Helping Friends and Family Understand Why You Don’t Drink

Helping Friends and Family Understand Why You Don’t Drink

Maybe you’ve always been the life of the party, the one who brings the good bottle of wine or that member of the family who always has just a little too much to drink. Whether your drinking is problematic or not, the people around you are used to you partaking along with them and they even expect it.

Thus, when you decide to give up drinking—either permanently or as a short-term experiment or break—you’re likely to encounter not only a lot of questions, but even challenge and opposition. As much as we all talk about trying to be healthier, when we actually try to implement some of the changes, especially around food and alcohol, we may find that our friends and families are not as supportive as we would have hoped.

So you arrive at the party, the after-work happy hour or the family dinner, and instead of ordering a cocktail or serving up a glass of wine, you opt for a club soda or a cup of coffee. Societal, peer and family pressure to drink can be pretty intense, and if you’ve always been known as the one who brings the fun, people are going to wonder what’s up.

Why There’s Opposition

Whether we’re alcoholics or not, going sober for life —or for any period of time —can rattle our companions. They’re going to wonder if it’s OK to drink around you, if you’re ever going to drink again and why you quit. Consuming or not consuming alcohol, meat or other foods often has an ideological component attached to it, and people are curious about this. People can be quite dogmatic about their food and drink choices, so naturally people will wonder if you expect everyone to follow your lead.

In other cases, when a friend or family member goes sober, it causes everyone else in the group to begin considering their own drinking habits. And, quite simply, many would rather not. It’s more comfortable when everyone is partaking and enjoying themselves and no one is talking about moderation, boundaries or restriction. When someone sees the need to quit drinking or cut back drastically, it holds the mirror up to others. They may not like what they see, and they may not really desire to change either.

What You Can Say and Do

It’s not your duty to explain to the world why you’ve decided to stop drinking, either permanently or for a period of time. It isn’t necessarily anyone else’s business.

Perhaps you were never a full-blown alcoholic, but you could see that your drinking was becoming problematic and the writing was on the wall. Perhaps alcohol was taking an ever more troubling place in your life and attempts to moderate had been unfruitful.

If you aren’t comfortable talking about what you think may have been the beginnings of a drinking problem, you can talk about some of your other reasons for breaking up with booze. It helps to look at these reasons carefully before the fact so that you are aware of why you’re quitting and what improvements you hope to see in your life. Reflecting on these motivations and goals will help if the cravings hit.

Perhaps you want to get in shape and lose some weight, you want to cut back and need some time to reset your system, you want to save money, you’re doing a cleanse or detox with a friend or you’re curious to see what it’s like to be sober for a while. Any of these reasons are valid. And without making your decision about anyone else, you can use some of these reasons in explaining why you’re not drinking

People will be much more likely to accept your decision if you handle it well yourself. That means keeping it about you. People might assume that your decision to go sober means you think alcohol is evil and that all people should quit drinking. Explain that your decision was right for you at the time and that it doesn’t need to have any bearing on anyone else.

Others will feel that if you’re not drinking, they can’t drink either. This is also not true. If your sobriety is so tenuous that being in the presence of alcohol is a threat, then it is your duty to abstain from the event, not to demand that everyone else abstain from drinking. When in the presence of those you know would prefer a cocktail to a club soda, gently assure them that you don’t have a problem with others drinking around you.

Lastly, remember that you are not a martyr and that giving up alcohol is not a punishment. It’s easy to go down the road of self-pity or frustration when the drinks are being passed around, even if sobriety was your own choice. Don’t ruin the event for others or yourself. Simply reflect on the reasons you decided to quit and be grateful that you are experiencing the grace to stay sober just for today.

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