I don’t like to drink. I don’t like the taste of alcohol. And, outside of a handful of memorable, drinking stories that my friends and I repeatedly share with each other, I don’t get drunk and I don’t like to get drunk. I also don’t like the loss of time that comes with a hangover and the loss of control that comes with drinking.
And it’s not because I have a drinking problem. I never have. I just don’t like drinking alcohol, it’s simply not part of my life.
Even though I am in my early thirties, I still face this incredible pressure–peer pressure–to drink. I am talking about the kind of pressure we’re reminded of when we think of teenagers, college students, or those in their early twenties, and how our friends, during this phase of our lives, were pushing us to drink.
Although we often think peer pressure in drinking is tied to a younger more footloose group, to twenty-somethings who are still finding themselves, I’ve discovered through my own experience and through learning about the experiences of my readers, that age and professional status really plays no role in whether someone will pressure or be pressured. Men and women in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s are doing the pressuring.
It seems to me that social pressure to drink is more a cultural issue than an age issue.
I even have friends who claim they could never be in relationship with a person who doesn’t drink. Because that’s what every solid relationship is built on: consumption of alcohol.
In (Western) adult social culture, alcohol is a primary and important component of being part of a group, where people who are not interested in alcohol or dislike the taste, are subject to pressure to drink. They, in turn, are forced to find or create, what are deemed “legitimate reasons” for not joining in with the drinking. Failure to drink creates a barrier between the drinkers and those people, who, for various reasons, choose not to drink alcohol.
Why are we judging and pressuring people who don’t drink and why do we make them justify or explain their reasons for refusing alcohol?
Alcohol (and drinking) is a part of the wide range of social pressures in our culture and it’s part of the fabric of many people’s lives. However, it’s not an insignificant thing to ask and pressure someone else to drink.
I get that alcohol helps people loosen up in social settings, but it creates a barrier between people who choose to drink and people who don’t. And this barrier sets the tone for who talks to and who hangs out with whom. It’s as if alcohol is the social glue that keeps us together and if we don’t have it and are faced with some people who drink and some people who don’t, things seem to get off-balance and uncomfortable.
The idea of someone who doesn’t drink is so foreign to some people that we sometimes falsely assume that the person who is not drinking has a past of alcohol abuse or we force these non-drinkers to constantly explain themselves.
Mindy, a reader from Chicago in her early 30’s, often deals with new friends or colleagues who assume she was an alcoholic or member of A.A., because she chooses not to drink.
So when it comes to socializing, do we only have two categories for people: sober alcoholic or drinker? There are so many people that fall in between these two categories, they’re not really sober, but they’re also not active drinkers.
A friend of mine who works in corporate advertising commented on the pressure she feels when ordering a glass of water or lemonade at a restaurant with colleagues and everyone else is ordering wine or a cocktail, “I’m made to feel like I’m not an adult.”
Susie, a 38 year-old paralegal found herself being excluded from activities at work, because she barely drank.
“You won’t want to come out tonight because you don’t drink,” she would hear from her co-workers in an almost sympathetic tone (she would always be included in activities that didn’t include heavy drinking).
“I can still have a good time without drinking. It’s not like I’m standing there with my arms crossed at a bar, frowning. I just wonder if they feel judged if I am not doing shots with them and that’s why I’m not being included.”
For Susie and other people in her situation, the social interaction between colleagues, the same interaction that often aides people in their careers, is something that is stripped from her. Unless she’s willing to drink to intoxication, people just don’t feel comfortable having her around and so, Susie misses out on one part of professional networking.
My friend Erin, who is in her late 30’s, found her second pregnancy to be the saving grace, in terms of alleviating the pressure that comes with drinking, “I find it a relief now that I’m visibly six months pregnant, because I can point to my belly and say, ‘Sorry, I can’t!’”
“It will be a drag when I have to go back to explaining to people, ‘No really, I just don’t like it.’”
Having an excuse, whether it’s an illness or pregnancy, seems to offer a reprieve to those who don’t want to drink. But it still doesn’t doesn’t make sense to me. I understand (but don’t accept) the social pressure to drink during high school and college-age years, but why are adults so obsessed with their friends, family, and colleagues drinking?
And why do there seem to be real, social consequences for people who don’t care to learn the difference between a Chardonnay and a Cabernet?