I get it -- someone who chooses NOT to drink is something of a curiosity, especially when "let's grab a drink" is almost interchangeable with "hey, how are you?" I’m sober because I’ve had issues in my past, but people make the choice not to drink for a variety of reasons -- some of which are none of your beeswax. Over the years, I’ve had people ask some pretty frustrating or ignorant questions about why I'm not drinking. I understand the impulse to ask, but some of the questions can be hurtful, while others just get repetitive. I don’t get mad when people ask; they just don’t know any better. Read on to find out 10 things you should resist saying to someone who isn't drinking.
1. "Are you an alcoholic?"
Just no. Maybe I am, but if I don’t offer that information voluntarily, then it probably isn’t your business. Many people who choose not to drink do so because they want to lead a healthier life or because their body doesn’t react well to alcohol. Just because someone doesn't drink doesn't meant they're a full-blown alcoholic. I'm very open about my choice to be sober, but other people prefer not to explain their reasons. Bottom line, it's a personal choice and unless someone tells you why, it's a good bet that person wants to remain private about it.
2. "How long are you doing ‘this sober thing’?"
First things first: I AM an alcoholic and "this sober thing" is my life. It’s not a phase and there isn’t a time limit on it. I didn’t set out to make it to one year sober then start drinking again. No matter how long an alcoholic stops drinking, they'll probably resort to their old ways once they pick up a drink. I stopped drinking because I didn’t want to live my life the way I had been, and if I start drinking again, I’ll probably return to that life pretty quickly. So the short answer to this question is that I'm doing it as long as I can because life is better this way.
3. "So you’re never drinking again?"
This is probably the most common question I (and probably any other alcoholic) get asked. To me, the answer is pretty obvious: I have no idea. Alcoholics can't predict the future. If I drink again, I drink again. I don’t want it to happen, but if it does, I'm equipped with the tools to deal with it. Of course, I don’t plan on picking up a drink in the future, but I also can’t live my life worrying “what if?” Instead, I can focus on today. The short answer: "I don’t know."
4. "But don’t you miss it?"
Of course I miss drinking. And if you're asking someone this while holding a drink in your hand, well, that's not helpful. But even though I do miss drinking, it doesn’t consume my days. I don’t think about drinking 24/7. Some days it doesn’t even cross my mind. Still, I sometimes miss how alcohol could spark spontaneous nights out and making new friends without feeling self-conscious. What I don’t miss are endless apologies, unexplained injuries and hangovers. I would take missing the former over the latter any day; you can still be spontaneous and make friends without alcohol. You just have to go about it a little bit differently.
5. "How do you have fun?"
People equate fun with alcohol. I used to as well. I didn’t think I would ever have fun again when I stopped drinking, but the truth is that I probably have more fun now that I’m sober — it’s entertaining to go out and watch other people drink. This way, I don’t have to worry about doing or saying something that I’ll regret the next day. It did take a while, but I eventually learned how to loosen up and feel comfortable in my skin without alcohol. I know that people like me for me and have fun with me because of the person I really am, not the person that alcohol made me.
6. "Are you pregnant?"
Here's a pro tip: Just because a woman isn't drinking doesn't mean she's pregnant. And again, the answer to this question probably isn't your business if she isn't sharing the news herself. Some women prefer to keep their pregnancies under wraps until they feel comfortable telling people, so someone asking this directly can be a little unsettling and a lot awkward. I’d probably wonder the same thing if there was a woman in my life who usually drinks and suddenly isn't, but for all parties concerned, it’s best to stay away from this question, in ANY situation.
7. "Can’t you just have one?"
No, I can’t. I could never "just have one." That's usually the issue when it comes to alcohol and alcoholics. I didn’t drink casually. I always drank with the intention of getting drunk, and that would probably be the case today if I were to have "just one." One would turn into eight. Then I’d wake up the next morning remembering almost nothing of the night before, reminding me why I stopped drinking in the first place. I’ll never understand why some people care if I have a drink or not or why they try to convince me to have “just one.” Just trust me when I say that you don’t want me to have one, because it won’t be just one.
8. "So should I not drink around you?"
I understand and appreciate the concern behind this question. But if we’re at a bar or restaurant and people are drinking, you can assume I’m OK with it. I wouldn’t put myself in a position to be around alcohol if I didn’t feel like I was OK with being there. Most alcoholics will have some sort of grasp on what they can and can’t handle, especially those who have a few years of sobriety under their belts. Asking once is understandable, but don’t keep asking throughout the night — then it just gets annoying.
Related: 11 Words to Stop Saying Right Now
9. "So you’re driving, right?"
Most of the time I don’t mind being the designated driver, but it's annoying when people assume that I’m driving because I’m not drinking. The truth is that without alcohol it’s hard to stay up past 11 p.m. Staying out until the bars close and driving drunk people home just doesn’t sound as appealing as my bed and Netflix. Still, if you ask me to drive in advance and I know I’ll be out late, it doesn’t bother me. Just have the courtesy to ask and not assume.
10. "You must think we look like idiots."
Nope. I think you look like responsible people who know how to handle alcohol, like the majority of people in the world. You’d know if I thought you looked like an idiot because I probably wouldn’t stick around to watch that particular trainwreck unfold. In sobriety, my tolerance for really drunk people has decreased by a lot, so I just remove myself from situations like that. Just know that your drinking is not a big deal to me. I don’t think you look like an idiot, I’m not judging you and I don’t think I’m better than you because I’m sober. So don’t worry and have a good time!
What Do YOU Think?
Have you ever asked someone these questions? Or been asked these questions? Are there questions or comments that you think we should add to the list? Leave a comment below and let us know.
Beth Leipholtz is a Minnesotan girl, navigating sobriety in her early 20s. She writes often about an array of topics. She graduated from the College of Saint Benedict with a degree in Communication and is currently figuring out that awkward transition from college to the real world.