Someone Choosing Not to Drink Is Not an Attack

Published on 1/17/2021

I’ll start this with a confession:

I was that person. The one who would call you lame for not drinking or encourage you to drink “just one beer”. I am not proud of it; in fact, I feel ashamed to think about it. Choosing not to drink always felt like an attack on me and sent me into a defensive mode that made me someone I don’t like to think about.

I’m not writing this as someone who is perfect, but rather someone who has reflected on this behaviour and aims to do better. I’m in week two of Sober January, and it has given me a lot to think about. I don’t expect a month without alcohol to fix my liver or cholesterol magically, but rather to provide me with a reset to my relationship with alcohol, one that I was no longer comfortable with.

I associated social situations to drinking and getting drunk; it seemed like a prerequisite that even now makes me question if I should break Sober January. I couldn’t imagine facing a social situation without alcohol, which made me feel attacked when someone else could.

But we’re living in a time of enormous self-growth, and part of that needs to be removing this outdated view. We all know alcohol is terrible for you, so why do we keep each other trapped in its reach? Let’s normalise someone choosing not to drink, and let’s do it today.

Reasons to not drink

There are countless reasons to not drink on a night out. Firstly, they may never drink, which is a healthy lifestyle choice and one that should certainly be applauded. Sadly, it is difficult not to drink, given that our society places so much importance on alcohol. Parties, dinners and celebrations revolve around alcohol. A nice bottle of wine, a toast, a bottle of champagne to be popped. We orientate both our happiness and sadness around drinking alcohol.

If the individual usually drinks alcohol but chooses not to tonight, there are still many reasons for this. They could have an early start tomorrow or need their full focus. They could be ill, sleep-deprived or nursing a hangover. My point is not to list the many, many reasons that someone may say nay to the margarita, but rather highlight that none of these reasons involves you. You are not the cause of them not drinking, and yet it quickly feels as such. It feels like a direct attack when really it is so removed from you.

It’s not about you

Tell yourself that, time and time again. It is not about you. Not everything is about you. This can feel like a saddening truth but try not to take it as such, instead consider it to be liberating. For if not everything is about you, then your behaviour does not need to be controlled or feared, you are free to act as you see best as you’re not the centre of your universe. Not everything is about you, and so you don’t owe people everything you have to give. Do you get my drift?

Unfortunately, we struggle to realise this when someone chooses not to drink. Instead, we retreat into defence mode. We may goad them into drinking, try to convince them, try to guilt them into it. Something along the lines of “But it’s my birthday!” or “Just one glass”.

Why? Why do we insist on forcing them to consume alcohol? Is it so that we don’t drink alone or feel attacked in our choices? Maybe it’s just to prove that they’re as weak as we feel, that they need alcohol as much as we do.

We question their actions, needing a reason to soothe our egos. Sometimes there isn’t a reason; sometimes they just don’t want to drink. And if that bothers you, then that isn’t about them, it’s about you.

Why does this make you feel attacked?

Instead of interrogating them for the reason of not drinking that evening, turn the interrogation back onto yourself. Search for insight in your negativity. Often when something bothers you, it says far more about you than it does them. There’s a reason why this is triggering you, and exploring it may yield interesting insights about your inner workings.

I used to resent when someone wasn’t drinking as I felt like they were showing off their self-constraint. I relied on alcohol to feel comfortable in social situations and ease my anxiety, and the fact that they didn’t would bother me. Instead of working through my unease and insecurity, I would project it onto them. Consider them boring or not fun, rather than seeing them as inspiration.

When you feel bothered about something, such as someone choosing not to drink, stop and consider why that is. Why would you feel better if they drank as well?

Ways to respond instead

When someone is choosing not to drink, you can ask if there is a reason. If there is, take an interest in it. What do they have coming up in their life? Have they been having those health issues for a while? Use this as an opportunity to get to know them better.

Then if you still feel uneasy, turn it into an opportunity to get to know yourself better and reflect the question back to yourself. Why am I bothered by this? What do I need to work through to stop letting this affect me?

If you’re too uncomfortable being the only one drinking, then don’t drink as well. It won’t seem like you’re copying them or giving in, but rather that you’re adjusting to your company. A night without alcohol is something our bodies and minds will be thankful for, so this could be the perfect opportunity. Be grateful to your sober companion for this opportunity.

If you still want a glass of wine or beer, go for it! Order a glass and enjoy it. Cheers with their soda if you wish to - but not with a glass of water, as that is actually bad luck! Use this as a chance to feel comfortable in your decisions. Now is the time to grow confident in our choices, to eat out alone or drink a glass of wine when they aren’t. If you’ve had a tough week and feel like a beer, then enjoy your beer. Stop your insecurity in its tracks and refuse to reflect your negativity onto your companion.

You don’t know if this choice was easy for them. You have no idea what has been going on with them. You owe them support in their choices, just like you would want in return. Don’t be the person that nags them into having a beer or getting drunk when they know it isn’t right; that person isn’t the one you turn to when you need someone. Prove that you’re more than a good time or party friend by enjoying their company sober.

It’s a natural reaction in a society that pushes alcohol at us and normalises it, but that’s why this is the time to fight that instinct and recognise your role in it. Be better than the alcohol pusher; they belong at a college frat party and barely there. Be a friend to them and yourself, and recognise that someone choosing not to drink is not an attack on you.



Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.

Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.

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