, been one of those people that I have met where that wasn’t a massive red flag for future dodgy behaviours.

  58. People who can’t hear “No thanks, it’s not really my thing” are not the kind of people you want to be around. It sucks that you have to deal with this from some of your circle of acquaintances, but maybe framing it to yourself as an extra asshole filter could help.

  59. Also, sadly, this may not end with college. Depending on friend-group and workplace culture you may be dealing with this to some degree for the rest of your adult life. I’m sorry.

  60. One thing I found useful in fresher’s week and similar, is to take part in drinking games with shots of sugar. I’d get progressively more hyper, stay awake and be up for silly things. Tossing back a sachet or three of white sugar gets you a surprising amount of respect from drunk 18 year olds. They feel you’re being a good sport and taking part in the game, even if they all remember you as the weird one. Not ideal for your health to do often, but can be useful on occasion.

    Other people have said most things, but that was a useful different option when other things would have been too awkward and I wanted to make new friends.

    1. I seriously impressed more than one drinking game playing house party worth of acquaintances by doing “shots” of neat (undiluted) Vimto. (A squash drink that is mostly spiced grape and berry flavours & very sweet and strong when undiluted). This was seen as “hard-core” behaviour!

  61. I’ve never been a drinker, for a lot of the same reasons that the LW references. I was lucky and had a group of friends in high school and college who understood that this was just who I am. I remember being all excited to be 21 and one of my friends teasing me “you’re the only person I know who’s excited to go to a bar to go country line dancing but not drink! You big nerd!” (Said affectionately and she was there on the dance floor with me, stone cold sober!).

    In my 20’s I did get my share of pressure. I remember once I was at a bar with my cousin and this guy came over and asked me what I was drinking because he wanted whatever I was drinking since I was having such a good time. I held up my glass of water. He told me that I “needed to drink, that I’d loosen up” and ordered me a drink. I handed it back to the waitress and reminded the guy that he wanted to drink what I drank because I was having a good time but for me that drink would never be anything with alcohol in it. I have to say the guy was a really good sport about it. He nodded and told the waitress “Two waters and keep ’em coming!” Sad to say…he was probably the only person to be a good sport about it though. Most people just looked at me like I had 6 heads and had just announced that I like to eat babies for breakfast. (That mix of surprise and horror!)

    LW, I found that if you’re firm about not drinking nearly all people will respect it. I never really offered anything more than a “I don’t drink. I don’t care for it.”

  62. I feel you, LW. I was sickly as a kid and had to take a lot of medicine containing alcohol, so it’s really no surprise that I’m not into alcohol as an adult. Additionally, I’ve inherited a low, low tolerance from alcohol from my mom, who can’t drink a strawberry daiquiri without scary consequences. My experiences with the stuff have been unpleasant emotionally and physically, so I’m very, very limited with it to the point where I say I don’t drink.

    And for that, I have been subjected to crap like being called a pussy, being told that I just need to practice, or basically, “but WHYYYYYYYYY.” One guy on a dating site took it so very, very personally that I didn’t drink, and it took way too long for him to back off, long after he’d killed any interest I had in him.

    I would use the scripts CA outlined above, and if they keep pushing, well, you really don’t want to be anywhere near them.

  63. I feel like I must’ve had a non-normal college experience because I only went to one party where there was booze and it wasn’t even a lot. But my stepbrother loooooves to drink and talk about it, and he’s much more socially involved than I was, so I get the feeling that the Major Social Scenes at college tend to revolve around “who can get hammered most” (and maybe a titch of “oh let’s talk craft beer”). Which sounds…boring.

    But you know your social life better than I do. If you find yourself going to parties that revolve around drinking or that you just don’t enjoy, then you can always opt out and look for college hang-outs centered around hobbies instead (where there still might be booze, but hopefully less pressure). If the parties and hang-outs you’re at are already fun, just with this one issue, then Cap’s advice is pretty good. Honestly, though, if all anyone wanted to talk about was what they drank, I’d be so freaking bored. And I *do* drink. And heck, I’ll even talk about what ciders I like, etc. But not if it’s not an equal conversation. (Again, see my step-brother. He is boring.)

    Someone upthread mentioned the power of having a Thing In Hand. Remember, no one but you can tell if there’s rum in your rum and coke or not.

    Part of me says if they push you really should just say, “I don’t drink because my father is an alcoholic.” In as buzzkilling a voice as you can. And let it be awkward. Because they pushed. But that’s probably more likely to kill your buzz than theirs.

  64. Lots of good advice here. As a fellow non-drinker, I did tell close friends why since I felt it was fair for them to know, and for everyone else it was “I don’t drink”, “Why?”, “Just not interested” + subject change. If they were persistent, I would repeat “not interested” + subject change again. If they wanted to keep pushing, that ended the conversation. Not really giving them an actual answer, but it is a response that I can then move on from. I don’t owe them an explanation, so I don’t give one,

  65. When I wasn’t drinking that night (often), I usually just declined the offer of a drink – “No, thanks,” or, “just water for now.” Sometimes it was, “Not a fan of beer, maybe later,” or, “Oh, not tonight, got a lot to do tomorrow/not feeling great” If I was driving, I literally just held up my keys and shook my head.

    I wouldn’t answer that you don’t drink ever at a party unless someone is being really insistent. Usually just declining each offer lightly as it comes makes it much less likely to attract notice. (Let your good friends know but casual acquaintances don’t need to know if you drink or not, only whether they should give you a drink now or not.)

  66. I was a light-to-moderate social drinker in college and throughout most of my 20s, but after a few years of not drinking while pregnant and nursing, I realized I didn’t miss it and just never started again. I’ve recently discovered that saying “I don’t drink anymore” gets much less pressure and bullshit than just saying “I don’t drink” – maybe people don’t take it as a challenge because I clearly already know what alcohol tastes like/what being drunk feels like/all the other objections they like to toss out, so there’s nothing to overcome? (Not that they should be trying to “overcome” anything to begin with, but.) Anyway, that might be some wording to try – even if you’ve never had a sip of alcohol in your life, the pushy drinkers of the world don’t need to know that.

  67. This is my first comment here, but I relate so much to this post, I just wanted to pop in and repeat, for emphasis, this bit of the Captain’s advice:

    “Also, repeat after me: ‘The mood of the group’ is not my job.”

    It’s not your problem if your lack-of-drinking upsets the drinkers. That’s on them. If they require validation for their behavior, they ought to do a little introspection and find out why that is instead of taking it out on you.

    My mother is an alcoholic, and while I do drink on occasion now (which amounts to *maybe* 3-4 drinks a month) there was a time while my mom was going through several stints in rehab where I abstained completely. I was at a party once during this time where folks were doing shots. They asked if I wanted a shot of tequila, I cheerfully said, “No, thanks!” and stayed in the living room with my husband while all the shot-takers congregated in the kitchen. For the rest of the evening, people kept making sideways comments (both at me directly and in general) about “party poopers” and how “some people” don’t know how to have a good time anymore and oh, what a shame that was. Guess who was actually pooping on that party? It certainly wasn’t me!

  68. I’ve had some luck with, “I don’t drink. You can have my share of the world’s ______, though!”

  69. Another suggested template: “Oh, I have some pretty bad health problems in my family [or: pretty bad reactions to alcohol, or: my dad has some pretty bad health problems] so I figured I’d better not risk it” – you don’t need to mention what health problem, and I doubt most party goers want to a) discuss terrible sad family health problems or b) risk giving you some kind of unspecified stroke, so they’ll probably just drop it, maybe with a “aww, bummer you can’t, it’s so great”.

    Also, you’re not missing out on too much; being drunk is not as fun as people claim.

  70. I started college at 26, making me quite a bit older than most of my classmates. I found that responding to questions about drinking with “Thanks but no thanks. Remember to drink a lot of water and keep some food in your stomach!” worked pretty well. The fact that I *was* older than them probably had something to do, but that “this is how you take care of yourself” can’t hurt?

  71. Good stuff from the Captain here. I didn’t drink in college much at all and still don’t. My dad was an alcoholic so it’s in the family and I never much cared for the way it made me feel. I didn’t have an interest in drugs either and had all sorts of back and forth conversations with a few people who just couldn’t let it go. But my friends would. I didn’t make an issue of it, beyond refusal of the thing. My good friends didn’t care, accepted my explanations if they even required one and would get me a cranberry juice and gingerale without it being a big deal.

  72. Haven’t read the comments yet, but I have been there too – Sadly the best solution is time, and get more mature friends – which takes time for your peer group to mature.
    The early 20s / college drinking culture is probably the worst place to be a non drinker I’ve experienced, sorry to say.

    Just remember, you’re not alone!
    You can and probably will connect with people who don’t grill you on your preferences or pressure you to drink. Maybe because they accept your choice as not being a reflection on them (which is a thing that becomes more common with added maturity) and maybe because they don’t drink either. Those people are out there.

    It’s probably obvious, but don’t try to make friends at drink-oriented occasions. Seek out clubs and parties centred on an activity you enjoy, or a study group for your favourite classes, or whatever. Generic parties are likely to be all about booze at this stage of life, so you want get togethers with some other theme going on. This lets you be focused on your knitting/turn at the console/formula to crack/whatever and leaves less room for “but why aren’t you drinking?!” AND gives you a nice conversation piece to return to in case of questions.
    “What kind of beer do you want?” ->> “None thanks, what do you think of my Knitted Teapot?”
    works better than
    “What kind of beer do you want?” ->> “None thanks.” (stand around awkwardly because the whole party is drinking)

    Plus, being the only sober person in a room full of drinking people is tremendously boring, even if they’re not full out drunk.
    Beer pong just isn’t much of a spectator sport.

    Another thing is that sometimes having a non-drinker in the room can make those who would like to drink feel like they shouldn’t, and they may make that your fault, and that sucks. HOWEVER, the result can also occur, in which having someone drinking zero alcohol can make a person who would prefer to drink only a little bit of alcohol more comfortable saying “no thanks” at an earlier point in the evening with less pressure than if everyone were drinking.
    I know this because I have had acquaintances-later-turned-friends thank me for making it easier for them to say no to refills.

    Enjoy many rumless rum-and-cokes!

  73. There are lots of good strategies in here for how to respond to people who insist on a justification for your behavior (I’m a big fan of cranberry juice & tonic water with lime as a diversionary tactic), but I want to reassure you that this gets SO MUCH BETTER as people grow up. Even by the end of college people were much less perturbed by my teetotaling and nowadays it’s almost never an issue.

    People’s response to you not drinking is 100% about their issues with alcohol, not yours, especially while they’re young and still learning how to have fun as an adult. They’re worried that sober you will judge drunk them, or that you’ll remember things they won’t, or that you think drinking makes them a bad person. Once your friends realize you aren’t going to make them feel bad for their choices, most will do you the same courtesy.

    Even with strangers, if you can be completely matter of fact about it, nearly everyone will nod and move on. I found after a while I was getting preemptively defensive about not drinking which made things worse. If you treat it like no big deal it’s much more awkward for others to bring the conversation back to that topic, and most won’t.

  74. LW, I want to highlight this part: You don’t owe anyone your whole family history, but you don’t owe your family a shield of never talking about it, either…

    I feel like AA has done the world a bit of a disservice when it comes to the whole “anonymous” bit. Everyone deserves privacy, and everyone deserves not to be stigmatized because they are an alcoholic or because they love someone who is. But at the same time, it’s possible to take that too far, and when the anonymity becomes secrecy, it can be damaging to the mental health of the ones who are keeping the secrets.

    I was married to an alcoholic, and I didn’t talk about it with anyone for the longest time. Then I started to realize that protecting my husband’s anonymity was actually preventing me from working through (and eventually past) the problems we were experiencing. So, I started talking. I didn’t take out a billboard or make a public post to my social media accounts, but I did start telling some of my friends. Most of them were supportive. A few were judgmental, either of him for having the addiction or me for the way I was dealing with it. But the best part was, I found out that several of my friends were *also* married to alcoholics, and were going through a lot of what I was going through. Now, years later, this last group are now some of my closest friends, while the judgmental ones are long gone.

    I’m not saying you absolutely should talk about your family history if you don’t want to. But if you have been not-talking about it as a way of protecting your father, please do think about what’s best for you as well. If keeping the secret is harder for you than not keeping it, or if it’s impacting your own mental health, that’s important. Best of luck, whatever you decide.

    1. This is so true. I recently hid a situation I went through from a friend for almost six months. When I finally told her two weeks ago, she revealed that she is currently in the same situation, and has been so for over 30 years. We had kept it secret, because we each were trying to protect someone else. It felt so good to be able to tell her.

  75. Also, if you’re up to it in the moment, for the people who won’t let it go you can just be like “Wow, why are you so obsessed with my not drinking?” or a “Why are you making such a big deal about this?”. It’ll make them look as ridiculous as they’re being.
    Also I’m a 20 year old college student and I don’t drink either so high-five girl!

  76. I’ve always been a light drinker, and went for several years not drinking at all (medication/mental health reasons). Lucky for me, pretty much all my friends are older than me so I never got stuck in that ridiculous “it’s college, so ALCOHOL” mindset. But those prying questions and pressuring people who say “no thanks” to drink always, always get on my nerves.

    I try to take it on good faith that people who do this aren’t trying to be assholes, but the fact is that pretty much every reason no to drink is -deeply personal-. So it’s invasive as hell (and immature) to ever question someone on the topic.

    Like, what are they expecting to hear?
    “A close family member is an alcoholic”
    “-I- am an alcoholic.”
    “I am on medication”
    “It’s against my religious beliefs”
    “I don’t like how I act when I’m drunk”
    “I/someone I love was assaulted so I don’t drink around groups of people”
    and of course, “I just don’t like alcohol”<– just as legitimate as the rest, though always to be met with more "but just try this one!" badgering.

    Other commenters mentioned that when a person pushes you on alcohol, it's about their issues, not yours, and that's important to keep in mind. Cool people will not pressure you. Trustworthy people will not pressure you. Mature people will not pressure you.

    Take care of yourself and stand up for yourself, LW. You don't owe anyone anything beyond "No thanks, I'll have a water."

  77. I don’t drink for two reasons, both of which are tied to my mental health problems. 1: I am not a happy drunk. More than a single unit in my system at once and my mood tanks horribly. Fast. Expect to find me crying and shivering in a corner, rocking gently to the rhythms in my head. 2: I’m on three types of prescription meds which ALL mix badly with alcohol at a “seriously NO” level. I tend to rely on the first reason if asked, and will back it up with the second if pressed. Something which many happy fun silly giggly drinkers tend to forget is that alcohol is a drug which affects different people differently. Some get miserable like me. Some get angry. Some projectile vomit. It occurs to me that if you’re not too worried about absolute honesty, going into truly uncomfortable levels of detail about how alcohol will result in everything you’ve eaten this past week being spattered across their new party outfit might get the message across not to ask again.

    I’m 35 now and thankfully these days people tend to accept my non drinking status without much issue. Often I don’t get asked why and when I do my responses are usually accepted. It does get better.

  78. Although I don’t have a lot of help on the script side, I’ll also note that this will almost certainly get better as you get older and people get more mature. I am MORTIFIED now when I look back at the pressure I put on someone in college to try a mood altering substance. He quite fairly pushed back on me and got upset when I tried 2-3 times and I just was immature and didn’t get it at the time. Ugh. (Weirdly, I was never a fan of pushing alcohol on people so who knows what I was thinking – it was just this one person and this one specific thing.)

  79. Are there any scripts for dealing with a situation where actually, you DO mind that other people are drinking around you? Or ways of coping with the discomfort without totally alienating yourself or abdicating from the social scene entirely?

    I am finding – after a negative experience where someone who was very, very intoxicated for the situation became very hostile towards the rest of the group – that I am profoundly uncomfortable around “this group of people + ethanol”. I haven’t been comfortable drinking anything alcoholic around the group since that event, and for the most part the group understands that BlueThing does not partake *now* (even if in the past others have seen me do so).

    However, it’s not a group of people I can avoid without a career change – and I consider some/many of them social friends as well as colleagues. It just seems like any social event – no matter what the event is – turns into “This is a drinking, with possibly some quantity of event involved.” I’d like to be able to go and do social things-other-than-drinking with them, even invite them for social events – or even just tolerate the regular weekly thing in the office – without wearing my shoulders as earmuffs the whole time.

    Of course the bonus points answer would be “How does BlueThing set up a social event and indicate that there should be exactly none alcohol at said event?”

    1. If you’re the host, the second thing is fairly straightforward: In the invitation somewhere, say, explicitly: “My house/the venue we’re meeting at/the event is ‘dry/no alcohol.’ There will be plenty of soft drinks on hand.

      At work/with work people, it’s harder. Whether you can suggest to management/organizers, “Hey, for every boozy thing we do, can we do one non-boozy thing, too?” depends strongly on how into the whole “culture/team player thing” your bosses are. You could take a more active role in planning & also do the “I’ll stay for one hour and leave before people get too many drinks in them” thing. Cultivating allies within the group is going to be key – inviting them to do smaller-group things, or, one-on-one hangouts vs. everybody must always hang together.

      1. Thank you for that – the smaller-group option is likely to be the most successful overall in the company culture in question, as I’ve already spoken to my line management about having wider worksocial events that are less alcohol-oriented, and unfortunately that’s not looking like it’s a thing that will happen any time soon – the office culture is very much “it’s not an event if nobody’s got all the beer.”

        I’ll have to see whether anyone is up for card/boardgame nights when it is dry – suppose that’s a good filter for “people who are there to play the game and enjoy the company.”

      2. Abstainers seem to be the next big category that groups are needing to think about when it comes to inclusivity. There are so many reasons why somebody in your group may abstain — religious, recovery, metabolic, none-of-your-beeswax — and it can therefore be really important to choose venues, events, etc., that don’t turn around booze.

        This has been a hard nut to crack in one particular nonprofit organization that I’m involved in. On the surface, it doesn’t seem to be a big deal, because nobody in our small leadership team abstains. The answer to that is, of course, well, maybe an abstainer doesn’t volunteer for leadership because so many meetings are held at bars, and all the event announcements emphasize that beer and wine will be on hand!

  80. I don’t know if this is a *useful* suggestion or not.

    My mother-in-law asked me why I didn’t drink (more than my limit of 2/day).
    I told her that I can get seizures if I drink too much with my medication. And then I proceeded to give a horrible impression of me having a seizure. Neither her nor the rest of her family has asked again.

    I’ve found it useful with people like that to make the situation awkward for them such that they regret asking. Than again, I am not a nice Squirrel.

  81. I think it’s also really helpful to have someone in your corner. As someone who frequently chooses not to drink, I will tell people to knock it off if they’re pressuring someone else/giving them a hassle, which tends to shut them up once they realize that not everyone is ok with what they’re doing.

  82. I think there’s a key attitude underneath the kind of response you’re looking for, LW, which is giving yourself total permission not to be earnest or disclosing with people you don’t choose to be so with. Once you flip that “not beholden” switch in your head, it gets easier. I might try something like (literally!) “Oh, blah blah blah medical blah blah” (actually saying “blah”) and if pushed, maybe “look, over there!” “What?” “Boundaries! The boundaries you ordered are here!”*

    Point being, you don’t owe them taking their inappropriate question seriously, and especially since you sound concerned about trying to keep the atmosphere light instead of going into Serious Reasons mode, humor can be a good indirectly direct approach. The under-message is “you can’t be serious about pushing me on this? So I’ll respond with the seriousness you deserve to make that point”. And if they’re perplexed or confused, that’s ok, it still interrupts the interrogation.

    * Please screen out of your world anyone who demonstrates being pushy about boundaries!

  83. I just thought an additional deflector script when Will Notletitgo is pressuring you to bend might be, “What, are you a sales rep for [drink] now? I thought you were [their actual profession/major/political affliation/whatever] so they can maybe see the absurdity of “DUUUUUUDE this [drink] will change your liiiiiiife!”
    And then I just thought of: “Yep, sometimes booze changes lives for the worst, so I just don’t get involved.”

    I dunno, though, I think you’re doing everything right. As a hostess who has unintentionally uncovered a non-drinker’s preferences while hostessly passing around drinks, I find as long as they have a REFRESHMENT (booze, soda, water, whatever they want) in hand and are taken care of in a hosting kind of way, that soothes me. If that helps at all. Courage!

  84. One other thing for you teetotalers to remember, (unless you are a robot that doesn’t get thirsty) it’s not so much that you don’t drink, as you don’t drink *alcohol.* When someone asks, assume they are thinking that you are thirsty, and ask for something that you do drink: sarsaparilla, a Shirley Temple, rootbeer, sprite, coke, soda and grenadine, soda and lime, or even just water. The end result: you don’t really stand out, you end up with a beverage that you enjoy, and people have less reason to hassle you.

    Remember, a good host makes sure that everyone has a drink, but they don’t really care if the drink is alcoholic.

    1. This strikes me as weirdly hostile?
      You can just read the above comments to find the lived experience of several non-drinkers.
      Trust me, we know what we do and don’t drink. It’s overwhelmingly more likely to be *drinkers* who insist that they meant beer and not coke or whatnot.

      I’ve also been through share of thoughtless hosts (family members included) who know damn well I don’t drink alcohol but still don’t have anything non-alcoholic available other than tap water.

      1. I actually think accepting a [non alcoholic] drink is a good strategy if it’s just a hosting thing, but since this is college I hesitate to say one should accept ANY drink from someone who is pushy – who knows what they put in it (sad but true). It probably does help to have a [non-alcoholic] drink in hand when not doing something that would preclude a drink (dancing. I know people try to dance with their beer but they also fail and it is gross don’t do it)

        1. There is certainly something to be said about distrusting someone who is pushy, which I is one reason your drink of choice might be water (it is pretty hard to camouflage anything in water). As for someone insisting, that is what your “really, you just said that” stare is for.

          The point I was trying to make I’d that, often when someone says “I don’t drink,” especially when they are annoyed, it sounds like, “*I* don’t *drink*,” which, could easily be interpreted to have an implied “an neither should you” on it (even though it is unintended). If it is, then a fight is pretty much guaranteed. As such, a different response makes since.

          1. I dunno, I’ve followed up “I don’t drink” with medical reasons, which are really nonjudgmental, and still gotten pushback. And maybe it’s just me, but if the interlocutor can’t take a polite “I don’t drink,” it’s really not on me to manage their feelings. I’d just walk away from any conflict. ::shrug::

          2. I don’t drink. Period. My reasons are my own and have nothing to do with anybody but me. (And everyone knows that “I don’t drink” means “I don’t drink alcohol”; nobody thinks it means “I don’t ever drink any liquids”.) Almost all of my friends and family do drink. I tell my friends they’re welcome to bring alcohol to parties at my home. I go to my friends’ parties where people are drinking. I’ve gone barhopping with my friends, I take my parents to local breweries every time they visit.

            If anybody hears “and neither should you” when I say “I don’t drink”, then they need to ask themselves why they feel so defensive about their drinking, because it sure didn’t come from me.

  85. Also, you might just reply “bad experience.” They don’t have to know that your alcoholic family was the source of the bad experience, and many drinkers don’t drink [insert specific drink here] because of some bad experience they had drinking that.

  86. I developed a pretty serious health condition at 21 that effectively prevented me from digesting alcohol in a way that wouldn’t put me in the hospital. I told my on again off again best friend about this and you know what her response was? “Sounds like your doctors are just lying to you so you don’t drink.” UM. I was so shocked by her mental workaround about the thing she KNEW was putting me in the hospital that I just stared. I never hung out with her again and I found that was for the best. I know it’s a bit harsh to say that people who will pressure you to drink aren’t good friends but I would suggest trying to find a closer group of friends who will at least respect your decision and maybe even act as a buffer at parties. My current best friend is great about my health stuff and thoughtfully asks “Are you ok eating/drinking this?” about new foods or says “Don’t worry about eating/drinking this thing I know will hurt you” when we’re at a social gathering/restaurant. Now that I’m in my late 20s and have a better group of friends, I just order (or even bring!) cranberry juice when I’m hanging out at a boozy gathering and no one bothers me about it.

    I really like the Captain’s scripts here too. You don’t owe any one a good time at a party just to make them comfortable, especially if that involves making you uncomfortable! Sorry about your family situation. I hope that as you grow older the people around you learn more maturity and let it go when you bring up that you don’t drink. Jedi mind hugs if you want them!

  87. Although my college friends were pretty cool about it, and never pressured me, I was aware that they were uncomfortable drinking when I wasn’t, until one day I began ordering coke in a frosted beer mug. Mysteriously, having a drink that LOOKED like it matched theirs, even though they were laughing when I ordered it and knew exactly what it was made everyone relax, friends and strangers alike. Bizarre-but VERY USEFUL. I now also get soda water or sprite with a twist in one of those short bar glasses, because even though I now do occasionally drink, I frequently just don’t want to.

  88. I too am a non-drinker for that very same reason, and what has worked for me is being very, very boring. There’s no need to escalate or make things up or pretend to be allergic or tell your family’s story or make up a story (unless you want to, of course): there’s just “no thank you.” After the fourth no-thank-you I might go to a straight “no” and stay there.
    I wish I could say that it gets better, and at some magical point in your life, the people around you will stop trying to get you to drink. The only time that happens is when you’re pregnant (if female)! But the simple “no” gets easier for you to say.

  89. Some good news: once you’re out of college the pressuring to drink seems to lessen. I don’t drink because of medication interactions (basically I want to keep my liver in working order, and the meds are enough of a risk on their own). When I tell people at work functions or whatever that I don’t drink most of the time they leave it alone. But I also don’t go out a lot or hang out with people that drink often (more than say, a beer with dinner).

    1. Agreed! As you get older, your interlocutors don’t take it so g*d*mned personally when you opt out of something that everybody else is doing. And, bonus! You also care less and less what they think, anyway.

  90. There seems to be plenty of useful advice for LW. I’d like to add that acceptance of non-drinking doesn’t end the asshattery at parties. I usually end up bringing my own non-alcoholic drink and also having to hide it away so no-one else can take it. I prefer less-sweet soft drinks like lime and soda, or sparkling apple juice, and often find that drinkers who are looking to alternate alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks see mine and think ‘that looks nicer than el cheapo cola/lemon squash’ and drink what I’ve brought. It’s not so much the cost (although that is a factor), but there’s only so much I can carry so I don’t necessarily want to share with all and sundry. I guess that’s no different from people drinking more expensive alcohol than what they’ve brought, but it is still extremely annoying.

  91. I think some of the interactions around “booze when you are 20 in the US” are very similar to the interactions around pot. Both are illegal and a matter of cultural belonging. Having been on both sides (heavy drinker, categorical non-smoker), the key takeaway for me was that this peer pressure reaction is motivated by fear: people are afraid that when you say “I don’t smoke/drink/etc”, you are judging them for it. You are not!

    That’s not your problem, obviously. Also, it gets better when people get older and stop caring.

    These are some things that I found helpful:

    – “Not my thing” works better than declaring “I don’t smoke”. The latter makes it sound like a moral decision, rather than a personal choice. It also downplays it, a little, which works well, I think. (The point isn’t that not smoke is central to my identity, and I dislike people who smoke, just that I choose not to). The more chill you are about it, the better.

    – “I like the snacks/I enjoy cartoons/etc”. I think, a lot of the time, people are sad about my not smoking because they aren’t sure if I am having fun, worry that I disapprove of the activity, etc. So, that kind of diffuses the tension. I think that changing the topic doesn’t work as well. For drinking, I’d go with “I like parties” instead of cartoons or whatever.

    – If I don’t care about the person, I am happy to give white-lie reasons: medical issues, long drive home, “not tonight”, etc. Not that those are false, just that obviously doing that every time is going to get tiring and not worth the effort. “Bad experience”, suggested above, can be really good, but often causes people to try to help (“But I can mix you a really good drink!” or “But this strain is different!”).

    – Some friends of mine always say “I don’t drink, I am more of an LSD person”, which is sometimes true, and sometimes funny. I don’t think that approach works for everyone, but redirecting to another in-group vice can diffuse the tension. Like, clearly this person isn’t going to judge you!

    This is all kind of silly, and you don’t need to re-assure people, that’s their problem. Anyone who pressures you for more than a flippant answer should fuck off. But this is sort of a different script suggestion, in case it helps.

    1. “The basic truth is that in the end, no one truly cares whether you drink or smoke or whatever. They want you to have fun. ”

      I so wish this were true.

      With the best company, it is. But with a great many people, it is not.

      Some will even seem annoyed if you seem to be having fun doing something different than what they are doing.

    2. I don’t know if this is just luck, or an actual regional cultural difference, but I’ve literallyy never had an experience of being pressured to smoke pot, despite it being extremely common. The difference in cultures between pot and alcohol was actually kind of striking at some points in my life. The smokers in my life were all libertarian and ‘it’s a basic fundamental right to choose what you put in your body, just as it’s my right to choose to smoke it’ while a vocal and persistent subset of the drinkers were adamant that I basically must drink and that it was a sign of terrible character flaws on my part if I abstained.

  92. People get weird about phraseology. At least with the people I was dealing with in college, for some reason, “I don’t drink” got read as being judgemental. (It’s not, and if they think it is, that’s their problem, not yours, but it’s totally okay if it’s easier to go around on that.) I got a lot of mileage out of “Ah, I don’t like it.” (And you don’t! They don’t have to know why or what about it you don’t like!) I think it’s what others have mentioned above, that people think that the non-indulgement of a Thing is a judgement of that Thing.

    I do think there is an element of “I must be a GOOD HOST! ALL GUESTS MUST HAVE REFRESHMENT!” in these situations… I went to a party once where they had champagne, which I thought tasted vile, and spent the whole night happily drinking grape juice and no one said boo. Another event at a friend’s house resulted in “Lemme get you a drink!” “Actually, can I just have the juice mixer without the booze?” “Oh sure, more rum for me~!” Of course, this does presuppose that the people you’re with are reasonable people who mean well. So, Nthing the ‘have non-alcoholic drink of choice on hand’, because that does tend to defuse the good hosting instincts. (And for me, a good metric of whether or not I was dealing with reasonable people was if they had non-alcoholic options on offer in the first place.)

    Saying ‘No Thanks’ to a drink is not a mood-killer, and anyone who treats it as such probably isn’t safe to be around.

  93. I’ve never been much of a drinker and had a lot of luck in college with “I don’t like the taste of alcohol/beer.” Granted, that’s why I’m not much of a drinker, but it’s a hard one to argue with. Best anyone managed to come up with was “Beer is an acquired taste.” (They had no response for “Why would I want to?”)

    It does work best in settings with a limited access to mixers though, otherwise someone will try and mix something they swear doesn’t taste like alcohol. (They’re wrong.)

  94. Many people, when they reach legal drinking age, go all out just to prove that they are now “adult” enough to do imbibe. In a few years time the novelty has worn off and they don’t behave in such an asinine way about people who don’t drink. Just shrug and say “I don’t like alcohol.” You don’t have to explain why you don’t like alcohol.

  95. I’m honestly at the point now where I just straight up leave the party. I’m an introvert and I’m honestly tired of having to justify every little thing. I’d rather go home and watch a movie than be harassed by someone who can’t mind their business. I just don’t like the taste, add in how obsessed people get with alcohol and how invested they are in it it honestly creeps me out. Same for coffee. My life is simpler without alcohol or coffee in it.

    As for scripts I go with things like “I don’t drink” “Because I don’t want to.” “I’m not discussing it, leave it be” “please go away now” “**** off” and then I’ll pointedly leave or go for a walk and come back or something.

    1. This. I don’t drink for a multitude of reasons, family history of addiction being just one. Maybe it’s where I live but people get really offended when you say you don’t drink so I just do not go to parties, ever. Every single social event around here that doesn’t involve little kids is heavily focused on alcohol and I just don’t understand. People are utter jerks when drunk, why seek them out?

      (I don’t drink coffee either, but that’s just cause I don’t like it.)

    2. Same, but I’m in my 30s.
      At LWs age when the “party” is inside the dorm that I lived in, that was harder to do.

  96. I had this same problem in college, I ended up just telling people I was straightedge when they offered. I never got any attempts at convincing me to drink because people would assume I was very committed to not drinking and not want to argue about it. I was a very regular party/club goer when I was in college and no one ever had any problems with drinking and doing every drug in existence in front of me, but it only took stating that I was straightedge once for them to never offer to me. I never really considered myself straightedge (in a militant way), but I had no desire to drink or do drugs and I never did them, so I guess technically it was true.

  97. Soooo, I guess one aspect of college is testing boundaries/limits, and yeah, unfortunately sometimes people test the wrong ones.
    As someone who really didn’t drink in college either* best strategies are to a) make friends who don’t consider getting drunk the only form of entertainment b) scripts as captain said above. I might modify slightly; if some rando asks what your favorite beer (or other type of alcohol) is, just say “eh, not really into beer” (many people aren’t) “water’s great, thanks!” etc – I generally avoided outright saying “I don’t drink” unless directly asked. Otherwise just keep saying various forms of “no thanks [this party is great!] [what classes are you taking] [awesome 80s costume]” etc.
    And remember, reasons are for reasonable people; someone who pushes you about not drinking would probably argue with your reason for not drinking too even though it is a good one. [of course any reason is a good reason] And you have to wonder why they care so much, hopefully they are just overenthusiastic but y’know.

    *my reasons were I simply didn’t want to. What few inhibitions I have are the ones I actually want so alcohol basically just makes me clumsy and I guess could make me sick if I drank enough and why would I even do that IDK

  98. I don’t not drink but I often don’t drink. There’s no particular reason for it for me. When people ask I find a low key response like “I’m just as happy with soft drink” with a shrug of the shoulders works quite well. If I act like it’s not a big deal it makes people more likely to see it the same way.

    Also, (you shouldn’t have to do this in a perfect world, of course) I would also recommend drinking whatever soft drink you do consume in a glass or cup wherever possible because people often can’t recognise what you’re drinking. A glass of (my favourite) Pepsi Max in my hand all night looks pretty much the same as a ‘something alcoholic and coke’ so they often don’t even realise I’m not drinking.

    Yeah, anyone who pressures you on this or treats you like you’re a freak is not your friend.

  99. My “sister” watches my son when I have night classes twice a week (my other classes are when he’s in school; my husband is mandated to work stupid amounts of overtime). Tonight one of the guys across the street offered her a drink and she said no, because responsibility. He apparently kept offering and she had to TELL him, “No, I don’t drink for medical reasons.” (Which is also true; migraines are hell.) Like, really? Meanwhile he’s telling her how he doesn’t get to see his kids more than twice a month. Hmm, maybe there are some contributing factors there…

    She does actually drink, but she’s very selective about what, when, where, and with whom. She wasn’t about to drink cheap domestic beer with a guy she’s spoken to all of maybe three times (when he asked to bum a cigarette each time!), especially when she’s responsible for a very smart, active, creative 9 year old with impulsivity issues. And she didn’t owe him an explanation. It kind of pissed her off, and I don’t blame her.

    (Dude’s friend, also living across the street, is apparently scared of me because one night when I came home from class, there was someone parked in front of my house, leaving me nowhere to park. I had my windows down and started yelling in frustration, because it had been a rough day anyway and this was the straw that broke the camel’s back. They were outside, unbeknownst to me, and heard me yelling, and he apologized whenever he saw me for the next week. Needless to say, they haven’t asked me to come drinking. I think it’s also partially because she appears to be single while I do not, which is creepy in its own way.)

  100. I second everything Cap said so heartily. Also:
    -College isn’t all one thing. You meet all kinds of people and have the ability to meet all kinds of people – and that’s if you NEVER leave campus (which: please, leave campus!). The first college I attended had a beer pong team, but it also had a Dungeons&Dragons club. If there are things that you’re interested in that lend themselves to gathering around something that is not booze, I recommend them – you can always quit if you don’t like it, and people are constantly joining and quitting clubs and groups because of their schedule, their ultimate workload, etc. I know the stereotype is that college is just drinking and puking and going to classes hung over, and I’m not saying that doesn’t happen, but as your more immediate chronological peers get older, they’re going to start having nights where they’re not drinking (or drinking VERY little), because if they don’t they’ll fail out of school. Tons of people NEVER DRINK in college, don’t let people pretend that everyone does – it’s simply not true. If I can do it in Wisconsin, you can do it in South Florida. It’s not weird to not drink in the year 2016.
    -I do believe honesty is the best policy… for people you know and like. Sometimes lying in a most-detailed way can be fun and educational. The most ironclad reason I’m used to hearing about why someone’s not drinking is “it doesn’t agree with my meds.” Don’t have meds? Make one up!
    -Being a Designated Driver (or Designated Sober Person) can be its own reward for everyone – but only if you want to be (and you should be studying!). Obviously if you see a friend out drunk and you just ask them “are you okay?” it’s different, but if you want to go out with friends and say “you know what? I don’t drink, so how about I drive?”, trust me when I say they will back you. You are their safe ride home. If you don’t have a car, just make sure people have your phone and keep it on.
    -At least sometimes, just straight-up make your own plans first – anyone who might feel uncomfortable about their alcohol consumption via your lack of alcohol consumption will lay off if you’re just doing something else. See a show! Go to a concert! Campuses have all sorts of free entertainment because they know you’re there! You can invite people with, go by yourself to meet new people, or go by yourself to have a night by yourself.
    -Ideally, sometimes, make plans for the group for something legitimately fun that *just so happens* to not include alcohol. While not everyone drinks in college, there are some people who will leave college not knowing how to have fun without alcohol… which is really kind of sad. Sports, games, you-name-it. One of my favorite things, partially because it kind of has a drinking party kind of feel (but without alcohol) is having a Miracle Berry Fruit tasting party. Miracle Berry Fruit tablets are like $15 for 10 tabs – there’s tons more info you can find online, but basically you coat your tongue with it and (for roughly 20 minutes or until it wears off your tongue) it takes any sour or “off” tastes and turns them into PURE DELICIOUSNESS. Lemons taste like lemonade, pickles taste sweet – you can find all sorts of foods to try online, cut them up into smaller bits, and have a bizarre night in. All foods have the same effects as before, even if you can’t taste them – so lemons are still very acidic, guzzling hot sauce isn’t a good plan, etc.
    -I’d venture to say there’s probably a 90% chance that you’re worried for nothing, which is a great place to be. I’ve only ever been asked out of sheer curiosity why I don’t drink (…I think alcohol tastes real gross and I don’t like the feeling of being drunk *shrug*) and only once did someone insist I take a shot – once – and then backed off. YMMV, of course, but when your friends are spending $50 or $100 on alcohol and you’re spending a few bucks on a Coke, you’ll be starting a laundry list of reasons why you continue to not want to drink. No hungover lecture halls? SWEET! If you have a little cash, treat yourself to small things to make you feel awesome and congratulate yourself for studying and being awesome.

    1. I hung with the D&D club. They drank at some get togethers and one person who DMed told me a story that involved drinking at a game.

      Just because they aren’t the stereotypical college partiers, doesn’t mean you’ll never be pressured to drink by them.

      1. I hear that, it’s just what came to mind for me because my friends who play D&D would NEVER allow alcohol around their games lol – and it’s not always obvious, but there are plenty of groups that don’t drink for reasons variously related and unrelated to sobriety.

    2. ” there’s probably a 90% chance that you’re worried for nothing”
      Doesn’t sound that way from their letter.

      Also, guessing from your avatar, but if you don’t present as female then you don’t experience all the pressure to drink SPECIFICALLY so that you will be more likely to sleep with someone / get taken advantage of / rape culture.
      It really is worse for women.

      1. Well, today is the day you should learn not to assume: I’m a female-to-male transsexual and I started testosterone at age 24 (with D-cup breasts that I only had removed in my late 20s). 1 in 2 transgender people will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, and that’s if we don’t get killed first. When I came out, the most high-profile trans person in media was Hillary Swank’s portrayal of Brandon Teena’s rape and murder – that’s what I got to tell my parents to encourage them that, in fact, my identity existed in the world. Oppression doesn’t come with “worse,” but I’d check yourself before you get on a soapbox about it.
        Also, if you’re living outside Wisconsin, you have no idea what it’s like to refuse a drink as a Wisconsinite. Even hard liquor is dirt cheap here. It’s not “imagine if every event you went to had alcohol” (though that’s also true), it’s “imagine if every 5K you went to had alcohol.” The average Wisconsinite is by definition a binge drinker. I got to help test a pilot program that was alcohol education for youth, and I got to help alarmingly young queer people realize that when they order a Long Island iced tea, depending on the exact size, they’re probably consuming about 4 drinks, not 1.

        1. Oh, yeah. I went to high school in a Minnesota town that was just across a bridge from Wisconsin. And the drinking age in WI changed from 21 to 18 while I was there (tells you my age!) So we had the all-drinking-all-the-time culture attached to a required drive to get the stuff. I used the distance and my my age (17.6 at graduation) as my excuse for avoiding the stuff.

  101. My mother’s father was an alcoholic, mean one. She has avoided alcohol since then. At my nephew’s wedding she saw the wine in my hand and told me I was too young to drink. I was 36. I went and got my brother (50s) a beer and we took a picture together. She rolled her eyes which I considered progress. She had a crying jag when she discovered a bottle of wine in my first apartment (20s).

  102. I was never a big drinker, and stopped entirely around 10 years ago (in my early twenties). One thing that has worked for me is that when people suggest that I don’t know what I’m missing is to just say yeah, I’ve tried it, it’s not for me, I don’t miss it, in a tone that sounds kind of bored. Even if this isn’t the case for you, it might be one more tool to have in your back pocket if you’re okay with just lying.

    If there are ways to connect with others who don’t drink, that might also be helpful to you – not just in being able to have social gatherings where alcohol isn’t there, but also to have friends who can come along to events that *do* involve alcohol, so that you can not-drink together. For me, it makes a big difference to have even one more person who’s also not drinking.

    I also wanted to mention a few things that friends who do drink have done to make me feel more comfortable (without me even having to ask), as suggestions for “green flags” to look for in people who might be safer to hang out with (and as suggestions for anyone who drinks and is reading this and wondering how to support non-drinking friends):
    – checking for me whether a punch at a party includes alcohol
    – asking waiters at a cocktail reception what the non-alcohol options are
    – making sure I know where the soft drinks are and that I should help myself, even though I didn’t contribute towards the drinks (at a party where everyone else had chipped in to buy bottles of alcohol to mix with the soft drinks)
    – supporting my suggestions of social gatherings that naturally don’t centre alcohol (going for brunch, lunch, dessert tend to be good bets, where you don’t have to specifically ask for a dry event but where people are less likely to go with the plan to drink heavily)

  103. “Someone who meets your “no thanks!” with half an hour of manipulation and second-guessing is communicating that they are bad at consent.”

    I’m going to un-soften the language on this one. Someone who pushes THAT hard on your “no, thanks!” to alcohol is very likely a predator who is actively looking for potential victims. The most common rape scenario is a socially-skillful predator who tests the boundaries of potential victims in ways that have social cover and who either gets their victims drunk or high or targets people who are already drunk or high.

  104. LW, I was not a drinker in college. I would occasionally sip on a wine cooler, but I never really got to like wine or beer. I even worked as a bartender for a couple of years while going through a teetotal phase (meaning, zero alcohol ever). When people ask me how that even works, well, it apparently works well enough that I was the one to choose to leave that job. My boss was actually happy I wasn’t like his previous bartenders, who actually cut into his profits by drinking and giving away the good stuff on the sly.

    What Captain Awkward says here is super important: Those who pressure you to drink should be avoided like the plague. Good friends will chalk it up to a “no big deal” factoid or quirk about you. Safe people to hang with won’t try to sneak you alcohol after you say no, or pressure you to drink when you say no. It’s not just their attitude about drinking that you’re discovering, you’re finding out what kind of people they are. Because people who are cool with your personal choices are going to be a lot safer than people who aren’t, which gets extra important if you identify as female, or some variety of non-straight, or a minority race or religion. It’s not foolproof, but people who accept your personal choices with grace are far more likely to celebrate other things that you do or are that are different from what they do or are.

    The comment about consent is dead on as well. If someone invades your personal space, insults you, won’t take no for an answer, or argues with your decisions, do not give them second and third chances to up the ante and try to break down your boundaries again, because they are demonstrating an inability to respect you. And that kind of disrespect can be dangerous to you. You can deal with one or more peers thinking you’re no fun, and go find better friends to hang with. People who try to shame you about your preferences and stated boundaries? BIG RED FLAG. CA is wise.

    FWIW: You can also tell a lot about a person by what they think is funny. Have you seen the meme about Schrodinger’s Douchebag? Schroedinger’s Douchebag is the person who says something that is racist or sexist or transphobic or bigoted or otherwise offensive, and, when called out on it, claims it was “just a joke.” Believe me, if not called out on it, Schroedinger’s Douchebag wouldn’t take the offensive comment back. SD was testing the waters to see whether you were as big an asshole as s/he was. If it isn’t safe to call SD out, at least make a note of the douchebaggery and act accordingly. Sometimes “jokes” aren’t.

    1. Also worth noting that a lot of schools have campus events for students who don’t want to drink (or at least encourage those who do to put it off for a couple of hours), and those can be good places to meet people who won’t pressure you.

      I got involved with a student-run coffee house in college that ran events and hosted performers on weekend nights, and just so happened to double as a mostly substance-free house (students 21+ could have alcohol in their rooms, but drinking on premise during open hours was explicitly forbidden). A lot of regulars stopped by for coffee or a chat on their way to or from parties, and it was good way to hang out and get to know people in a chill/non-judgmental setting where alcohol wasn’t even involved.

  105. I’m a recovering alcoholic, and I can say from experience that at least *some* of the people who are being extra pushy or incredulous are doing so because they have a problem with alcohol. And/or they are planning an out-of-control night and feel uncomfortable with sober witnesses. That is on them, not on you.

    Lately, for whatever reason, the language that works best for me in declining a drink is “I’m fine.” If they push, repeating “no thanks, I’m fine,” with a smile that gets more puzzled each time they push.

    I also like to say “no thanks, I’m driving” only because I never drive (have never owned a car) and find the obvious lie hilarious, but I think that is just me. (Works best when I am hosting.)

  106. I also avoid alcohol because of of a family history of alcoholism, and people are SO WEIRD when it comes to drinking. When it comes to small talk with acquaintances/coworkers, people always seem to feel I’m judging them unless I make it very, very clear otherwise. My strategy tends to be:

    1) I never say “I don’t drink”. I say “I’m not much of a drinker.” 95% of the time people follow that up by asking “Do you drink at all?” at which point I admit that I don’t. It conveys the exact same information, but because I didn’t say it up front, people aren’t worried I’m going to use it as a platform to lecture them.

    2) When people ask why, I say I have “bad genetics” or “family history”. (Said airily with a wave of the hand to indicate I’m not going to elaborate) If this feels too revealing for you, another excuse should work just as well, as long as it’s short and indicates it’s a personal reason that you would never think to apply to someone else.

    3) If someone makes any sort of statement about me being a better/smarter person because I don’t drink, I try to make it clear I don’t think that’s true. I don’t sit there and explain why, I just scoff or say “Not really” to try to move the conversation on.

  107. I don’t drink either, and while I don’t have any advice to give, I’ll say that things will be different in a few years; most people don’t stay this pushy forever. I found that by the time I finished university, while most social gatherings still included alcohol, they didn’t revolve around alcohol. Which meant that a) it wasn’t a violation of some imaginary social contract that I didn’t drink, b) people weren’t getting so drunk that their filters came off to the point that they felt comfortable harassing me about not drinking, and c) the stories people told about their social lives stopped being about “this one time I was so drunk…” which made socializing easier.

    The other thing is, once people are a bit older, they start to realize that some people are in recovery, some people are on medications, and some people make personal choices that have nothing to do with you. So hang in there! Now, in my mid-20s, I find that “No thanks, I don’t drink” mostly gets the answer, “Oh, ok. Want juice or something?”

    …Ok, so some people sometimes ask me why, “just out of curiosity” which I hatehatehate. You’re either asking me to reveal medical information, information about my family, or moral convictions that you don’t agree with. None of those will make for comfortable conversation. So just nod noncommittally and just pass me the damn juice.

    1. You just reminded me of a delightful night in (I’m in my early 30s, mind) with a friend of mine from college, her girlfriend, and my boyfriend – I don’t really drink (VERY, very rarely), they had a beer each and everyone was in bed by 10pm and it was a Friday night lol
      Most of my friends aren’t very committed to keeping comfortable conversation, so while I haven’t heard it put out all there like that, I’m sure if pushed at least one or two of them would launch into, “WHY am I not drinking?! Because I will vomit anti-psychotics all over your nice couch. I’ll grab my own soda.”

      1. Yeah, that’s exactly it! I recently had a night with some guys from my high school–I never, NEVER went to any parties in high school with them, because they would have been hammered. But now? We sat in one guy’s apartment until 2 am talking politics. They each had a beer. I had water. Our host got us coasters so we wouldn’t ruin his ikea coffee table.

  108. I’m 35 and I don’t drink, and I am still finding myself at events/homes/situations where the only drink choices are tap water or alcohol. Worse, I don’t drink fountain/can sodas, either. BRING DRINKS. Ask for a teapot or saucepan and boil some water and steep some tea/coffee. Keep water in the car with individual drink packets. Be confident and make yourself at home making non-alcoholic drinks. Be That Guy. Once in a very blue moon will a host figure it out and provide a drink.

    It’s a thirsty world for us tee totallers, but having something in hand keeps you from being a non-drinker, too.

  109. Yo! I have done this! Happily I don’t think I’ve ever been really pressured to drink, people were very cool with my non-drinking, but here’s what I did. I love dance parties, so I went to a ton of heavy-drinking heavy-dancing doin’-some-weed upstairs-are-the-sex-rooms sort of university parties. I’m a person who doesn’t touch any sort of drug, doesn’t do sex, and never ever either gets drunk or drinks at parties (because A: I don’t want my judgement compromised, B: at parties, it’s usually very unsanitary and I’m a germophobe, and C: I don’t trust everyone at most parties). When people found out I’d never been drunk, there was definitely some teasing that they’d get me drunk some day, but I cheerfully turned down their offers and eventually they knocked it off. (Same with the sex. Happily, nobody’s ever tried to pressure me into drugs).

    Keys to this! I was always very cheerful, yet firm. So they knew where I stood, but I wasn’t bringing down the mood too much. I also was happy to explain why I wasn’t drinking, “Nah, I like keeping a clear head, more for you though!”. For what it’s worth, I also had a friend who didn’t drink because they knew they had an addictive personality, and nobody judged them for that or thought they were a buzzkill. (There was also another friend who went to all the parties but had never touched alcohol due to a desire to keep his body pure, and nobody tried to make him drink either). I was happy to participate in drinking games (I just took shots of water), and talk about the drinks on hand. This being university, there was usually some ungodly alcohol mixture going on, and I was just as into oohing and ahhing over it as anyone. I think remaining cheerily clear-yet-nonjudgmental is the way to go, as well as still participating in the party games so you’re not conspicuously sitting out. (I also got pretty uninhibited at parties —- I’d be the one dancing on the tables —- so that probably helped my case, but it’s definitely not required).

    Good luck!

  110. LW, my in-laws and husband really enjoy drinking wine. I don’t like the taste. My in-laws tried to find a wine that I did like or a beer, or something so I could be included! I don’t like the taste, but thought it was sweet of them to try. These days, there are three wine glasses on the table when we eat together, and I don’t even get offered one any more. I do get offered sparkling cider, juice, milk, or whatever I like. People who love you can be trained!
    Although, I will admit that when I told my DIL that I do like hard cider, he promptly stocked up and has always since had something like that on hand in case I want it. For him, it’s part of being welcoming and hospitable. But before he found that out, he was never pushy about it.

  111. My contribution to this is just to say “I don’t feel like it.” I’m a drinker – probably too frequent of a drinker to be honest – but I’ve finally learned that simply because drinks are available doesn’t mean I have to partake. So my standby phrase is simply “I don’t feel like it,” Sometimes I get followup questions – “Are you sure? Don’t you want to try my drink? Come on – we’re all having fun!” To which I just laugh and say, “I just don’t feel like it today! I’m just enjoying hanging out with you guys. If I change my mind you’ll be the first to know.”

    Now, in your case, you obviously won’t be changing your mind (unless you do – which is fine either way), and “I don’t feel like it” is true enough without getting into details you don’t feel comfortable sharing.

    Good luck!

  112. I was LW in college. I’m 29 now and still don’t drink. Luckily my friends mostly took “I just don’t” as an answer. Various reasons I would give included “I’m driving,” “I like to remember my evening,” “drunk people do the strangest things,” “I have enough fun without alcohol,” “soda is cheaper,” “I just never started and don’t feel like starting now,” “I like winning games of Never-Have-I-Ever,” and “I promised [long-distance friend] I’d let her make me my first drink.” (Some of these sound more judgy than others so YMMV.)

    Similar to the Captain’s advice in other areas, you can be as boring as possible about it and people will usually give up.

    Alternatively, I wish I’d had the idea earlier to make up a different outlandish story about it every time someone asked. Like sagas involving pirates and alien abductions and long-lost twins. Like Nick Fury turning every random situation into a “that’s how I lost my eye” teachable moment.

  113. The captain has great advice LW! And the alcohol culture is extremely pervasive in college so yeah, it’s tough.

    College and drinking is when I really started getting what consent meant. All the parties I threw in my group (marching band nerds unite!) had alcohol available to varying degrees, but we were firm on never pressuring anyone. The leadership in the group made it clear to the freshman that they were of course welcome to drink, but that they would not be pressured in any way and often we wouldn’t even make offers, we’d make people ask, as even offering can be pressuring to a freshman/anyone. And if anyone did try to pressure them, to come to us so we could deal with it. It made for great parties and when I didn’t feel like drinking, no one batted an eye and when I did, I was welcome to all the alcohol I wanted.

    And the same with parties at my house now. We have a friend who doesn’t drink at all. i don’t know for sure, but he’s hinted at family issues that influenced that decision. If he wants to confide some more on that to me someday, I’ll be there to listen, but I’ll I need to know is he doesn’t drink and what drink he does like (Coke) so I can make sure I have plenty when he comes over. That’s another thing if you are hosting a party with non-drinkers (and honestly, you probably always are), try to have at least one option besides tap water available. It’s always a bummer when you can’t or choose not to drink and all that is available is tap water while everyone else is drinking all kinds of different beers, wine, etc.

    I’ll also tell you about my experience with pregnancy and suddenly stopping drinking when all my friends and acquaintances knew me to generally be a drinker. For people that weren’t close enough to tell I was in early pregnancy before I announced generally, I ended up telling them I was on a diet. I wouldn’t recommend that to you LW, but it was a easy way to explain temporary non-drinking for me that didn’t immediately tip everyone off that I was pregnant. Some did suspect I imagine, but few, and no one questioned it.

  114. Ooh boy. LW, I also don’t drink cuz I grew up with an alcoholic parent. And I agree with the Capt that it isn’t your job to manage people’s feelings or the mood of the room. Frankly, social etiquette says that people who keep pressuring you about it after you say “no thanks, I don’t drink” are being super rude. Like, ridiculously rude.

    Personally, I just say “I grew up in an alcoholic household, so I don’t drink at all.” That on its own usually makes people let go of it and I like that about it.

    You could also try fudging a little bit with something like “I hate the taste” but if people are pushy, they might see that as an opening to argue, so ymmv.

    But honestly, if other people can’t handle one person not drinking while everyone else is drinking, that sounds like a THEM problem.

    1. “You could also try fudging a little bit with something like “I hate the taste” but if people are pushy, they might see that as an opening to argue, so ymmv.”

      Seriously – which is… weird, honestly. I don’t like the taste of alcohol remotely – like, not even a little, not standing on my head, not if you add a little citrus, it’s still alcohol. I was chatting with a friend of mine who’s in the restaurant industry and he was like, “well, in a good cocktail, you don’t even taste the alcohol!” And I was like, “…I taste it.” He kept insisting and insisting, and I was like, “well, I don’t drink much” (to sort of put it to rest) and he was like, “oh! ha! yeah, I guess you have to be used to the taste of alcohol.” SO IT DOES TASTE LIKE ALCOHOL!

  115. I’m probably a little late to this thread, but I just wanted to say to the LW how great it is that you know what choice is right for you, and that you’re sticking to that in the face of some grade-A asshattery from the people you’re encountering.

    You asked for scrips to sidestep, and the Captain did an amazing job of giving you those scripts. However, I want to tell you: DON’T BE AFRAID TO KNOCK THAT ISH ON THE HEAD. I know it’s hard, especially in college when you want to make friends, but it can be worthwhile. I had a lot of friends in college who didn’t respect my boundaries. I lost nothing but my emotional energy by trying to make nice with people who ultimately didn’t value my wellbeing. If I had spoken up, it would have been uncomfortable, but I think it would have made for a better college experience overall – and prepared me for post-college life.

    So feel free to say any of the following things:

    “I don’t want to talk about this anymore”
    “Please stop talking to me about drinking”
    “I’m sure you don’t realise, but you’re pressuring me to drink, and that’s really not ok. Let’s talk about something else”
    “Cut it out, dude”
    “You do realise you’re pressuring me to drink, right? That’s really uncool behaviour.”
    “You need to stop talking about this, right now”.
    “You’re pressuring me to drink, so I’m going to go and speak to someone else. See you round.”

    And then just let them react how they react – like a deer in the headlights, like an angry rhino, like a kicked puppy. Whatever. Their reactions are not your responsibility. You are not the person in the wrong here.

    Some people won’t want to be friends with you, but they’re not the people you want to be friends with. For some people, it might be one of the first times in their life they’ve had to really think about another person’s boundaries, and that will be uncomfortable at first but ultimately help them to become better people. You might find things work out ok with them. Some people will apologise right away, and after a bit of awkward, all will be chill.

    But whatever the case, you’re doing great. You know who you are, you know how you want to live in this regard, and you’re staying true to yourself. You’ve totally got this. And we’re all cheering for you.

  116. I tried pot once. That was a Bad Idea. I got pretty sick and enjoyed 0% of the experience. So I don’t smoke pot.

    When I’m at parties and a split is passed around and I tell people to skip me, half of the group seems to think I’m Judging Them. I’m not. I’ll all for legalizing pot. Other people can smoke what they want, as far as I’m concerned. I’m just Not Interested. But the concept of someone genuinely not being into soft drugs is hard for some people to understand, so I just avoid them.

    Luckily, I’m introverted, so never really minded avoiding parties where people insist on this.

  117. I managed to have a lot of fun in college without engaging in drinking alcohol. More room for ice cream and soda! Less expensive! No hangovers! Win, win, win. I hope LW you find good people who like you for you. And those good people? They won’t obsess over what is or is not in your red solo cup.

    I too do not drink alcohol. To me it tastes and smell ranges from nail polish remover, paint thinner, or rotten fruit/rotten something. EVERY. KIND. Even vinegar grosses me out. My choice of food or drink is MINE and not anyone else’s business to change. You won’t see me forcing them to eat food they super dislike, and I expect the same in return.

    When I tell friends I don’t drink, and they ask why, I usually say “I just don’t like it, and don’t care to try”. Normal people are fine with this choice. For non-friends or strangers I go with “I don’t like it; would you like my drink ticket? How is the food?”

    If questioned further I may offer, “Allow me to paint you a picture of my experience: If rotten food and necrotic tissue made a smell baby, alcohol would be it. So what does this stuff smell like to YOU exactly?”

    It is THEIR awkward turtle to carry around, not yours or mine.

  118. I tried to read all the comments, but there were so many that I have to confess that I didn’t, so this might have been brought up already.

    I don’t drink alcoholic beverages because I don’t like the taste (and yes, I can *always* taste it). Around 16-25, when I brought this up in party-like settings, people would never let it go either. But that wasn’t all: there were people (friends, “friends” rather, since I’d accept drinks from people I knew) would spike my drinks or give me a different one than I’d ordered (like rum&coke instead of regular coke or whatever). Sometimes the reason was “benign, like testing whether I would really taste it and would really dislike it. Thankfully, because I really do always taste the alcohol, I never had more than a sip. But that could have ended badly.

    So please be careful.

  119. My reply for the people who are insisting I drink alcohol is “No, no, I don’t drink anything flammable. Nothing I could put into my car’s gas tank.” It can be said lightly or played up for dramatic effect. So far it’s worked, and I’m often around people who will coerce, trying to excuse their own drinking. I think it puts alcohol into a new frame of reference for them.
    And yeah, around those people I get my own drink from the bar, and hang on to it.

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