No thanks, I don’t drink: Geraldine Walsh wonders why so many people struggle with her decision

Geraldine Walsh doesn’t like the taste, or the aftermath of one too many glasses of alcohol. So why, she wonders, do so many people struggle with her decision not to drink?

I’ve spent the best part of adulthood avoiding a social life that has never suited me. Towards my latter days in college, I circumvented the student bar considering the constant badgering to “just have one” wore very thin, very quickly. 

Even at 20, I knew the student bar was not where an introverted, soda drinker would feel comfortable.

I’m not a pioneer, a teetotaller, a recovering alcoholic, or no fun as some have told me. I simply don’t enjoy alcohol. I neither like the taste nor the feeling that one glass too many gives me. 

Being a non-drinker amongst a wall of drinkers is less than agreeable as the alcoholic effects morph the attitudes and behaviours of those I am supposed to be enjoying a night out with.

If you don’t like it, don’t do it right? So, I made the choice and don’t drink. But it seems my rejection of an alcoholic beverage does not appeal to those I socialise with. Despite them knowing I will never favour a glass of wine, they always insist I have one. 

The obligatory, “No thanks,” comes forth but it’s almost as though they are on a mission to see me with glass in hand or worse, drunk.

I asked Dr Sally Adams, Assistant Professor of Psychology, University of Bath, if there is a prejudice against non drinkers. 

She says, “There is a small body of research to suggest that non-drinkers may be viewed as ‘unsociable’ or ‘boring’, particularly in groups where excessive drinking is viewed as a ‘normal’ experience. However, most of this work seems to focus on young people. It would be helpful to understand how abstaining from alcohol is viewed by older adults, especially as this is an at risk group for heavy and harmful alcohol use.”

I’m somewhere in between being no longer a college student in my twenties but also not an older adult with a history of alcohol use. Yet, I find myself defending my choice far more often than I should.

Not bothering with alcohol has left me in many uncomfortable and frustrating situations with friends, colleagues and acquaintances who can’t seem to understand why I don’t drink.

 

At times it seems as though my failure to drink is a knock against them. This is hardly the case but the more they insist I drink, the less likely I will want to socialise with them.

My decision to join a social situation or a work event is often driven by the location and the possibility of excessive drinking. I choose to avoid pubs in the evenings, have left weddings earlier than others and find work functions tedious at the best of times but when alcohol is involved, I make my excuses and leave. 

I realise this somewhat alienates me in the land of the drink and has possibly played a part in my social anxiety.

Dr Adams says, “There is some evidence to show negative health outcomes exist in abstainers, the so called ‘abstainer effect’, including psychological distress, anxiety and depression.

“It is proposed that abstainers may be less socially integrated, less extraverted and report lower levels of social support compared with moderate drinkers. These are factors that are positively related to mental health. However, more research is required in this field.”

Considering the plight of the non-drinker in Ireland can be tedious in the local, the nightclub or even at a friends’ dinner party, I have found shunning certain social occasions far more easier.

“You have to have a drink,” a friend recently impressed on me at a house party I had desperately tried to avoid. “It’s my birthday,” she unsuccessfully argued when I shook my head.

No, in actual fact I don’t, and by the looks of it you’re drinking enough for both of us, I wanted to retaliate with. 

Instead, I politely smiled and said, “Ah, no, you’re grand. I’ll stick to this,” raising my lipstick stained glass of coke. 

“Someone get her a vodka,” the birthday girl shouted, laughing at my 0% alcohol. “She needs to loosen up. Go on just have the one,” she says again.

I have never allowed myself be led by peer pressure despite our frequency of alcohol consumption being linked to our social circle. The fact that my husband also doesn’t drink and feels as explicitly uncomfortable around alcohol as I do, may explain this one.

As Dr Adams says, “Health psychology models recognise the importance of social norms and peers in shaping our health behaviours. Therefore, who we socialise with can determine our drinking patterns.”

I would have imagined that in 2018 the attitude to those of us who would rather have a cranberry juice over a beer or Bloody Mary, would have changed.

But 15 years after I last left the student bar, I’m still treated with unequivocal confusion, as though the words that come out of my mouth are garbled or sound more like Aramaic than simply, “Thanks, but I’ll stick to water.”

And yet more people than ever seem to be giving up or limiting how much alcohol they consume. Perhaps the attitude is generational but not the generation I find myself in.

Dr Adams says, “It is not yet clear what factors are driving the recent increase in non-drinking or drinking in moderation. 

"It will be very important for research to examine these factors and to monitor drinking trends to see if this pattern continues.”


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