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If someone refuses an alcoholic drink, they don’t need to explain themselves to you. Experts offer tips on how to avoid unwanted questions about sobriety. Photo: Shutterstock

Don’t drink alcohol? What to tell someone who asks why – not that anyone should – and how to avoid unwanted questions

  • It’s none of anyone’s business why a person is not drinking alcohol. They may be a recovering addict, have health problems or be trying to get pregnant
  • They need support, not someone prying, an addiction therapist says. She also has advice for non-drinkers about how to deal with unwanted questions

There are hundreds of reasons why someone chooses not to drink alcohol – but they don’t owe you an explanation.

For many, drinking alcohol is a fun social pastime. For others, it leads to destructive behaviours. Some choose sobriety because of medical conditions. Some don’t like the way alcohol makes them feel. People who are pregnant or trying to conceive may avoid imbibing as well.

Whatever the reasons, none of them are our business, says Trish Caldwell, senior vice-president of clinical services with Recovery Centres of America, which provides addiction treatment services.

“We don’t have to know the reasons why somebody is choosing to engage in a behaviour that they find to be a part of their wellness practices to support them.”

Trish Caldwell, senior vice-president of clinical services with Recovery Centres of America, says people may have private reasons why they aren’t drinking, such as recovery from alcoholism. Photo: Recovery Centers of America

Experts like Caldwell discussed why people should never ask someone about their sobriety – and how to respond if they do.

Why you should never ask why someone isn’t drinking

If someone does ask, they could be forcing that person into a painful conversation they aren’t ready to have, like a struggle with addiction, infertility or other personal reasons.

They could be in recovery or working towards recovery, Caldwell says, or they could be in a “contemplative stage of change”, where they “recognise they’re struggling with something but they’re not sure exactly the problem they feel they have with it”.

And while there’s a growing movement of sober-curious people, one in 10 Americans over the age of 12 have an alcohol use disorder, according to the National Centre for Drug Abuse Statistics.

Pandemic-related stress, isolation driving more to drink

Beyond addiction, if a friend is not drinking alcohol, they may be pregnant or trying to get pregnant, and “ both can be stressful for someone with infertility”, says Betsy Campbell, chief engagement officer for Resolve, a US organisation that helps people struggling to build their family.
“Studies show that an infertility diagnosis is just as stressful as a cancer diagnosis.” she adds.

Infertility is also common.

Someone who isn’t drinking alcohol may be hoping to get pregnant, or may be pregnant already. Photo: Shutterstock

In the US, of heterosexual women aged from 15 to 49 years old with no prior births, about one in five are unable to get pregnant after one year of trying, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention report. About one in four women in this group have difficulty getting pregnant or carrying a pregnancy to term.

How to respond when someone turns down a drink

If someone says “no” to an alcoholic drink, you can simply reply with, “OK. Can I get you something else?”

“That’s literally the response,” says Caldwell.

‘Alcohol-free is a movement’: bars in US, Asia promote no-booze events

Friends and family members shouldn’t push for answers and should let loved ones approach them if they wish to share more about their decision to not drink, whether it’s just for one night or long-term.

Everybody has a story, but “not everybody has a right to know it”, Caldwell says.

How to respond when someone asks why you aren’t drinking

They should never ask why in the first place, but they probably will. “People are asking innocently,” Campbell says, “yet they may not realise that they are being unintentionally hurtful or raising a subject that the person doesn’t want to talk about.”

If questions do arise, here are some examples of what to say:

  • I don’t drink

  • I don’t like the way I feel on it

  • I’m practising wellness

  • I’m the designated driver

  • I have an allergy to alcohol

  • Drinking goes against my religious beliefs

  • I don’t want to

  • I don’t drink any more

  • I’m in recovery

  • I don’t feel like drinking tonight

You don’t need to ask why someone isn’t drinking alcohol. Photo: Shutterstock

How to be inconspicuous when avoiding alcohol

If someone wants to avoid having to answer probing questions about their alcohol consumption, there are ways to abstain from drinking without being obvious. Here are some ideas:

  • Order a club soda with a lime in it.

  • Put water in a cup. Usually people don’t ask what’s in it.

  • Use a foam sleeve to cover a canned soft drink.

  • If attending a party, bring your own drinks. People are less inclined to ask because they saw you come in with them.

Decoy drink or not, it’s up to the individuals asking to be more aware of these situations, and avoid making someone uncomfortable because they feel like they have to give an answer, Caldwell says. “The power is that you don’t.”

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