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How To Resist the Pressure to Drink at Parties

By Katie MacBride 08/08/16

“What happens when you drink? You can’t stop?” Questions like these aren't meant to pressure or make me uncomfortable, but they can be tiresome to deal with.

How To Resist Pressure to Drink at Parties
Not a phase.

My boss swung a half-empty bottle of white wine in front of my face like she was trying to hypnotize me with it. “You don’t ever miss this?” she asked. The rest of the staff looked at me awkwardly. Some of them knew that I was sober, most of them were figuring it out now.

“Um, no?” I replied.

She shrugged and put the bottle down. “Well, someone should take the rest of it home.”

We were cleaning up from a big event at work. My boss had only known for a few weeks that I was sober—something I mentioned to her when I had declined a glass of wine at a similar event.

“What happens when you drink?” she had wanted to know. “You can’t stop?” I thought for a moment. When I used to drink I was like a derailed train—I couldn’t stop until I crashed into something. Something about the way she asked the question made me want to pull back from that truth a little bit. “When I drink,” I explained, “I don’t want to stop.”

She nodded. “Well, then it’s good you don’t drink,” she said and I thought that would be the end of that.


Well, it wasn’t, and after 8 years sober, I have come to learn that it’s often not. Regardless of the reason one might abstain from drinking alcohol, some folks will always want to know why.

“But you could have a glass of wine, right?” No.

“You got sober so young—don’t you think it was probably just a phase?” Also no.

“We have some non-alcoholic beer for you.” Non-alcoholic beer still has some alcohol in it, which I am not comfortable drinking. So thank you, but no.

Not all of these queries are meant to pressure or make me uncomfortable. In fact, more often than not, a host is simply trying to be polite. Over the years I’ve been sober, I’ve met a lot of people who take a particular interest in my abstinence. They can, for the most part, be classified in the three following groups:

1. The Hospitable Host 

Unfortunately, our notions of hospitality and booze are so frequently intertwined that it’s easy for a host unfamiliar with non-drinkers to equate a stiff drink in every hand as the sign of a job well done. These well-meaning folks might just need a few gentle—or firm—reminders that you don’t drink as well as reassurance that you’re having a great time. Deflection is a useful tool here. Ask about the recipe for those mini-quiches or compliment some other aspect of the party the host is likely to be proud of. Once the host is assured that you’re having a fine time—yes, even without alcohol—they will hopefully let the issue drop. 

How to deal:

One way you can attempt to prevent awkward but well-meaning host questions is by bringing your own non-alcoholic beverage to share. Fancy Italian sodas, those ginger beer things, even sparkling water. It’s polite and it will quash the endless “Just water? Tap water? All you want is tap water? Like, water from the tap?” questions if water is the only non-alcoholic beverage available.

2. The Busybody

This person doesn’t really care that you’re not drinking, they just want to know what it means. Busybodies thrive on rumors and scandal, and they’re hoping that if they pester you about why you’re not drinking enough, you’ll give them some kind of juicy gossip—be it rehab, pregnancy, or a medical issue.

How to deal:

"No" is a complete sentence. It may sound trite, but it’s true and important to remember when you have an especially pushy acquaintance. You don’t have to explain anything you don’t want to. “You don’t drink?” No. “Are you on medication or something?” No. (Or yes. I believe lying is a totally appropriate response to invasive personal questions.) “Did something happen?” No. 

Sensitive, polite, and otherwise not-nosy or rude people will pick up on this pretty quickly and let the subject drop. Others, not so much. Bottom line is, it’s your business. Who cares if you sound like a petulant two-year-old by saying, “No. No. No”? They sound like a rude adult by continuing to ask when you’ve made it clear it’s not up for discussion. 

3. Potential Comrades

About 6 months before I got sober, I was at a party with someone who had just celebrated 3 years clean. I watched her out of the corner of my eye all evening, drinking soda and having a normal, apparently good time at the party. How was that even possible? All I could think about was getting home so I could drink the way I wanted to—heavily and without stopping. 

At some point during the evening, I casually asked, “So, you don’t drink, huh? What’s that like?” I don’t remember what we talked about, but I remember it was the first time I met someone who was roughly my age and sober. It was the first night that I saw that it was possible.

I don’t know for sure that the woman I spoke with knew I was struggling with my own drinking. I only know that, in the years since, I’ve never had any trouble distinguishing a busybody from a potential comrade. Sometimes a person is asking about my sobriety because they want to talk about a family member or friend, but often it’s because they’re beginning to look at their own habits. 

How to deal:

It’s totally up to you. Some parties/days/situations, you might feel perfectly comfortable talking about your journey to sobriety. Other times, not so much. There is no right answer here, only what you feel is best. Practicing compassion while maintaining your own boundaries isn’t always easy. Sometimes you just want to enjoy a party without having to explain your life story.

As a sober person, I have to put my sobriety before anything else. So if I’m in a situation where someone is making me feel uncomfortable about my sobriety, I’m probably not going to stay there very long. But not all inquisitors are created equal. Sometimes you’ll want to tell people who ask about your sobriety to put a cork in it. Other times, you could be of enormous help to someone if you let the conversation flow. 

Katie MacBride is a writer living in the Bay Area. You can find more of Katie’s work on her website and follow her on Twitter @msmacb

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Katie MacBride is a writer and the Associate Editor of Anxy Magazine. In addition to The Fix, her work has appeared in Rolling Stone, New York Magazine, Quartz, and The Establishment. She writes an advice column about recovery for Paste Magazine. Follow her on twitter at @msmacb; find her work at

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