Two years ago, I was doing an on-air segment about alcohol-use disorder and Dry January. There was a portion of the show where viewers could call in and ask questions. I was surprised that every single question asked had to do with how to best manage a situation when colleagues, friends, or family ask, “Why aren’t you drinking?” 

As hard as it is to comprehend that people are still asking this question, I get it. There is still so much peer pressure when it comes to drinking, and judgement when it comes to sobriety. 

If you are currently feeling anxious about an upcoming event, where you are anticipating being interrogated or shamed for choosing to not drink, here are some quick responses that have worked for me in the past.

  • Drinking no longer served me well. 
    • If they say, “Oh, why?”, you can elaborate with a list of reasons: “It was spiking my anxiety. I prefer life without hangovers. It made me moody. I felt dehydrated all the time. It was messing with my skin. I am happier without it.”
  • I’m on medication right now that doesn’t mix with alcohol. 
    • Perhaps this is true, or maybe it’s a lie. If you are in early sobriety and feel nervous about expanding on why you aren’t sipping wine, then I personally think it’s totally fine to use this response to shut someone up.
  • I’m taking a break from booze / I need a night off. I have to wake up early tomorrow.
    • Sometimes a response like this is easier than suggesting that you are never drinking again, for both you and the nosey individual asking the question. The idea of “forever” can be overwhelming, and we don’t ever need to consider “forever”, we only need to consider the here and now—the today. 
  • I actually prefer non-alcoholic beer. 
    • With all the non-alcoholic choices available now, this is a legitimate response. If they respond with a face that reads “Are you fucking kidding me?”, try saying, “Have you tried it? I genuinely love the taste, and there’s NO HANGOVER. I don’t have time for that anymore. I like my early mornings.”
  • I’m the designated driver. 
    • Again, we are adults, this should be a completely legitimate response. If the person asking the question responds with “NO FUN!” or “Boo!”, just shrug your shoulders and say, “Totally happy to not drink tonight,” and defer to one of the other suggested responses, “Don’t want a hangover,’ or “Have to get up early,” or “Need a night off anyway.”
  • I don’t need booze to have fun.
    • This is a bit of a bitchy response, but I kind of like it because it answers what the person is really asking. “Why aren’t you drinking?” is less about why you don’t have a drink in your hand, and more a suggestion that you are boring, or don’t know how to party. Those of us who’ve been sober for a long time know that this is absolutely not the case. If they keep prodding you with questions or looks, feel free to elaborate with something like, “When I drink, I get obnoxious and don’t have good conversations with anyone. I’ve done enough drunk nights. Been there, done that. I’m good!”
  • I’m an alcoholic / I stopped drinking because I had a drinking problem. 
    • This response will make them feel rightfully awkward. They’ll likely blush or stumble with their words, and possibly apologize. I’ve used this many times in the past, and it ultimately leads to interesting conversation. Usually, the person who is wondering how on earth you are not drinking is someone who has their own issues with drinking. 

It boggles my mind that in 2022, people are still asking this question, but drinking is so pervasive in our culture, that the idea of abstaining is still difficult for many to comprehend. An adequate response should be, “I don’t drink.” But having been drilled by both friends and strangers over the years, I know that it’s not always that easy.

I hope you find a response in the list above that suits you, feels comfy, and alleviates some of the anxiety you may be experiencing.