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.
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!