I’ve been sober for about 2.5 years and I still find the whole experience of telling someone I don’t drink incredibly awkward. It usually goes something like this:
Them: Do you want a beer or a glass of wine?
Me: No thanks.
Them: You sure?
Me: Yeah, I don’t drink.
Record scratch. All eyes on me. Look of sheer mortification and confusion, followed by a long pause that makes me wonder if I’m meant to elaborate or not.
Alcohol is the only drug (and yes it is a drug) that people look at you strangely for not using.
Could you imagine the same reaction from people if I said I don’t do coke or smoke cigarettes? And yet when someone violates this one cultural norm it is seen as such an oddity that it can temporarily suck the life out of the room and make things weird.
I suggest we stop doing that to each other.
For the record, I don’t think everyone should stop drinking alcohol. It’s been around for thousands of years. Who am I to begrudge mankind its small pleasures?
But here’s the thing that does need to change — stop making sobriety weird.
Sobriety is Trending
People choose sobriety for a variety of reasons: fitness goals, religion, being broke, and the big, scary recovery from alcohol addiction.
Slowly, but surely, the culture surrounding alcohol is starting to shift which bodes well for me and my fellow teetotalers.
A recent study conducted by University College London found that “the proportion of 16- to 24-year-olds who do not drink alcohol had increased from 18% in 2005 to 29% in 2015.”
Even among those who still drink, the amount of consumption is decreasing. The same study cites that in 2005, 43% of young people reported drinking above the recommended limits. That number fell to 28% by 2015.
This trend extends to university campuses where 1 in 5 students in the UK reports abstaining from alcohol completely. It’s important not to let that overshadow the fact that the rest of the students (79%) still believe that getting drunk is part of college life, but I digress.
It’s not just the young folks, either. Alcohol consumption worldwide has fallen by 5% since 2000 and with so many young people opting out of booze, that number will only continue to decrease.
Our Collective Drinking Problem
Honestly, human beings aren’t very good at moderating their alcohol intake. There are 88,000 alcohol-related deaths in the US every year. It’s third on the list of preventable deaths. Worldwide, 3 million people die every year from harmful alcohol consumption. That accounts for a little over 5% of all deaths.
I haven’t even touched on the multitude of chronic diseases associated with excessive alcohol consumption or the negative economic impact it has on individuals and societies writ large. (Or the fact that, after a while, it makes you look old and terrible.)
Alcohol is not a harmless substance and far too many of us don’t know how to be responsible with it. One in six US adults binge drink at least four times per month. I used to do it every single day.
These stats and numbers are not about me trying to convince you to quit drinking (I’m not), but to highlight the fact that sobriety is actually a pretty good life choice to make.
Oh, you don’t lose half of your Sundays to a crippling hangover or your waistline to the 1,000+ liquid calories you consumed last night? What’s wrong with YOU?
See how silly that sounds?
And yet, that’s how sobriety is seen among a lot of people for whom hangovers and beer bellies are just par for the course.
Changing How We View Alcohol and Sobriety
As that trend continues, my hope is to see alcohol go the way of cigarettes (of which I was also an avid consumer).
The same way we celebrate and high-five a person for quitting smoking, we should be equally enthusiastic towards people who decide to stop drinking. The fact that sobriety is awkward or weird for some people who do drink says more about their relationship with alcohol than anything else.
When we tell someone we don’t drink, I suspect it makes them either question their own drinking or feel somehow judged at that moment for having a rum and coke in hand. That is not the sober person’s problem (or intent).
If nothing else, I want to encourage more sober people to stand proudly in their sobriety.
We need to take back the power in those awkward moments when we tell someone we don’t drink. If it’s weird for them, let it be their problem.
For us, it’s completely normal and the more people see that the more we can chip away at the expectation that everyone at a party has to get wasted.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to avoid dealing with hangovers, health problems, and a hemorrhaging bank account. The more we can embrace that boldly and without apology, the more sobriety will be seen as a perfectly normal choice.