Please Don’t Say These Things to Someone Who Doesn’t Drink

Please Don’t Say These Things to Someone Who Doesn’t Drink
Photo: Jacob Lund, Shutterstock

The new year is here, and with it came a big night for drinking. The holidays typically come with a lot of them, from holiday dinners to boozy Secret Santa exchanges to New Years Eve, there are frequent opportunities to gather and make merry — most of them with gallons of alcohol.

It can be a fraught time if you’re sober or trying to limit your alcohol intake. With increased gatherings often comes increased pressure to drink, which, even if meant congenially, can make a non-drinking guest uneasy. But, according to the Washington Post, a full 30% of American adults don’t drink at all. So in the spirit of respecting people’s choices, privacy, and comfort, here are some things not to say when someone declines an adult beverage.

“Why not?”

It’s normal to be curious about people’s life choices, but that doesn’t mean we can question them with impunity — especially at a festive gathering. It’s a highly personal inquiry that’s liable to make a non-drinker feel forced to share personal details they may not be comfortable with. (Or the other crappy alternative: Lie.) It could be for reasons of religion, health, addiction, or other personal reasons. None of which are anyone’s business unless they volunteer to offer them up on their own.

“Are you sure?”

As I often say to my children when they ask me the same thing multiple times hoping for a different answer, “I’ve already answered that question.” If you have to ask if someone is sure, that means they’ve already said “no” — an answer that should be respected.

“Come on, just one!?”

This person may have wrestled and wrangled with the decision to come to this shindig in the first place, knowing there would be alcohol (and people trying to foist it on them) everywhere. At best, this line is annoying public peer pressure; at worst, it could lead to a dangerous relapse for someone in recovery.

“You’re no fun.”

Can you imagine going to a party, minding your business, trying to, you know, have fun, and someone implies you’re boring because you’re not drinking? Steer clear of this line, along with “loosen up” and “you’re missing out.” For all we know, they could have the most interesting background or best conversational skills in the room. Let’s not ruin anyone else’s vibe simply because we can’t handle them not going down a rabbit hole of drinks with us.

“Are you pregnant?”

Rule number one about women’s bodies: Don’t casually ask what’s going on inside women’s bodies. Unless they are a super good friend. But an acquaintance or co-worker? That’s a hard no. Maybe she is, but isn’t ready to make it public yet. Maybe she’s trying, but struggling. Maybe she isn’t and doesn’t ever want to become pregnant. Sorry, how did we get here again? Oh yeah, asking an inappropriate, invasive question because someone refuses a drink. Let’s not.

“Wow. Crazy.”

Hmm…when you think about how much havoc alcohol can wreak on people’s health and personal lives, the crazy thing is how casually we have come to regard its overuse. It’s more acceptable to tell “funny” stories about being blackout drunk than to let a non-drinker simply exist at a social function. The decision not to drink is emphatically not crazy or weird. In fact, it’s often for mental or physical improvement — two reasons that should be commended, not put down.

“Do you mind if I drink?”

While this may be a well-intentioned inquiry, it’s a pretty weird question to ask someone at a social function centered around drinking. Not only does it put more focus on their abstinence, it presupposes that they care about your drinking or are passing judgment on it. It’s kind of like going on a roller coaster and asking the person next to you, “Do you mind if I yell?” They don’t. It’s expected. Go right ahead.

“I could never do that.”

Congratulations? No one is suggesting you should. Not drinking isn’t a competition or moral superiority contest. There’s no need to compare your decision to drink with their decision not to drink.

“Sweet! Can you drive me home?”

Just because someone will be sober for the evening doesn’t mean they want to become the default Uber driver. Let them enjoy the evening without being asked for last-minute favours.

What should you say instead?

Social drinking is so common — even expected — in American culture, it can be surprising when someone chooses not to imbibe. And while we may wonder why, cornering them with judgmental or invasive statements is never appropriate.

Instead, if you’re hosting, be sure to provide a selection of easily accessible non-alcoholic beverages. When someone turns down a cocktail, simply say, “Oh, can I get you something else? Soda or seltzer, maybe?” And include them like you would any other guest at the party.

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