Interpreting Friends Who Don’t Drink Alcohol and What They Mean

You’ve probably been out with a friend or had them over with company and have participated in one of the most basic social interactions when alcohol is involved: you’ve offered them a drink, and your friend responds that they don’t drink. It’s a quick and simple fact, “No thanks, I don’t drink.” But you probably just don’t understand it all, especially if maybe this friend used to drink. The next thing you say here will define what kind of person you will be to that friend: a supporter or a shamer.

As one who used to drink and stopped now, I am amazed and disappointed in how easily society has put a negative connotation somehow around the idea of not drinking. It doesn’t concern us non-drinkers so much when strangers or the bartender looks at us funny as we order a water, but a true friend’s reaction is an important one, which is why you should be careful what you say next.

There were a few factors to why I personally decided to stop drinking. For one, I know it only harms my body and health, so I have chosen to cut it out entirely now. I prioritize my health highly, so I can’t fathom consuming the alcoholic sugar calories anymore. I also have gone through health changes that make it much less enjoyable for me to drink altogether. For your friend who has also stopped drinking, I know they have their own reason too. All my friends love drinking, and so I know it equally confuses them that I don’t, so I figured the least I could do is help de-code these behaviors from your friend that won’t drink.

There are really countless reasons a person would choose not to drink, and it’s no different than the choice people make to cut out other things too; lots of people don’t eat gluten, while others do not consume meat. We have vegetarians, vegans, and pescatarians, and there are lots of other things people choose to cut out of their diet often, from lactose in dairy to caffeine in their coffee. Those people, though, are not as harshly judged as the ones who don’t drink liquor, which is why this needs to be said:

Your friend that doesn’t want to drink has already made the decision, and that does not affect you.

If your friend doesn’t want to drink, that is not a “problem” you have to fix. They are not looking for a different alcoholic beverage, they’re not waiting for you to tell them how it tastes or makes you feel safe to drink it, and they aren’t going to have any less “fun” than you because of it.

When anyone turns down a drink, you really just have to say back, “Do you want some water then or a soda?” It’s all that simple.

Choosing not to drink happens for a lot of reasons, but no matter which it is, understanding and kindness is all they’re looking for. To instead offer them a non-alcoholic alternative, you are immediately showing them that you heard them, and you respect their choice. And trust me, water isn’t “boring” or “lame” to offer a guest either; if we aren’t drinking to get intoxicated, you can assume we would love to drink to hydrate instead!

Now, when your lifelong best friend who was wasted by your side throughout college at all the bars, concerts, and frat parties and for years suddenly says they don’t want that lifestyle anymore, I don’t blame you for feeling perhaps a little affected. You may think you’re losing a drinking buddy or wing man, but don’t start making assumptions and drawing conclusions without hearing the whole story.

You may also fear that this says something about your drinking habits, that your drinking partner is no longer a drinker at all. Do you fear they look down on you for it or judge you now? Their decision not to drink isn’t a reflection of you, and it’s especially not their way of saying they don’t want to hang out with you any more.

The important thing is to not cast negative judgement on them and disrespecting their decision, or you risk alienating them and losing the relationship altogether. Mean jokes, begging them to drink, or telling them they’re lame will tear that friendship apart, but you can ask if they’re open to talk about it to better understand why your friend is making this huge lifestyle change. If they are really your friend, they would love to tell you about it in a judgement-free space!

I love my friends dearly, but the moment they start cracking jokes about being the only sober one there, I immediately just wish I was home and hadn’t gone out to see them in the first place. Sometimes people will offer me other things, like a different beer or wine. I know my friends are just trying to be nice when they offer to make me something special or order a new cocktail for me, but I feel unheard and misunderstood when they do.

We are all human and we’re born to grow and change, evolve. If we drank once before, it doesn’t mean we always have to. We can party and go out without alcohol, and we can have fun without it.

To the friends who have always asked me what non-alcoholic drink I’d like instead, thank you 💕 for your understanding and kindness. I’m always down for a coffee or glass of water!


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