Being A Non-Drinker In A Binge-Drinking Culture

being a non-drinker

I’m not really sure why I don’t drink. It isn’t really about health or cost, and it certainly isn’t about morality. Originally, it probably came down to social anxiety. At the first (and only) sixth-form party I went to, the bar staff turned a blind eye to the fact that most of us were underage. Everyone around me took advantage, but I didn’t.

being a non-drinker

Looking back, I can understand why. For one thing, I thought I’d make a fool of myself if I tried to order a drink. What was anything called? How was I supposed to know what I liked when I’d never drunk more than a sip of alcohol before? Having been picked on throughout secondary school, I wasn’t about to open myself up to more humiliation.

But it’s harder to explain why I also refused alcohol at birthday parties and gatherings. If the punch contained alcohol, I wouldn’t touch it. I drank lemonade instead of champagne on New Year’s, elderflower instead of wine at Christmas. People sometimes made a game out of trying to get me to drink. They always lost.

Most people were fairly respectful of my decision not to drink, but others just didn’t get it. Neither did I, really. If someone asked why I didn’t drink, I usually told them I didn’t like alcohol. But in reality, I’d barely even tried it.

Perhaps the culture surrounding alcohol was what I really objected to. I’d always enjoyed getting together with friends to watch movies and eat food, but suddenly it all seemed to be about alcohol. Even if it was just a few of us in someone’s living room, people brought drinks. It felt as though people had forgotten how to have a good time without them. And on any remotely special occasion, people drank until they were sick and complained of hangovers the next morning. My oddly sensible 17-year-old self didn’t think this looked like a lot of fun.

On some level, I may have been trying to make a statement. I’ve heard it said that in our culture, not drinking is more rebellious than drinking. You’re going against the status quo, and you tend to meet resistance (especially if you’re young). I’ve always been a bit of a nonconformist at heart, which may explain my reluctance to drink!

What’s it like to be a non-drinker?

Being a non-drinker can be lonely. In my teens, I began avoiding parties because I didn’t like the atmosphere. It was easier to curl up in bed with a book instead. I could dance and have fun without alcohol, but other people became increasingly tiresome the more they drank. And I grew to hate drinking games with a passion!

It would have been easier just to join in, but I was too stubborn for that. Eventually, I relaxed enough to try the odd sip of a friend’s drink, or have a glass of wine once in a blue moon. But I never drank any more than that.

University was a struggle, since the only social activity anyone was interested in was  clubbing. My only attempt to enter a club, in Freshers’ Week, resulted in me having an anxiety attack after 15 minutes and having to leave! I didn’t form a single meaningful friendship at my uni, and I think the drinking culture played a significant part in this.

It was a huge relief when I made friends through my local animal rights group who weren’t so interested in drinking. Some, like me, barely drank at all. Others did, but not usually for the purpose of getting drunk. We got together to share food and tell stories, and anyone bringing alcohol was in a minority. At last, I felt like I belonged.

Not drinking definitely has its advantages. For one thing, alcohol is expensive! Since I’m a major cheapskate, that would probably put me off even if I did like the idea of drinking. For another, it’s nice not to have to deal with the aftereffects of drinking. Drinking a lot is harmful in the long term too. Additionally, alcohol is very calorific, and can significantly contribute to weight gain.

Do we have a binge-drinking problem in our culture?

I don’t think alcohol is evil, but I do think we have an unhealthy attitude towards it in our culture. In some European cultures, parents allow children to have small amounts of alcohol from a young age. That way, drinking isn’t seen as rebellious. It’s just part of life, and people tend not to overdo it. This seems like a much more sensible attitude to me.

Will I always be a non-drinker?

I can no longer claim to be a complete non-drinker, but I still rarely touch alcohol. Though I’ve begun to understand why people do drink, I’m unlikely ever to be a heavy drinker. My body tends to say ‘stop’ after one drink! I’ve never been drunk, and feel no particular desire to change that.

When talking to older people, I’ve met those who envy the fact that I barely drink. They feel trapped, unable to stop drinking now they’ve got into the habit. That gives me pause for thought. But again, I think it’s perfectly possible to enjoy and appreciate alcohol in a healthy way.

Do you drink alcohol? Why or why not? I’d love to hear your stories!

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9 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Great post! I totally get where you’re coming from – I don’t drink either! 🙂

    I used to when I was younger, but after years of being ill (and taking pain meds that made me feel ‘out of it’) I just want to enjoy life now, with a clear mind and a healthy body! <3

    I'm not against other people drinking or anything, but stopping it myself has definitely made me more aware of the problems it causes in society! xx

    1. Glad to hear you’re enjoying life now 🙂 in a way it can be very freeing not to drink. Having a healthy body is so important too! xx

  2. I’m glad you wrote this–it’s nice to know I’m not alone! Although I did consume alcohol when I was younger (from 18 to about 24 or so), I have not touched it in years (I am 38). I don’t like being around intoxicated people–they are not as funny as they think they are. I prefer when people’s inhibitions are intact, and booze tends to bring out the worst in people. And you are right that people seem incapable of having fun without it. I don’t understand that, and am right there with you with a book and a cup of tea and my dogs. I’m not the moral police or a Quaker, but I just don’t like the booze culture we live in. It’s frightening at times, just plain annoying at others. We have a big problem with drunk driving here in Canada–thanks to our binge drinking culture–and I find that morally reprehensible. I have no interest in drinking–even a glass of wine. It tastes disgusting–but we have a big wine culture here, particularly among women. Somehow it’s refined or sophisticated or something–I don’t know. I think it’s all pretty stupid and am happily abstaining.

    1. In general, I find that alcohol tastes pretty horrible too, especially beer. Noone would drink it if not for the intoxicating effects! Though there’s no moral issue with drinking alcohol, I totally agree that it’s a different matter when it puts others’ lives at risk, as with drink driving. I do wish people could be more sensible about it.

  3. Oh dear the comment box just told me to be more concise! Lucky I actually thought to back up in word.

    Part 1: I was once like you. When I was 14. A friend suggested we go to a park bench to drink beers. I didn’t. It sounded like a really crappy idea. When I got drunk for the first time aged 16 in the company of friends, I really got it though, it was great. You drink to get high, to feel euphoria, the taste of beer or whatever else is, for most people, irrelevant. Fresher’s week was awesome. Best week of Uni maybe. I’m a non-conformist at heart too, but I liked getting drunk!

    During my university years (98-03) I figured out exactly how much to drink to get very happy without any hangover or vomiting (it was about 16-20 units). I calculated how much I’d had, and stopped at those numbers. The next day I would feel perfectly fine. I seemed to be the only person capable of doing this though.

    Occassionally on special nights like New Year’s Eve or something I’d say to hell with it and ignore the <20 units rule and things would get a bit more crazy. Everything from tactical chunders, embarrassing flirtations with a housemate’s girlfriend, throwing glass bottles at my friend to get his attention when he couldn’t hear me, and waking up in the middle of the night with an unpleasant conviction that the world was going to end and I was going to die.

  4. (Part 2: Decided to ignore the comments box but point taken for next time!)

    But those times were rare; the good times outweighed the bad, although the bad ones were the ones you laughed about years later. But you had to drink to fit in, sure. On the odd occasion when I stayed sober you would reach a point in the night when the others were just in a place to you, you couldn’t really relate to them.

    But that was half a lifetime ago. Now I hardly ever drink for various reasons. The sound of a party and girls laughing used to be like a siren call to me, now it’s the cue to reach for the ear plugs so I can get some sleep.

    Driving cars and emitting pollution and eating junk food also causes societal problems, but not many would advocate for reducing any of these things by 100%. Everything in moderation.

    I think you should try getting drunk before you diss it and do it soon while you are still young. Do it in the company of a few close friends would seem to be a better choice for you, though. You should try most things once. If you don’t like it then fine but at least see what all the fuss is about. You have to try, to see. You’re rejecting something you haven’t even tried.

    If you don’t like the taste of alcohol, try 1/3 vodka with 2/3 orange juice. Just tastes like orange juice. Dangerous stuff.

    1. I’m not totally against the idea of getting drunk, it’s just not something I’m going to go out of my way to do. If I find myself in that situation then I might go along with it, depending on how I feel. Everyone is so different and it sounds like you found what worked for you, which is great. I have tried vodka with lemonade before and didn’t mind it, so I can see it being ok with orange juice too 🙂

  5. I grew up in a family where having a wine spritzer was quite usual at a special family meal (probably get locked up for that these days). I went through the usual ‘drink a bit too much at times’ at college and still enjoy the odd glass at times. I never got a taste for beer, but do like whisky (one single malt glass will last for ages, just the hint of a taste on the tongue….or just a sniff – must be the chemist in me) and cider. There is definately more problem with drinking than when I was younger from a social point of view – town centre antisocial behaviour. I gather that alcohol is cheaper in relation to income, which is why Scotland wants to bring in minimum unit pricing. There are also definately some people that don’t have a switch off – can’t tell when they have had enough, some are wise enough to realise this and not start. We obtained an off license for our shop last year. We decided to do this because the other shop which did sell alcohol had closed, and the people locally that we knew had a alcoholism problem had died or moved away. I could give up alcohol. But I don’t have to. I like the feeling. And know if I start getting a bit louder and my nose gets numb it’s time to swap to lemonade. I also think there are a shortage of nice non alcoholic social drinks that aren’t too sweet (other than tea 🙂 ).

    1. If people are capable of drinking in moderation then it’s not a problem – as you say, the issue is when they don’t know when to stop. I agree with you about many non alcoholic drinks being too sweet, I can’t stand fizzy drinks and always end up drinking water which is pretty boring. There’s definitely a gap in the market there 😉

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