21 Tips For People Who Don’t Drink

1. It’s okay to drink.

2. It’s okay not to drink.

3. Know why you’re saying no. My sophomore year, I had an existential alcohol crisis. I was invited to a New Year’s party with good friends (who were also seasoned drinkers) and for the first time in my life I seriously considered drinking. Not just drinking, though. I arranged a pre-drinking drinking training with my best friend from home. She would obtain the drinks, I would drink them, and then I would wait. For what? Who knows? But I would drink and then I would be ready. (I may have been a novice drinker but I was an advanced-level over-thinker.) Somewhere in the middle of the planning, my best friend began asking me questions, specifically Why? Why now? Why not before? That was when I sat down and started contemplating the answer to these questions. In the end, I figured out why I don’t drink, and at the time I found the reason compelling enough to stop my pre-drinking drinking training in the planning phase. Since then, knowing the answer to this question has made a world of difference (both to me and to that one guy who asks me why I don’t drink every time I go out).

4. “Because I don’t want to” is a perfectly fine reason.

5. …but you might want to come up with a few clever jokes and anecdotes to excuse your sobriety (just in case). There will always be that one guy (or girl) who just can’t take no for an answer. He will appear out of nowhere and drill you about your drinking habits. He might even accuse you of going to parties for the sole sake of laughing at your drunk friends. Try leading him away from the trail with a clever pun about why you’re not drinking and slip away while he laughs at you. If at first you don’t succeed, don’t be discouraged. Your confidence and humor will eventually wear him down and soon enough he’ll get bored and move on to pursuits more suited to his talents, such as beer pong in the basement. Keep saying no, and if all else fails, feel free to employ the buddy system (See #14).

6. Learn about alcohol. Learn what limits look like and the difference between being buzzed and being drunk. Learn what’s in one Four Loko and how many shots your best friend can handle before he starts making out with everything that moves. Learn what a shot looks like in a plastic red cup (and learn what ten shots look like in the same cup). Learn how to be a safe sober-cab and how to care for people who pass out. Knowledge is power, and that’s a valuable thing to have in situations where you might feel vulnerable otherwise.

7. Always bring a bottle of something to a party. If you want to avoid talking about it all together, bring a bottle of Coke and keep it in your hands while you socialize. People are likely to assume you’re already covered and won’t bother offering you drinks. If someone asks what you’re having, you can decide if you want to spill the beans or pretend the pop’s loaded.

8. Find friends who don’t drink. Fellow non-drinkers exist, and they are valuable. Indeed, they can be your commiserating comrades, your double Debbie downers… but they are also your shining beacons of hope! They remind you that you’re not a sad, lonely swamp-creature who doesn’t know how to have a good time because you’ve been living under a rock amongst the alligators and the warty toads your whole life. Seek out the people who will help you discover that you are a human, damn it, and you can do The Sprinkler better than anybody else on that dance floor!

9. Find friends who do drink. They’re just as valuable as the ones who don’t.

10. Learn how to stay in without hating yourself. One of my most traumatic college experiences happened late one Saturday night at home in my dorm room. I was opening my window to let in some fresh air when I heard the unmistakable voices of several of my best friends on the sidewalk below. They were going to a party. Without me. Laughing. Loudly. I had plenty of time that night to stew in the bitter juices of my jealous dejection, trying to get to the bottom of what I thought was surely a deliberate exclusion. Ultimately, though, it wasn’t my friends who decided that my night was going to suck (they didn’t even know!): it was me. Do yourself a favor when you’re staying in and decide for yourself early on that no matter what, you are going to have a good night — not a lonely night, and not a mediocre night, but a genuinely fulfilling and all-around good night.

11. However, even if you do manage to have an awesome night alone, it’s probably wise to avoid the morning-after brunch. Your friends will have funny stories (that are only actually funny if you were there to see them). They may not understand exactly why you weren’t with them or what was so great about what you thought was a genuinely fulfilling and all-around good night. Sometimes it’s best to simply stay away from the morning after when the friends you heard under your window are out devouring mass quantities of fried foods and coffee. Instead, wake up early and go for a run on the treadmill, or stay in bed even later than they did and bask in a long, luxurious sleep (sans the headache). You’ll be happier for it later.

12. If you want to go out, go out! It’s easy to say “I can’t go to parties because I don’t drink.” But it’s also stupid. Since when is drinking a prerequisite to having a party? Or dancing? I’m pretty sure when I turned ten my mom didn’t say, “Julia, you can’t dance at your birthday party if you don’t have a shot with me first.” It wasn’t a prereq then and it isn’t a prereq now. Don’t let this one little thing stop you from flying your freak flag on a Friday night.

13. If you want to stay in, stay in… but say yes sometimes when you want to say no. For some people (like me), knowing that alcohol will be at a social gathering is a trigger for anxiety. However, having exposure to safe and comfortable settings that include alcohol oftentimes results in feeling better about it, better about friends who drink, and more able to say yes to a night out next time. It’s healthy to challenge your comfort zones.

14. Use the buddy system. When I go to parties, I always bring a friend who will agree to stay sober with me, even if just for that night. It’s easy to feel like an island out there, so I always welcome company. I will say that after three years of trial-and-error with the buddy system, I’ve learned to avoid first years who have never been offered a drink before and drinkers with no concrete motivation for staying sober.

15. Be honest with your buddy. I feel like a hypocrite just having this on the list. How many times have I actually been able to say no when asked “Do you mind if I just…?” Zero. Whenever that happened, one drink always seemed to turn into five, and I always felt ditched. So trust me: honesty is the best policy (as with most things) and saves everyone at least a little bit of heartache.

16. Remember that you’re not alone. Whether it’s because they’re fellow non-drinkers, or because they have to wake up for work at 6 a.m., there will be people at parties who are not drinking. Just. Like. You.

17. So don’t be a martyr. This is simple. Don’t pass judgment on your friends for drinking, and don’t pretend you’re a saint for choosing not to. Trust me: no matter how strong you feel in the face of peer pressure or how good you feel for not lying to your mother, nobody else actually wants to hear about it. When you talk yourself up or others down, you’re making the rest of us non-drinkers look bad, so if you can avoid it (which you can, I assure you), don’t do it.

18. Alcohol does not change your core. Adding alcohol to a person’s system does not change who they are. Your good friends who love you when they’re sober will love you just as much when they’re buzzed, smashed, or blackout drunk.

19. This choice does not define you. Don’t let anyone tell you or make you believe that it does.

20. Be persistent. It’s easy to feel like you’re the only person on the planet who isn’t drinking, and it’s easy to get knocked down both by particularly persuasive peer pressure and by friends who just think they’re being polite. However, as you keep going out and you keep saying no and you keep having fun without the drinks, eventually people will stop asking, and that will feel awesome.

21. Drink when you’re ready. I’m turning 21 in a week, and I’m excited. After several years of saying no thanks (and, I might add, with no regrets), I’m going to have my very first drink. There’s plenty of anxiety that comes with this occasion for me. I’m full of questions indicative of my inexperience and personal discomfort with the topic. Are my friends going to suddenly hate me for apparently changing my mind about alcohol? Will my first drink trigger some little switch in my brain I didn’t know about? Is my head going to explode? Will I become an insta-alcoholic? Will God strike me down when I — NO. Everything is going to be fine. We drink when we’re ready to drink, whether it’s early, late, or never, and that’s not just fine: it’s fantastic. TC mark

image – US National Archives


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  • http://twitter.com/Artaud Christopher Holloway (@Artaud)

    There’s a mistake in there. Shouldn’t point 2 be “It’s okay to drink”. Ohh, and that should also be the end of the article.

    • Veronica


    • Grizzle

      Correct…. what a lame article

  • Elijah

    Drinking is overrated. No?

    • Mary


  • http://www.facebook.com/JaimieEliseEubanks Jaimie Elise

    Re: #5. I don’t drink. I used to, but now it just makes me sooooo sick. When I go out, I like to say, “No thank you,” then quietly point to my belly and whisper, “with child.” Nobody else finds it quite as funny as I do. I’m going to keep saying it.

    • Sam

      I laughed.

    • http://twitter.com/marniemacdonald marnie macdonald (@marniemacdonald)

      also laughed

  • LP

    Reasonable advice. A little bummed to find out at the end that the author is just waiting until she can drink legally, I thought it was about more of a life choice. As someone well over 21, it can be a little tough sometimes to turn down booze when it seems like all your social interactions are based around it.

  • C.

    I’m not judging your decisions in any way, but am I right in assuming (from the final point at least) that you’re waiting until the arbitrary age of 21 because that’s simply the legal age of consumption in the US? Or do you happen to coincidentally be “ready” at this point in time? I respect your principles, but do they lie in the aversion of intoxicants or just obeying “the law”? I guess it’s none of my business. Sound advice.

  • Roger

    as someone who has made it 22 years with extremely rare drinking (i drink maybe once a year and finish about 1/10th of the drink) i found this article quite great. but whatever you do, as your 21st birthday shot, do not let your friend give you 151. it will end very very poorly.

    • Emily

      i’d go so far as to advise you to stay away from shots entirely. They don’t always end poorly but, if it’s your first time drinking, they almost certainly will. Especially of the tequila variety.

  • truther

    Now just replace “drink” with “have sex”….oh wait its TC

    • Veronica

      *sad chuckles* I would support that article.

  • http://www.itmakesmestronger.com/2012/07/21-tips-for-people-who-don%e2%80%99t-drink/ Only L<3Ve @ ItMakesMeStronger.com

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  • http://twitter.com/marniemacdonald marnie macdonald (@marniemacdonald)

    Good article – also relevant for the ex-drinkers and occasional drinkers among us :)

  • http://joeswanbergcompleteme.it MUMBLECORE IS BETTER THAN JEAN RENOIR

    Who are these people who are SO AFRAID of booze that they don’t take their first sip till their 21st birthday? Or, maybe, ever? And I know it’s almost all girls. Is this what chicks are being taught in high school now? That if you sniff the cork of a Bartles & Jaymes Wine Cooler you will fall headlong into an abyss of date-raping Winklevii for all of eternity?

    No, obviously not, because date-raping Winklevii no doubt sounds good to those teetotaling weenies. As a great seventies bumpersticker once said: TO ALL THE VIRGINS IN THE WORLD…THANKS FOR NOTHING!!!

  • http://thoughtcatalog.com/author/jenna-coy/ Jenna Coy

    You are precious! I wish this had been written when I was in college. I knew I didn’t want to drink (and I didn’t), but I hated that about myself… I was so embarrassed. Now I see how silly that was. You are wise beyond your years! Any PS- even though you’ll be 21, you still don’t have to drink if you don’t want to. You’ll still be pretty rad I bet!

  • E

    Are you addicted to mayonnaise?

    • megan

      I love you.

  • Danielle

    This article is perfect – I didn’t have my first drink until my 21st birthday. It’s a pretty amazing accomplishment and something to be proud of. As the daughter of an alcoholic mother, I went back and forth deciding if I should pick up a drink or not. In the end, I decided I am not my mom and I trust myself enough to make sound decisions involving alcohol. I wouldn’t change anything about all those years of not drinking, but I gotta say, drinking is a lot of fun, too.

    I quickly figured out my limit, what drinks I liked and didn’t, and learned that I basically hate being drunk. I like a little buzz, but that’s it. I still need to be in the right frame of mind at all times. Don’t let anyone fool you about how they’ve been drinking for years and still don’t know their limits– if you make a conscious effort to learn it, you will. I definitely enjoy my sober sally nights and can honestly say still have fun at parties not drinking, which is reassuring.

    Congrats and have a blast on your 21st!

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  • K

    This was a great article. Coming from someone who did not drink throuout college, I really related to many of the points made (anxiety about going to an event with alcohol, feeling excluded, feeling as though you “should” be going out). Wish I had this article while I was in school – definitely would have helped. Thank you for the insights and I hope someone who is in the place now that I was a few years ago will stumble upon this.

  • AS

    thanks for this article. I’m about to start my first year of college and am feeling a lot of anxiety as I don’t plan on drinking. It’s good to know there are others like me out there.

  • just a thought!

    i had a friend who didn’t start drinking until he was 21, and he is the sloppiest, worst kind of drunk i have ever encountered in my entire life. he pisses himself, gets violent, will sleep with everything and anything while intoxicated, has gotten a drunk in public, has hit a girl, among so many other things. although this surely can be written off as he’s a terrible person (he actually is a some-what decent guy sober) a lot of the people who have known him have chalked up the reason behind this being that while all of us had started drinking at say 15-17, went through all the trial and errors, he on the other hand, is kind of like a fish out of water. obviously an extreme case of this type of thing, but hey, be careful, girlfriend, just sayin’. anyway props, not drinking is super difficult.

  • http://modjadjimashatola.wordpress.com modjadjimashatola

    I tried the whole drinking thing and found out its just not for me, the morning after is nothing to brag about. I don’t my friends drinking though.

  • http://crapodelic.blogspot.com Naomi

    The last time I drank, I vomited in the cab & paid $100 for the whole vomit thing. Also, had the hangover from hell the next morning and could not get out of bed until 5pm.

    So it’s alright to drink. Just do it moderately.

  • http://lessonsfrommyearlytwenties.tumblr.com Alexandra

    The reason I had to cut down on drinking: hangovers. You think people who are a bit older are more responsible than you, but you know why that is? They get hangovers. And you know what? It’s way easier to manage your life and get shit done when you don’t drink as much. Also, nothing beats waking up on a Saturday morning without a hangover. Of course, I also believe wine is from the gods. It’s all about balance. But don’t ever let anyone make you feel bad about how you treat your body.

  • http://brutereason.net/2012/08/07/occasional-link-roundup/ Occasional Link Roundup | Brute Reason

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  • http://theconsultinggallifreyansblog.wordpress.com theconsultinggallifreyan

    Reblogged this on The first Consulting Gallifreyan of the Wastelands and commented:
    A really very good set of advice for those who don’t drink or those who have met new people who don’t drink.

    I don’t and never have drank. Even though I have clear reasons in my mind, it is still a very daunting thing to have to go to university as I am and try and hold back the whole drinking ‘scene’.

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