Social Necessity of Drinking

post by Raemon · 2011-02-13T22:52:44.211Z · LW · GW · Legacy · 97 comments

It's been over a year since I graduated from college, but only recently have I felt like I'm officially entering the "adult world." Navigating the social arenas of the adult world requires the same basic skillsets as the college world, but a lot of the rules are different and I'm struggling to learn them. Among them is how to drink socially.

As a general rule, I don't drink. I don't like the taste of alcohol. I don't like paying the exorbinant prices that alcohol costs. I don't like the feeling of my brain slowing down and making it harder to string sentences together. I don't mind the physical disorientation - that part's pretty fun. But that part also seems to be slightly frowned upon in an "adult" setting. I'm not opposed to it for any particular moral reasons.

When I do drink, I prefer to get it over with as fast as possible, whether I'm officially drinking a "shot" or not. In college that at least had a sort of "daring" quality that was respected. But it's pretty obviously taboo at classy cocktail parties and even somewhat taboo at "casual adult" parties.

So there's a few separate questions I have:

1) Are there any good, cached buzzword phrases I can use that'll make it socially acceptable to not drink? "I just don't like it" seems to draw disdainful stares, and while I haven't tried it I get the sense that saying I'm morally opposed to it would make me look even more like a stick in the mud. Saying "it's ridiculously expensive" makes me look like a cheapskate. 

2) If I must drink socially, is there a breakdown of the general social conventions I should be aware of so I don't need to have them pointed out to me over the course of the next few years?

3) Is there any particularly interesting analysis of *why* drinking is so important to social interaction? Knowing the underlying causes might at least give me some better appreciation for why I have to learn this other than "because!"


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2011-02-14T21:56:52.050Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Interesting. I sometimes get questioned on why I don't drink, but my response of "I don't dare lose a single brain cell" or "I have an addictive personality, I don't dare try World of Warcraft either" is usually accepted with a smile. Following Michael Vassar's theory of how excessive visible virtue is disliked as rivalry / implicit criticism / showing-up, I'm probably already seen as belonging to a sufficiently different category that I have dispensation to be virtuous without it counting as an implicit criticism of normal people.

I don't usually advocate lying, but if your companions are being sufficiently silly, maybe you should get ice water, drop in some blue food coloring you brought from home, and tell them it's Romulan ale.

Replies from: Raemon, ciphergoth, zntneo
comment by Raemon · 2011-02-15T02:06:40.409Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't usually advocate lying, but if your companions are being sufficiently silly, maybe you should get ice water, drop in some blue food coloring you brought from home, and tell them it's Romulan ale.

This is hilarious, but I suspect would not help in the situations where this was actually a problem.

Replies from: Eliezer_Yudkowsky
comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2011-02-15T02:10:22.920Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You could try it and see what happens. (Or use a different color and make up a different name.)

Replies from: Raemon
comment by Raemon · 2011-02-15T02:44:51.281Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Heh. I did once (during college) bring a gigantic bottle of water, and for the first half of the party a lot of people assumed it was Vodka.

I'll take this variant idea under consideration.

comment by zntneo · 2011-04-06T04:39:16.589Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is the same reason i give for why i don't drink and all my friends seem to be cool with it. I even go out quite ofter when they get drunk and they don't push me to drink or anything. I heard it originally from James Randi and now has become a cached thought of mine.

comment by Bo102010 · 2011-02-14T05:23:42.415Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't drink (and never have).

For (1), when asked why I don't drink, I say "I don't know. I don't smoke either." People seem to recognize that some people just don't like to smoke, and that this type of thing carries over to other voluntary activities.

When I get a disdainful look or am being chided for being a stick in the mud, I steel myself by remembering Richard Feynmann's wife's exhortation: "What do you care what other people think?"

Replies from: RobinZ
comment by RobinZ · 2011-02-14T14:54:40.746Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

For (1), when asked why I don't drink, I say "I don't know. I don't smoke either."

That's a great line.

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2011-02-14T15:29:24.783Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, I think this is the best suggestion so far. Smoking has become low-status, and while drinking isn't, drawing the comparison is likely to slightly flummox the questioner in a way that works to your advantage.

Replies from: mindspillage, RobinZ
comment by mindspillage · 2011-02-14T21:44:18.443Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is true, but implying that you see it the same way you see smoking also may come off as passing judgment on the drinkers, which won't endear you to them.

Replies from: TheOtherDave
comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-02-14T22:03:16.465Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

True. Though if they actually articulated that, which they wouldn't, I'd be able to ask them why they're being so judgmental of smokers. Which would endear me to them still less, but would make me smile.

comment by RobinZ · 2011-02-14T17:12:59.582Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not so much "flummox" as "reframe as a lifestyle choice", I think.

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2011-02-14T18:52:13.711Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

When I said "flummox," I was thinking of the way it draws into contrast the social associations of nonsmokers (strong-willed, healthy, virtuous) with the social associations of nondrinkers (slightly immature, possibly unhealthy or weak).

comment by sixes_and_sevens · 2011-02-13T23:27:54.060Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"I have my reasons."

Said with stone-cold dead delivery, and no further elaboration. Very few people will question it. It also adds an element of enigmatic mystery that can't be achieved with "I think it tastes like crap".

Replies from: Kevin, lsparrish
comment by Kevin · 2011-02-14T15:22:38.599Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That sounds really creepy to me.

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2011-05-05T03:23:22.418Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Agreed. This sounds like a terrible idea.

comment by lsparrish · 2011-02-14T00:00:53.493Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Excellent suggestion. I'll have to try this one.

Replies from: CuSithBell
comment by CuSithBell · 2011-02-14T14:27:51.091Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

While I'm normally all for sounding mysterious - in this situation, won't people just think you're a recovering alcoholic who's done something regrettable?

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2011-02-14T15:18:24.498Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think this is very likely.

Replies from: Dorikka
comment by Dorikka · 2011-02-15T03:48:57.763Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Agreed, at least to a certain extant, but I'm not sure that this would be perceived as a social negative unless the details of the 'something regrettable' were elaborated upon.

Replies from: CuSithBell
comment by CuSithBell · 2011-02-16T00:38:25.010Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would expect that being seen as a "recovering alcoholic who's done something regrettable" - and hence weak-willed, unreliable, possibly violent, possibly a criminal, etc. - would have negative social effects. Besides, do you really expect that if you don't elaborate, people won't speculate?

However, I find your comment "surprising," would you care to explain your thoughts?

Replies from: Dorikka
comment by Dorikka · 2011-02-16T02:08:23.959Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Disclaimer: I don't actually have any experience in the type of situation being discussed. If someone has observations that contradict my hypothesis, then I am most likely wrong (at least with regard to the specific social/cultural setting in which the observations take place.)

If someone's concluded that you're a recovering alcoholic from the statement "I have my reasons," then they will also probably conclude that you're trying hard to change that, considering that you're refusing to drink alcohol right here and now. The main social negative that I could see coming out of the situation is that the "stone-cold dead delivery" might make someone think that you're particularly sensitive or have a temper.

I would start by saying the line in a more neutral tone, perhaps with a quirk to one side of your mouth and a slight shrug, giving the impression that you're shrugging off something mildly unpleasant but aren't upset at person talking to you. If he pushes the point, I would aim for a flatter tone.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-02-14T04:09:02.409Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

1) Are there any good, cached buzzword phrases I can use that'll make it socially acceptable to not drink? "I just don't like it" seems to draw disdainful stares, and while I haven't tried it I get the sense that saying I'm morally opposed to it would make me look even more like a stick in the mud. Saying "it's ridiculously expensive" makes me look like a cheapskate.

Useful option: Don't explain. Don't attempt to justify. It is amazing what people will accept if you act like what you are doing is natural. A casual "I don't want to drink" more than sufficient answer - even to the question "Why don't you want to drink?".

comment by James_Miller · 2011-02-13T23:53:10.594Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Use a joke:

"I'm just too attractive to women when I drink. I can't handle all of the attention." "People who know what I know must never drink."

comment by sabaton · 2011-02-14T00:32:43.221Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

1) - “No thanks" / "a coke please“ is usually fine. “I don’t drink alcohol” if pressed. But my impression is that the delivery is most important (stating it firmly without looking embarrassed seems to work best)

-With people you meet regularly you seem to get less resistance being an official teetotaler than an occasional drinker who doesn’t feel like drinking one particular evening.

-Drinking very slowly can limit your intake to a single glass per evening

-If drinks are free and things are busy it’s sometimes easier to accept a glass and not actually drink it (or at least not finish it)

-Designated driver is culture specific. My impression is that in some places (e.g., UK, Scandinavia) it is expected to drink nothing if driving, while in others (e.g., France) you are often still expected to make a "small effort".

2) Quite culture specific. Fairly standard is to wait for everyone to have a drink in their hand before starting.

3) -People like to drink because social interactions often feel smoother and more natural when participants are a little drunk, and they can also be more fun

-People expect others to drink because:

    -It’s better if all parties contribute to the enhanced socializing

    -Sober vs. sober and drunk vs. drunk conversations tend to work well. Sober vs. drunk ones do not (and it’s much less painful to be on the drunk side)

    -Some perceive not drinking as a signal that you don’t want to or can’t enjoy yourself

    -Some people see non-drinkers as implicitly judging those who do drink
comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-02-13T23:27:19.504Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't drink, and haven't for about 20 years.

I generally go with "No thanks," on those rare occasions where someone asks why not I explain "I don't drink."

It's actually astonishingly rare for people to ask why not a second time; I don't remember the last time it happened, nor what I said, but I suspect I would go with "I react badly to alcohol," which is certainly true.

Replies from: TheOtherDave
comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-02-14T22:06:18.471Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thinking about it some more, I might go with "I haven't had any alcohol since my stroke" instead, should the question arise. It's true enough, though grossly misleading, and invokes all kinds of conversation-stoppers.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-02-13T23:55:49.544Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"I don't drink" is almost always good enough by itself. My best friend doesn't drink and I have rarely seen it questioned beyond that; "Medical reasons" is usually all the elaboration necessary.

There's an old trick of getting a nonalcoholic drink that looks like an alcoholic one. Ginger ale in a short glass looks like scotch & soda. The gibson (a martini with a cocktail onion) was actually invented by a guy who was sick of drinking at social functions and just put water in a martini glass, and garnished his drink with an onion instead of the typical olive so that he could recognize it.

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2011-02-14T01:12:51.309Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think the drink you mean is a gibson, not a gimlet.

comment by j_andrew_rogers · 2011-02-13T23:16:12.028Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

For #1, having to drive, work, go to another important function, or being required to drink more later at some other function seems to be an acceptable occasional excuse but not a permanent one.

On #3, many cultures have sayings and aphorisms that share the idea that people who do not drink are not as trustworthy in various contexts. Much of it seems to follow from the idea that people are more honest when they've had a drink or two, and therefore people who do not drink are hiding their true character. The display of honesty is considered a trust-building exercise. I recall a proverb (Persian?) to the effect that people should not agree to serious matters sober that they have not discussed drunk.

On #2, if you must drink socially then drink very slowly. This can be developed to a fine art such that you are participating but consuming very little alcohol in fact. Also, there are also drinks you can order at any bar that have low alcohol content and large volume e.g. a redeye (tomato juice and light beer).

Replies from: gwern, Raemon
comment by gwern · 2011-02-14T00:40:42.301Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

On #3, many cultures have sayings and aphorisms that share the idea that people who do not drink are not as trustworthy in various contexts.

At the very least, refusing to drink can be seen as an attempt to empower yourself - let other people get stupider and more irrational (drunk) while remaining in full possession of your own mental powers. I recall at least one PUA page which described how to get the bartender to serve you watered down drinks (or water period) while your female targets get the full-strength alcohol.

Replies from: Kit
comment by Kit · 2011-02-16T07:22:25.444Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I feel obligated to note that were I to find out that a man was trying to use trick on me, I would file charges for attempted rape. And it would hold up in court in my jurisdiction.

Replies from: Alicorn, wedrifid
comment by Alicorn · 2011-02-16T14:05:17.707Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Surely the tactic as far as it's described above is not (yet) any such thing. He could be trying to get you drunk so he can sell you an encyclopedia set, for all you know.

Replies from: Kit
comment by Kit · 2011-02-20T01:36:11.179Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

When the situation gets out of the grey area that's just regular old sexual interference/assault. Attempted rape means nothing at all actually happened, which is why it is not often successfully convicted. But if you stood up in a court of law in my area and said, "My Lord, I was trying to sell her an encyclopedia set," the judge would say, "Sure, and I was born yesterday."

I should clarify that when I said it would hold up in court I meant that the charge would be valid. Given the number of committed rapes that are successfully convicted (about 1 in 16), I would have to have pretty solid evidence of the guy's intent in order to have him convicted. But by the time I got the case to court, the guy's reputation could be fairly effectively smeared. Which is why it's important that people know that in many places having sex with drunk people is legally rape, and they should find out which places those are before they follow that advice.

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2011-07-07T08:56:35.700Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Given the number of committed rapes that are successfully convicted (about 1 in 16)


Aren't those the odds that assumes that whenever a rape is reported and no one goes to jail, this means a rapist wasn't successfully convicted and punished for his crime? Meaning that whenever someone is suspected of a rape they should have been found guilty. Kinda at odds with not just having a good map of reality but, the foundation of most modern Western legal systems (actually it dosen't even work with guilty until proven innocent which is another common way things can be set up).

A casual google seems to indicate that this is indeed so

One of several sources:

Fewer than one in 16 rapes reported to the police results in a conviction in court

Not all rapes that occurred are reported, not all that are reported occurred.

Replies from: Alicorn
comment by Alicorn · 2011-07-07T17:25:26.277Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not all rapes that occurred are reported, not all that are reported occurred.

Which of these numbers do you think is larger, and why?

comment by wedrifid · 2011-02-16T15:57:11.327Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I feel obligated to note that were I to find out that a man was trying to use trick on me, I would file charges for attempted rape. And it would hold up in court in my jurisdiction.

Is it legal to bet on the outcome of a legal proceeding? If so, I would bet against this holding up in court. Not personally drinking full strength alcohol is not a crime.

Replies from: Kit, Jonathan_Graehl
comment by Kit · 2011-02-20T01:21:14.521Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Getting a person drunk in order to have sex with them is a crime in my jurisdiction because drunk people are not legally able to consent ("I was drunk too" is not a valid defense, either, fyi). If I could make the case that the person in question were plying me with alcohol in order to have sex with me that would be textbook attempted rape. It's a big "if", making the case, because the case is hypothetical and so is the evidence. But if the hypothetical PUA in question attempted to give me the impression that he was drinking as well while arranging with the bartender to maintain his mental faculties, that would be quite incriminating, and would show pre-meditation.

In any case it's a good idea for potential 'pick up artists' to know that in many areas having sex with drunk people in rape, and they should maybe just work on improving their ability to gauge which people would be likely to consent to having sex with them while they are still in possession of their faculty to consent.

(And no, in my jurisdiction it is not legal to bet on the outcome of a legal proceeding, but it is not illegal to suggest it, so we'll let it slide.)

comment by Jonathan_Graehl · 2011-02-18T17:24:59.086Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree for the U.S. But I don't know her (or his) jurisdiction.

comment by Raemon · 2011-02-13T23:29:20.088Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It did occur to me soon after posting that drinking slowly (to the point that it's basically not at all) would allow me to give the impression that I'm drinking, an honest answer when people ask "what are you drinking?" with minimal side effects.

The drinks I'm able to mostly enjoy tend to be "fruity" drinks that have... signaling issues.

Replies from: TheOtherDave, Kevin
comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-02-13T23:34:59.742Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"fruity" drinks that have... signaling issues.

I'm now reminded of being challenged by a somewhat belligerent drunk once to the general effect of "What are you, a fag or something?" in reaction to some bit of insufficiently masculine signaling or another.

The response "Yes, actually, why do you ask?" really bewildered him.

I assume you identify as straight, which makes that approach less viable, but it can sometimes be worth being aware of the signaling benefits of confidently ignoring peripheral rules.

Replies from: Raemon
comment by Raemon · 2011-02-13T23:38:25.193Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Oh I totally agree with that. I've spent the bulk of my life deliberately ignoring whatever social conventions I wanted to, and I can actually manage a fairly confident response when challenged about it. (I occasionally wear a lab coat and/or top hat, and when asked why I'm wearing it, my response is "Huh? Why aren't you?")

But I'm trying right now to get a decent familiarity with "the rules" so that when I choose to break them, it's a conscious decision I'm making from a position of strength and knowledge, rather than ignorance and an inability to blend in if I needed to.

comment by Kevin · 2011-02-14T15:23:56.510Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A whisky sour is the an ok compromise between fruity and manly.

comment by EchoingHorror · 2011-02-15T00:36:33.775Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm about the same age and like and dislike the same things about alcohol. I never had a top hat, but did have tails and a cane. Yay.

Don't forget this, whatever you do.

1) Try saying you haven't found a drink you like yet and you aren't in the mood to experiment. That implies you're one of them, don't judge them for drinking, is an adequate and lasting refusal, and gives you a chance to redirect conversation if they pry about your "mood". "I'm just thinking about..." works fine. You may have to tell them what you don't like is the taste, but they already know that and are asking anyway, because they're silly, so they won't be as shocked.

Have fun, but never say you don't need alcohol to have fun. Instant Stick in the Mud status from that one.

2) Social conventions vary widely; follow people's lead. Use coasters when appropriate, don't chug anything unless someone tells you to or there's loud music playing, and don't blame the alcohol for anything you do or say that isn't a result of poor coordination.

Following what others have said about drinking less: You're drinking less because you're a lightweight, not because you want to be the least drunk. That way they're the empowered ones, having higher alcohol resistance traits than you. Match their demeanors, but don't fake slurring or stuttering. Not attempting to move is more believable than stumbling. If you're as affected as they are, or act like you're not experienced with alcohol and having any is already significant, you'll be easily dismissed and no one will question your light drinking.

Random tips for specific drinks: If you're doing shots, take them together or alternate, just follow their lead. Bow out if you want to, acting like it would be a bad idea not to. For bottled beers/wine coolers/whatever, you might be able to just have one by drinking it slowly. If it's a situation where someone gets up and asks who needs another, you can have half of what the average person there has without being weird. Wine poured in glasses and refilled from a bottle tends to be topped off periodically, but emptying less before being refilled means you drink less. I find mixed drinks that contain ice/water/soda taste nastier than just whatever liquor goes in them, so I just get a shot of that when I can. No one has minded yet, it's cheaper if you're out somewhere, and you're drinking less.

3) It could just be force of habit, since other people also like physical disorientation and tend to do that when they get together. People aren't usually good at thinking of things to do, and even when they are they throw alcohol in there too because it's fun. You have to learn to drink or blend as a non-drinker because people are boring but you still don't want to miss out on interacting with them.

If they know each other professionally, alcohol designates it as a social situation and not just a professional one, as opposed to a team building party sort of thing. If they aren't happy in their jobs (or upon getting home after losing time and energy to their jobs), drinking signals a mini-vacation so they can prove to themselves they have a life outside of work.

comment by Risto_Saarelma · 2011-02-14T14:02:04.841Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Health reasons," if someone presses it. Ambiguous, but interpretable in a way that doesn't look like you passing judgment to the others who do choose to drink.

Replies from: None, rohern
comment by [deleted] · 2011-02-14T15:15:07.470Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Just a mild caveat: I think this would pass without further comment in most polite settings, but if I heard someone say that I would immediately (and involuntarily) speculate to myself that they might be taking medications that interact adversely with alcohol. One of the most common class of such medications is antidepressants. There's still something of a social stigma attached to admitting you suffer from depression, so depending on the environment Raemon might hesitate to give this answer.

Replies from: Risto_Saarelma
comment by Risto_Saarelma · 2011-02-14T16:38:20.143Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I wouldn't have made that connection, but YMMV of course.

How likely it is that people with little personal experience with clinical depression, the ones most likely to stigamatize it, even know that bit?

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2011-02-14T18:45:19.954Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It was a plot point on an episode of CSI (or Law and Order, one of those shows) so that knowledge is now relatively widespread in the general population.

comment by rohern · 2011-02-26T08:01:18.148Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

When I lived in China, drinking as a group over dinner was a common social interaction. The one acceptable excuse, on which no one would press you, was to claim that your doctor has forbid it, which is another form of "health reasons". If people do press you on it, give them a quick cold glance that says "you are being rude" and then get back to the conversation.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-02-09T18:52:54.675Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If my introspection doesn't fail me, the reason why I tend to like people less if they don't drink (not sure how much of this applies to how many other people) is that I semi-voluntarily¹ pattern-match “person who won't drink” to “introverted and/or closed-minded (ETA: probably religious) person”: if for a particular person I have good reason that doesn't apply (e.g. they are very cheerful, have a very non-traditional hairstyle, etc.) I won't make much of a fuss if they don't drink. Also, having drunk lots of alcohol and being still functioning is a hard-to-fake signal. (Other commenters have suggested to drink very slowly so that you can be seen as drinking throughout the night while only actually getting one drink, but I will notice that, even though I won't do anything about that because I'll realize that that's just the polite way to refuse to drink a lot for whatever reason.)

  1. Semi-voluntary: a process that I can consciously control if I choose to, but it's active in the background by default, such as breathing.
Replies from: Nornagest
comment by Nornagest · 2014-09-03T21:11:56.841Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Of the people I've met who don't drink by choice (as opposed to e.g. allergies or nasty interactions with medication), the most common reason is that they don't feel comfortable with artificially lowered inhibitions. This may not be entirely fair, but I tend to parse that as indicative of a worrying lack of confidence in oneself, either basic or by way of compensating for having had too little self-control in the past. Both are bad news, though not necessarily a deal-breaker in a friendship.

(Other common reasons: previous bouts of alcoholism [also indicative of impulse control problems], prefers other intoxicants [perfectly legit], doesn't like the taste [acceptable in a young person, otherwise usually indicative of a sheltered existence].)

comment by Costanza · 2011-02-13T23:42:00.605Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would think that one of the markers dividing the modern "adult world" and college would be the lack of peer pressure to drink alcohol. I'd think that only a jerk would give you "disdainful stares" for politely declining.

One social convention you might want to observe where alcohol is served is to have some kind of drink with you, maybe iced tea or a soft drink. Otherwise, people might offer you booze just out of hospitality.

In the "adult world" social drinking with acquaintances, such as work colleagues or people you've only recently been introduced to, is a way to loosen social inhibitions, and -- at the same time -- is a way to say "I trust you enough to let you see me with a bit of alcohol in my system."

Replies from: Raemon
comment by Raemon · 2011-02-14T02:46:33.001Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would think that one of the markers dividing the modern "adult world" and college would be the lack of peer pressure to drink alcohol. I'd think that only a jerk would give you "disdainful stares" for politely declining.

That's what I thought, but it hasn't been the case in the circles I'm running in. Both at my job, and at a random party I just went to. (Although in the case of the party, it didn't become relevant until the very end and the person questioning me was visibly intoxicated, so I might be generalizing too much from one example)

Replies from: Costanza
comment by Costanza · 2011-02-14T03:50:00.548Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I understand it varies from country to country quite a bit. But if you're recently out of college and you're in a professional-type industry in America, I'd bet that long term, you'd be far better off erring on the side not drinking rather than drinking more than you're comfortable with. Not everybody straight out of college adjusts to the demands of maturity well. Two years from now, nobody will remember if you chose not to drink at a party today. But if you get drunk and do something stupid at the office Holiday party . . .

Replies from: Raemon
comment by Raemon · 2011-02-14T03:59:56.994Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

No one's going to remember if I didn't drink, but if I miss out on a networking opportunity because someone at a party remembered me as slightly "off", that may be significant. At this point I'm not really worried about getting drunk, although that may be naive of me.

That said I think the collection of suggestions here are helpful and I'm not too worried about it anymore.

comment by see · 2011-02-13T23:15:04.507Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would expect "I'm on the wagon", with any further questioning deflected by "I'd rather not talk about it" would be enough explanation for any but the most impolite people, with "Medical reasons, I'd rather not go into detail" as the last-resort deflector.

Which is, in fact, absolutely true. You're not drinking (you're on the wagon), you don't want to talk about it, and ultimately it's the pharmacological effects of alcohol that are why you don't want to drink and you don't want to go into detail.

Replies from: Raemon
comment by Raemon · 2011-02-13T23:27:23.220Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I like this, although there may eventually be consequences to it. (Also, if the implication is taken at face value that I AM a recovering alcoholic, might there be stigma attached to that?)

Replies from: see
comment by see · 2011-02-14T00:27:01.096Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If a person jumps to the assumption that you're a recovering alcoholic (and not, say, on a medication that reacts badly with alcohol), he might keep slightly closer eye on you for a little while. But since you're not drinking and not an alcoholic, you're not going to show any signs of "relapsing", and the vigilance will be relaxed.

Granted, it's possible that someone might actually obsess over why you don't drink, but my experience is that it's highly unlikely. People just don't care that much about trivia about other people, in general.

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2011-02-14T15:23:43.566Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

People just don't care that much about trivia about other people, in general.

Have to disagree with this pretty strongly. If Raemon indicates in a work setting that he's a recovering alcoholic, he should expect his coworkers to be gossiping about that for months. Depending on his job it could even have a negative impact on his career.

Alcoholism carries a stigma. That's why AA is anonymous.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2011-02-17T06:33:50.026Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

3) Is there any particularly interesting analysis of why drinking is so important to social interaction? Knowing the underlying causes might at least give me some better appreciation for why I have to learn this other than "because!"

The last time I was drunk I told a non-drinking friend of mine in fairly loud and forceful terms that he should drink too. So let me try to introspect on why I might have done that.

You didn't mention anything about experiencing lower inhibitions while drunk, and feeling more willing to do stuff like dance, loudly speak your mind on anything, etc. I think this could be a big part of why my drunk self is upset when other people don't drink--I'd like them to share this low-inhibition state with me. For one thing, I'll trust them more. This might somehow be related to people speaking their mind more naturally when drunk--if I know someone is speaking their mind to me and isn't lying or leaving things out when they talk then that's kind of a bonding experience.

But a more important factor is probably that I want to see people who normally seem fairly straight-laced behave in crazy ways, perhaps because it would lower their status, or maybe so we can share the kinship of being crazy, or so that I can know that just like me they sometimes break social conventions, take off their mask of good behavior, etc.

For what it's worth, I'm in college, I like experiencing the disorienting effects of alcohol, I somewhat like observing my speech becoming slurred (although the thrill of that may wear off) and your thoughts about the taste closely parallel mine. Oh yeah, and I enter an interesting and fairly fluid mode of socializing and ideas come differently while drunk, but those don't have anything to do with my being upset at people who don't drink.

Replies from: TheOtherDave
comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-02-17T16:26:50.107Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Part of the irony of this is that, not only are some people honest and uninhibited while sober, but also some people don't become significantly more so when drunk.

Back when I drank, being drunk normally made me withdrawn and antisocial... I have a lot more fun at parties now than I used to.

comment by rohern · 2011-02-26T07:59:09.121Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I do not mean this to be flippant, but Richard Feynman's -- who quit drinking when he thought he might be showing early signs of alcoholism and did not want to risk damaging his brain -- wife would ask you this:

What do you care what other people think?

If you are at a bar or a party and you determine that other people are looking down on you for not drinking, why should you care about such silliness? It's your body and your health and damn people who cannot respect that.

Good on you for not drinking.

comment by lucidfox · 2011-02-14T14:14:25.508Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't drink. Anything remotely alcoholic. At all.

Why do you need a "why?" Just say you don't drink, and that's all.

Replies from: Raemon
comment by Raemon · 2011-02-14T17:11:57.968Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Because I get blank stares and obviously diminished social opportunities.

Replies from: lucidfox
comment by lucidfox · 2011-02-15T10:03:34.281Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

From my point of view, the kind of people who give you blank stares for that don't deserve your attention.

Replies from: wedrifid
comment by wedrifid · 2011-02-15T12:27:42.414Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I like using other people's objection to my behaviours as a screening mechanism too. A lot of the time it is the optimal thing to do. Unfortunately, however, there are also times where there are some significant tradeoffs to be made. There is real value in selectively applying mildly unpleasant conformity so as to not limit your options.

For example at a time when I did not prefer to drink I adapted my behaviour while I was socialising with an angel investor. It just made rapport that much easier. We never used him as a source of investment but he was an invaluable source of ongoing advice and insight into the business process.

Another common scenario when socialising is that there are some people in a crowd that you wish to spend time with, and there are some people who are a waste of oxygen that you also have to get along with because they are part of the scene and you don't have the bitchcraft skills to exclude them. It can be necessary to maintain a positive reputation with the worthless folks so as to not limit your opportunities with the folks you like. Having significantly different values can contribute to alienation and simply not paying attention is not always sufficient.

I honestly think that people who give me blank stares usually are worth my attention. But that doesn't mean I think my attention to them is in the form of trying to justify myself. Some more effective ways to apply one's attention in order to minimise social awkwardness have already been supplied here - and your own suggestion (great grandparent) is one that often works smoothly.

Replies from: Raemon
comment by Raemon · 2011-02-15T15:02:52.001Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah, this. Also there's people that I just think are reasonably cool people except for this one area. And while they're cool enough people that they're not going to shun me if I don't drink, it still creates an uncomfortable aura that requires more effort on both our parts to work through.

comment by jsalvatier · 2011-02-14T01:00:22.314Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

How about just ordering a coke an nursing it? A coke often looks like a rum and coke, and I doubt many will question you. I suppose this doesn't work if they don't serve such drinks.

comment by Skarey · 2011-02-18T11:40:04.574Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Most bars I know have bottles of non-alcoholic beers. If you find out the brand name of those beverages before you go out, you could order them by name. Most people won't even notice what you're drinking.

comment by Supermighty · 2011-02-14T00:57:07.382Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If I'm not interested in drinking I'll tell people that I drank the night before and I don't drink two nights in a row. Say it in a real casual way; "oh, I drank yesterday." with a smile then continue with the previous conversation.

comment by lsparrish · 2011-02-13T23:59:56.362Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I avoid it for primarily moral reasons. A death from alcohol is a preventable one. But there are social costs to rubbing this in people's faces, so I normally just say "no thanks" and "I don't drink".

comment by CronoDAS · 2011-02-13T23:21:54.586Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

1) Are there any good, cached buzzword phrases I can use that'll make it socially acceptable to not drink?

I suggest something along the lines of "Alcohol interferes with my medication" or "I'm allergic to alcohol". There are also many people that would accept the answer "It's against my religion", but it might invite annoying follow-up questions. "I'm a recovering alcoholic" also might get people to back off as well.

Actually, now that I think about it some more, something along the lines of "I'm the designated driver" or "I need to drive home" would probably work pretty well, too.

Replies from: Raemon
comment by Raemon · 2011-02-13T23:25:26.604Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I probably would have used "I'm the designated driver" more often, except that I don't own a car, and am absolutely terrible at driving, and anyone who I'm going to meet more than the one time is eventually going to pick up on that. Also, the social functions I'm going to tend to happen in NYC, where driving just isn't an issue much at all.

Not sure what I think about "I'm allergic to alcohol," or any similar lie. Part of the issue is that I'm specifically missing out on business networking opportunities as well as friendship/dating opportunities, and people who I'm going to see over and over again will eventually notice the lie.

Replies from: mindspillage
comment by mindspillage · 2011-02-14T21:37:53.731Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Agreeing with your inclination not to lie; it just looks foolish when you're in a situation where the same reasoning won't apply, and then it does look like you're trying to cover something up.

comment by mindspillage · 2011-02-14T21:30:45.535Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In general I don't drink. (I'll make an exception maybe once a year or so.) I don't like the taste, I don't like the feeling of alcohol affecting me, and I don't have any interest in losing any of my inhibitions. (Also, if I'm going to consume empty calories, I'd prefer something I actually enjoy.)

I order a soda or something (maybe with a twist of lime or lemon--it looks like others' drinks, and also, I like them) and don't make a big deal of it and no one really asks; if asked why I'm not drinking alcohol, saying I don't like it is usually enough. (Though it may be more socially acceptable for women not to drink, too.)

On the rare occasions I do drink, I'll order a glass of water also and take small sips of the alcoholic drink to make it last, while drinking the water for thirst. (Easy enough to do with something I don't so much care for, though I like ciders and sparkling wines well enough.) I have an easier time being more open and extroverted when others around me are, so if others are drinking, usually they won't even notice or care that I'm not. If you're acting while sober like others are while tipsy, it's not as socially awkward.

comment by Kevin · 2011-02-14T15:17:15.428Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why don't you just drink one or two drinks in an evening? That's mostly what I do.

There are also alcoholic drinks that are unambiguously more delicious than non-alcoholic drinks. is better than any soda.

You're going to be at a social weakness compared to others if you must always be at a baseline mental state during times of socialization. Alcohol makes socialization come faster via the lowering of inhibitions, making you ok to talk more, more comfortable interrupting other people, more comfortable letting your own words flow, etc. It's not better at accomplishing this than a benzodiazepine (and is in fact strictly worse) but they don't surf Xanax shaken with a twist at bars and networking events.

Replies from: Sniffnoy
comment by Sniffnoy · 2011-02-15T02:13:22.166Z · LW(p) · GW(p) is better than any soda.

But how do we know it would not be even better without the alcohol? Or is the notion nonsensical?

Replies from: Kevin
comment by Kevin · 2011-02-15T07:57:26.283Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

For some reason the version sold in Belgium is lower alcohol than the exported version and probably tastes the same. I think it would be difficult to make it with 0% alcohol, but 1 or 1.5% would be fine.

comment by ata · 2011-02-14T00:17:03.325Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I usually just (truthfully) say that I never acquired a taste for it. I also prefer not drinking because I don't like the idea of possibly doing stupid things or generally losing control, and because the idea of alcoholism scares me enough that I don't want to risk acquiring a taste for it... but the bit about just disliking them as beverages has worked okay for me as an excuse. (Though I haven't needed to try it in any "classy" or otherwise mature setting, I've only needed to use it with friends who definitely weren't going to think I was a square as a result.)

Replies from: sketerpot
comment by sketerpot · 2011-02-14T08:51:14.495Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You can avoid the possibility of doing stupid things and losing control by limiting yourself to a single drink, consumed slowly. At least, I can; your mileage may vary, though I don't know how much. Drinking doesn't necessarily mean drinking a lot, and it's a shame that getting drunk (or drunk-ish) is so culturally prevalent. Your approach of just not drinking is good too, though.

comment by [deleted] · 2016-02-04T14:04:32.605Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Social necessity? Think of all the drunk driving accidents fueled by alcohol. The king hit murders. The rapes, the suicides, the hospitalization, the addictions and psychoses, the cost to the health care system, the filthy vomit ridden streets, the dopey people wasting their youth and their lives, the children that grow up neglected, the fetuses that grow up poisoned and the activists that believed before me and you that there was hope in the face of the way things have been done for time immemorial. Are that a social necessity? No. We can do better than this.

[The connection between intoxication and sexual violence is well-established]

-The Crimson

Replies from: gjm, polymathwannabe
comment by gjm · 2016-02-04T16:56:21.769Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You are using "social necessity" in a different way from Raemon. Maybe that's entirely deliberate, but it's worth making explicit. It's perfectly possible for something to be

  • a social necessity in the sense that anyone who doesn't do it will suffer serious adverse social consequences, but
  • not a social necessity in the sense that our society would be better off if people did it much less or not at all.
comment by polymathwannabe · 2016-02-04T14:58:51.323Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That was beautiful.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-06-17T18:45:47.502Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I pray the omega that I don't give in to drinking tomorrow night when I go out with the same girl I hung out with tonight. Please remember the clever comebacks in the comments section Clarity, please.

comment by adamzerner · 2015-05-02T21:50:02.076Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

1) I don't have any new and useful phrases to contribute, but I will provide my data point of never really having any problems saying "I don't drink". I guess it depends on the atmosphere though. My interpretation of peoples' responses to that is one of the following:

  • I don't really know this guy... I don't want to challenge him... Maybe he has a drinking problem?... Maybe someone he knows died in an accident with a drunk driver?... I don't want to offend him.
  • Whatever. I don't care.
  • Eh, he's probably lame and not fun. Forget him.
  • But it'd be so much more fun if you drank with us. It feels good when everyone in the group is doing it together.
  • [Someone who knows me] Adam, I want to see how you respond to alcohol.

Responses 3 and 4 seem more rare.

3) My thoughts (which aren't particularly new or insightful):

  • The social lubricating aspect of it is big. Disinhibition -> fun. And the environments around alcohol further this as well (dark, noisy, crowded...). I don't get the sense that people consciously reason this way, but I think that they've subconsciously associated it with fun.
  • Convention is very powerful. (I realized that you might be asking where the convention comes from, but I still thought this was worth mentioning)
  • There isn't really that much for adults to do at night. Well, I mean there is, but other people don't seem to think so. It seems to be (somewhat) frowned upon to stay at home and watch tv, a movie, play games. In other words, people seem to think that you need to go out. Which at night time, pretty much means eating, drinking, or maybe some sort of performance.
  • A relevant read -
comment by bsalming · 2011-07-08T11:56:05.036Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think that no explonations is the way to go here, but sometimes you might want to give some kind of explonation for whatever social reason. Something like "I used to drink every now and then, but the way it feels just didn't work for me".

comment by k-dog · 2011-02-28T14:09:12.169Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Drinking would interfere with my proper enjoyment of cannabis.

comment by jdinkum · 2011-02-15T16:00:09.699Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You could look at the cost of alcohol as the price you pay to enter a social setting. If you were expected to consume some beverage, and they were all priced the same but exorbitantly, what would you do?

It has not been my experience that someone who doesn't drink stands out in any social setting that I would consider important. If you're getting blank or worse stares, it may be your delivery or it may be you need new social settings.

My recommendation would be to use the question as a platform to engage the questioner and others around. Tell a funny anecdote. Expound on your rationalist beliefs and how they relate to alcohol. Say you don't enjoy, then share what you do enjoy.

Be truthful and earnest and you'll go far if you're amongst the right people.

comment by mutterc · 2011-02-14T20:04:03.676Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

People probably will assume you're a recovering alcoholic, no matter what avoidance strategy you use.

I always use "I'm driving", which is true (all of the alcohol-social situations I've been in are ones from which I have to drive myself home), with "I'm a big stickler about drinking and driving" (also true) when pressed.

(In addition to those things, I'd rather not drink in professional settings because I haven't enough restraint even when stone cold sober).

comment by RichardKennaway · 2011-02-14T11:16:06.373Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Are there any good, cached buzzword phrases I can use that'll make it socially acceptable to not drink?

"An orange juice, please." (Or mineral water, or Coke, or whatever's your fancy.) Of course, this is all going to be culturally specific. In the U.K. it is socially acceptable not to drink alcohol. You do not have to excuse yourself and will not be asked to.

Replies from: mstevens
comment by mstevens · 2011-02-14T13:40:36.688Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In my experience this isn't true - I've often had it queried.

Replies from: sabaton
comment by sabaton · 2011-02-14T22:34:59.296Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would agree with mstevens. My impression is that ordering anything other than a pint in a British pub tends to raise eyebrows. Indeed you probably do not have to excuse yourself, but your social standing may take a hit.

Replies from: mstevens, Mercy
comment by mstevens · 2011-02-16T12:18:29.011Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There's a possible confusing factor in my study that I've stopped drinking, so many people know me as someone who used to drink. But it still generally seems to trigger confusion and puzzlement.

I've also found that drunk people are not actually fun companions when you're not, which means I'm much less likely to end up in pubs in the first place.

Replies from: sabaton
comment by sabaton · 2011-02-16T13:01:00.869Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, it's less painful to be the only drunk person than the only sober person at the table

comment by Mercy · 2011-02-15T00:15:41.509Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Depends on the social grouping, it's increasingly acceptable among the young.

Replies from: sabaton
comment by sabaton · 2011-02-16T13:07:46.213Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Interesting. There must be a sharp segmentation of the young, as part of them are apparently setting OECD records

comment by Morendil · 2011-02-15T18:39:20.183Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A suggestion for 1: "I've had bad experiences with alcohol, it's better if I don't have so much as a drop".

Not technically a lie, but you might have to lie if pressed further. The implication is that you were once an alcoholic, recovered, and are at risk if you have even one drink. That's actually true of many people and will not mark you as a wimp.

A suggestion for 2: once you have a drink in had, and sip very tiny amounts of it from time to time, people will generally leave you alone. Stretch a single drink over the course of an entire social occasion and I doubt many people would notice.