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University Times: Please Stop Asking Me Why I Don't Drink

There is a situation I find myself in a lot. We are on a night out, whether it’s a bar, pub, club or house party. The exact setting, in fact, doesn’t really matter at all. Neither does the timing.

Be it late afternoon pre-drinks or an early morning taxi ride home, I know I will find myself in this situation regardless. The topic of drinking will arise: I will be kindly offered a drink at a house party, or ordering at a bar, and my answer will only bring more questions.

When my friends are drinking alcohol, I will always ask for a soft drink. This is because I don’t drink. However, admitting that I don’t drink alcohol is frequently interpreted as an open invitation for me to be interrogated.

Though this does not happen every time I tell someone new that I don’t drink, I would hazard a guess that I am asked follow-up questions on my drinking about 80 per cent of the time. Most often the first question is, “why don’t you drink?”. After my explanation that I just do not enjoy it in any way – the taste or its effect – there is usually a follow up, “have you ever drank before?”. While on the surface this line of questioning may seem innocent enough, especially as it normally comes from a friend, I find it invasive and demeaning.

Photo by Micheal Discenza, on Unsplash

Firstly, a person’s decision not to drink may stem from a place of deep trauma. They or someone they love may have had issues with substance misuse. Asking them to explain their trauma or tragedy in a public setting or among people they don’t know can be deeply distressing and embarrassing.

I also take issue with the way that such questions are asked. A lot of people seem intent on asking questions until they are completely satisfied with my answer. This can have to do with the amount of alcohol they have consumed: the drunker they are, the bolder the line of questioning.

But, let’s take a minute to think about how strange this situation is – to be essentially demanding someone’s personal medical history on a night out. Nobody owes anyone, apart from perhaps their healthcare practitioner, an explanation for any of their health decisions. There is a reason that patient-doctor confidentiality exists.

Further, even in the privacy of a doctor’s office, many people still feel nervous divulging such personal information. There is no reason for one to feel pressured into telling someone they have potentially just met intimate details about their past.

How have we come to a point where we assume that everyone must drink or have an ‘excuse’ not to? Why does drinking alcohol have to be the norm? I am not arguing that others should not drink, but rather that we should see the decision to abstain as equally normal, rather than as an opening for rapid-fire questioning.

There seems to be a societal incapability to let people make decisions for themselves without feeling like we are owed an explanation, and this is blatantly exposed in the case of alcohol consumption.

Though asking a friend why they don’t drink may seem natural, I urge you to think for a moment about how you would feel being questioned about any decision you have made regarding your health, be it mental or physical.

In addition, consider where you are asking this question. Are there people around who your friend doesn’t know very well? Would you like being quizzed about your health in front of people you barely know?

If either of these scenarios makes you uncomfortable then I implore you to carefully consider how you react next time someone tells you that they don’t drink. Instead of questioning them, it might be worth asking yourself why this is such a shock to you in the first place.

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