If you decide you don’t want to drink and are worried about or anticipating some strange situations, here are some tips and warnings, and a few ways I’ve handled it that might work for you, too.
People might think you’re judging them.
Some people will take it personally that you’re not doing keg stands, or they’ll apologize repeatedly for having a beer in your presence, even if you don’t notice or care. In my experience, the worst offenders were the guys who’d continually pour me beers—going as far as putting the drinks in my hand—despite the fact that I’d already politely declined. I realized very quickly that a person’s reaction to my not drinking said a hell of a lot more about them than it did about me. The upside of these experiences is that I developed a pretty decent people filter. If someone couldn’t get over the fact I was drinking a Sprite, I realized they were probably just projecting their own discomfort onto me, which made it easy to ignore them. I had plenty of close friends who drank—I just stuck to the ones who didn’t judge me.
You don’t always have to explain yourself.
By far the most annoying part of being sober was continually explaining myself to new acquaintances when they asked, “WHY don’t you drink?” Sometimes I told the truth, which was a downer in a party atmosphere or TMI for a stranger. For a while, I lied. I’d fabricate what was wrong with me, from the innocuous stomach bug to telling people I was pregnant. It finally occurred to me I could just turn down the beverage without explanation, or say, “I’ve got a drink, but thanks!” Most people are too focused on flirting with the object of their desire or getting the DJ to play their favorite song to notice how much alcohol you’re not drinking anyway, so don’t feel the need to explain.
You can be playful with drunk people.
Being the only sober person can actually be really entertaining. When I was bored at parties, I amused myself by making up outlandish lies about my life—I once convinced a bunch of drunk underclassmen that my family was in the Mafia by cribbing from the plot of The Godfather. If you’re going to be a fabulist, just don’t be mean about it. It’s one thing to tell obviously invented stories about yourself, and it’s another to callously taunt someone too compromised to notice.
Those wild, drunken nights might not have been as wild as your friends thought they were.
I did sometimes feel left out as a non-drinker, but strangely this feeling didn’t hit me until after a hangout was over, when I heard stories about my friends’ hilarious antics at some bar or party. But after I got my inner sadsack to stop whimpering, “WHYYY do I miss EVVVERYTHING?” I realized that I had actually witnessed a lot of these capers unfold, I just remembered them differently because I was sober! For every epic story about dancing all night or getting into a fight on the street, I remembered dancing a little bit between long stretches of boredom and being really frightened someone would get seriously injured or arrested. My friends recalled their drunk antics through the gorgeously art-directed slo-mo lens of drunkenness, while I saw it in fluorescently lit real time. Drinking made people remember things as much more mythic than they’d actually been, and so they indulge in a little hyperbole after the fact.
You’ll (almost) never be that girl screaming into her phone or yelling at her friends and crying at the end of the night.
One upside to sobriety: There’s a lot less unnecessary conflict. Which isn’t to say that arguments never come up—just that there are fewer of them and they’re easier to navigate without beer goggles.
It won’t hurt your dating life.
I didn’t have alcohol to grease the wheels of social interaction, but it turned out that the guys I liked didn’t care. During my senior year of high school, I went out with a guy a few times who got very tipsy at a party he’d invited me to. He spent most of the night apologizing for getting drunk (see point 1 about people thinking you are judging them). I later found out from a mutual friend that he didn’t like me and thought getting drunk would make me lose interest in him. He could have just told me and saved the drinking for a better reason.
You probably won’t spend as much when you go out.
Thanks to a couple of sips from insistent classmates one time, I knew that cheap beer tasted pretty gross, and the better stuff could cost $5 a pint or more, which adds up. I was completely broke in college, so it was nice to avoid the stress of finding enough money to go to the bar on top of all my other expenses. (Water is free, y’all! But be nice and tip the bartender for that water.) Plus, I always had money for my favorite foods instead.
You can think clearly in a crisis.
My senior year, a good friend got REALLY DRUNK. She puked in my car and then lost consciousness while she continued throwing up, so I knew she needed more than just a good night’s sleep. I drove her to the hospital, and when the nurses wouldn’t let me see her I waited alone in the ER until dawn, when they came out to tell me they’d pumped her stomach. Most nights of drinking won’t end this way, of course, but it was terrifying, and I’ve never been happier to be sober and able to drive.
You can always change your mind.
You can always decide that you DO want to drink. People change—I did! In my mid-20s I started having the occasional glass of wine with dinner. My original attitude about alcohol led me to stay away from it altogether, because I thought it was an effective way for people to avoid painful feelings and escape their insecurities, but in my adult life, I never saw those red Solo cups or kegs anymore. The social pressure to binge drink had dissipated; my friends would have a couple of drinks and that was it. Having at last seen a spectrum of drinking habits, I realized that healthy moderation is possible, and that having one drink is actually nice once in a while. It wasn’t always easy going against the grain, but I’m glad I stuck to my convictions about choosing not to drink during my high school and college years; otherwise I don’t think I could be this sane about drinking now. ♦
* Some names have been changed.