Sporting events. The after-work happy hour. A girls’ night out.
In a culture where drinking is a common part of socializing, explaining why you don’t drink—or why you’ve stopped—can be tricky and uncomfortable, according to researchers from North Carolina State University and Texas State University.
In a study published in the journal Health Communication, the researchers talked to people who were overcoming a drinking problem to find out how they communicate their sobriety to others. Their findings show that many former problem drinkers conceal the reasons for their abstinence in order to fit in at work and in social settings.
Getting Creative With Excuses
Interviewees used a variety of techniques to avoid explaining why they weren’t drinking. One woman simply evaded invitations to grab a beer by vaguely agreeing to meet up “sometime” down the road. In another interview, a man explained that he told people he couldn’t drink because alcohol interfered with the medication for his toe fungus, and he continued to use that excuse even after his condition cleared up. As one news report noted, it says something when a person is more comfortable talking about toe fungus than his sobriety.
Worried About What Others Think
In general, former drinkers expressed concerns about being stigmatized, being labeled as a “buzz kill,” or becoming the center of gossip if they talked about their sobriety. They also stated that their choice not to drink was frequently commented on by those around them. Ultimately, researchers concluded that most of the interviewees actively hid their motives for sobriety unless the benefits outweighed the costs, such as helping someone else struggling with an alcohol problem.
An Important Part of Staying Sober
Because alcohol is so prevalent in many social settings, the researchers noted that in order for former drinkers to maintain their sobriety, it is key for them to find some level of comfort with having to explain their choice not to imbibe. The researchers hope their findings will give treatment professionals and others who work with problem drinkers insights to help their clients successfully deal with some of the communication challenges they face around their sobriety.
What suggestions do you have for people who are faced with having to explain why they don’t drink?