Not drinking takes a lot of effort in America, especially during the holidays when alcohol is not only in almost every standard-issue beverage at gatherings but also lurking in goodies like fruitcake, pecan pie and fancy chocolates.
Year-round, abstaining from alcohol should be as easy as drinking coffee, tea or soda instead of beer or wine. But in my experience as a lifelong teetotaler, when office mates have Friday gatherings organized around raising a glass to the weekend, a nonalcoholic option is never on hand. Open bar at a work event? There might not be any soda or fizzy water on offer. (It’s happened to me!) At fancy restaurants, a wine glass in the place setting is the default. When the waiter whisks mine away because I’m only having water, I feel conspicuous and a little embarrassed.
At a time when Americans’ drinking habits are to blame for an estimated 232 million missed workdays a year, we need to rethink our relationship to alcohol. Last year, we ranked fourth among 22 nations for rates of getting drunk, making us one of the heaviest-drinking nations in the world. During the early days of COVID-19, many of us coped by drinking.
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The health risks associated with alcohol consumption are well-documented and range from high blood pressure and breast cancer to violence, sexual risk behaviors and driving accidents – which put folks beyond the drinker at risk. It’s time to start normalizing not drinking, or drinking less and making it easier for people to make that choice.
Beyond Dry January: The case for teetotaling
In the United States, nearly 86% of adults report drinking alcohol at some time in their lives, and Wine Moms and Beer Bros seem to be all around. But I’m not a unicorn. In fact, a large number of adults here – 4 in 10 – said they didn’t drink last year.
Their reasons likely run the gamut: Some might be temporarily not drinking because of pregnancy or a medical condition that makes drinking dangerous, or because alcohol would interfere with a medication they’re taking. Many people are sober because they’re recovering from alcohol misuse. Others may be allergic to alcohol or just not like the taste. Or, like me, they don’t drink for religious reasons.
Or maybe they’ve heard that even moderate social drinking, which many people believe to be beneficial to their health, could actually increase risks for cancer and cardiovascular disease.
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Many people experiment with not drinking during what has become a popular New Year’s resolution, especially among millennials: Dry January, in which people swear off drinking for the first month of the year. The sober curious movement encourages people to explore sobriety year-round without necessarily committing to it.
Unfortunately, many drinkers associate teetotaling with tetchiness and conservatism. They think that we nondrinkers hate fun, that we’re sticks in the mud, or worse, that we want to bring back Prohibition.
In fact, some research finds people with negative beliefs about people who don’t drink may also be more likely to drink heavily themselves. Normalizing not drinking year-round, and not just in January, could do a lot to help more drinkers feel positively toward people like me and might even help address problem drinking.
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How to host an inclusive holiday party for non-drinkers
Because alcohol is so ubiquitous during the holidays, it’s a good time to start making changes that will help more people choose not to drink or to imbibe less:
- No hidden alcohol without labeling. Serving something soaked or spiked? Make sure people know what’s in it. If possible, offer an alternative version of the treat or drink.
- Never host an event where water is the only nonalcoholic option. I shouldn’t have to leave the party to find a soda.
- Don’t assume people drink. The number of times I’ve been offered a beer right off the bat! It’s just as easy to offer someone “a drink” and to be clear you have alcoholic and nonalcoholic options.
- Don’t ask why people aren’t drinking. It’s none of your business. And if we want not drinking to feel normal, it shouldn’t matter why someone makes that choice.
You can have your cocktail, and I’ll have my mocktail. (Any soda with grenadine or lime will do.) Teetotaling can be as enjoyable as drinking – we all like gathering and sharing joy with family and friends.
I do prefer, though, that no one drinks too much, whether during the holidays or any time of year. No judgment if you do, but it’s simply better for our health and the health of those around us if we all take it easier on the booze.
If you suspect you or someone you know need help for problem drinking, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357), is open 24/7, 365 days a year.
Story Credit: usatoday.com