When They Ask Why You Don’t Drink, Answer Them

If you could be internet famous for over-complicating possible various social and situational outcomes, then I guess I would be famous. Probably. And probably along with a lot of you. I know I am not the only person who deserves a whole sheet of gold stars for being over-analytical.

Have you ever read a headline or title of a story or a post or an anonymous question that goes something like this: “How to respond to people or how to explain why you don’t drink?”

I cannot tell you how many articles and stories I have read surrounding this (non) issue.
What should we say to people when they ask?
Should we have a speech printed out in our lapel pocket like we’re at the Grammy’s?
What IS the right answer here and why do we all care so much?

This is just one of the many hot button issues that I have given way too much power. My early recovery years were definitely plagued with questions like, “What will they think?”, “Will they understand?”, “What if it changes how they see me?” and my brain would turn to mush as it flooded with self-doubt and sleep robbing antigens.

I am all-for utilizing any opportunity presented (in the right context with the right intentions) to pounce on the genuine interest or authentic curiosity of a friend or acquaintance who has a goal of gaining more understanding of me as a person, or of people who have struggled with a substance use disorder. I usually don’t ignore or shy away from an opportunity to educate, raise awareness, have a deep conversation, or chip away at the ole’ stigma we talk so much about.

But I also want to help you understand that it doesn’t really matter what anyone thinks about our responses to the inquiries. There are not any right or wrong answers.

I used to field this line of questioning with having them,  (and only them) in mind. I would put them first. I overlooked the fact that I had choices. I disregarded how I felt, and what I needed. For so long I put their comfort first as I worried about their expectations and their assumptions or concrete ideologies, instead of thoughtfully considering what was good for me. Instead I made it complicated and messy and stressful on my heart and spirit.

Tonight I was sitting in Panera eating dinner with a friend. As we small-talked essential oils, seasonal depression, and gut wrenching anxieties, I casually mentioned to her that no, I don’t take psychoactive substances for anything.
(note: and if you happen to please know that I think that you are brave, amazing, and also it’s none of my business so don’t worry about me asking you to explain your decision).

Watch this:
Me: “I just don’t take prescription psychoactive substances.”
Her: “Oh, okay. Why not?”
Me: “I just don’t. I can’t. We don’t mix well.”
Her: (Blank stare) “So there’s this other oil I want to tell you about too…….”

Wa-la. There you have it. That is how it usually goes.

Listen. I get that when you have a white-collar job, or any job, you worry. Having doubts or feeling uneasy about what to say and how to say it is understandable, especially if can mean losing your job (which for the record, it shouldn’t).

And I understand. Sometimes not knowing how someone will react, or whether or not they are willing or able to understand us more can be terrifying.

But that cannot cause us lengthy periods of unnecessary stress or anxiety. Not anymore.

No longer should you worry or wonder or ponder or replay reaction outcomes in your head. We can’t. Not for our old friend, our new friend, our oldest friend, our family, loved ones, acquaintances, or that one Facebook friend who has a perfect life, or for the vast majority of people who think things like “wino-clock”, “it’s five o’clock somewhere”, “wine yoga”, and  “wine painting”, are cute and funny.

I cannot imagine going up to people in a restaurant bar to check and see why they are drinking, or bursting into a wine painting bridal shower and casually demanding that they tell me why they are drinking, or asking my friend to help me to understand why she is drinking. 

I don’t. I wouldn’t. It’s none of my business, and unless I could foresee an actual problem, I am just not an asshole who thinks I deserve to have answers to my burning questions about the personal decisions made by other adults, who are adulting.

So if you’re an over-thinker (like me) please know that when it comes to this issue, we need to answer for us, not them.

We tend to put too much pressure on ourselves to conform to ridiculous societal norms and expectations. 

I am not saying to avoid this topic altogether, or to disrespect the people who ask, or to throw water in faces, flip tables, flip people off, or scream fuck da’ police from your moving car.

I am just simply saying that you should speak up for yourself by forming a response that fits you. 

Speak for you, not to comfort them.

It is brilliant and liberating and freeing and amazing to confidently respond by revealing how much or how little you want. Reveal it all, reveal nothing, but most of all, just remember that it usually goes over much faster, smoother, and much less intense than we imagine it going.

And if people do reject you or distance themselves from you because of an answer or response that fits you, it’s probably for the best anyway.


  1. Brittany

    Ha! I especially like “I’m retired”, (might have to use that one in the future) It makes it less serious and probably reduces the awkward pauses, lol. Those are all short, sweet, and to the point. I also like that you are willing to share your story too, if it’s the right instance. Good to know I am not the only person who has an arsenal of ready responses if need be, that are still true to you but none that even feel close to being shame or guilt ridden. They are truthful and confident, and I like both. Thanks for commenting!


  2. Brittany

    It doesn’t happen to me often anymore either, but I believe that is related to the people I choose to be around, even the ones who do drink. They don’t care, they don’t ask, I don’t care, it’s wonderful! But I know that there are people out there who do struggle with it for one reason or another, and I know it can be really stressful to try to figure out what to say or how to say it. It can feel like a lot of pressure, and I just want people to know it is all unnecessary and totally do-able. But my experience is like yours, and most of the pressure was self-imposed in my head. Which was my point. If people ask, there’s no need to make a huge thing about it! Thanks for commenting Wendy, good to see ya’ here! 🙂


  3. Wendy Frankton

    It seems to me people don’t even ask or push drinks on me anymore… Even people that don’t know. I think before when I was worried what other people thought, maybe I put off a different vibe that caused them to question me.

  4. Hurrahforcoffee

    My response varies from: “It doesn’t work for me anymore”, to “It makes me feel rubbish, I don’t like it” , from time to time I will throw in “I’m retired” and sometimes I will tell my story but only if i can see the person is strtuggling with their own drinking and if they are coming from a genuine place.

Tell me how you're feeling.

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