PSA: You Don’t Need an Excuse to Quit Drinking

PSA: You Don’t Need an Excuse to Quit Drinking

Hi, my name’s Quinne, and I’m not an alcoholic. I just don’t drink. Anymore.

Well, maybe I am an alcoholic. Or I would be, if my tolerance was ever high enough to binge drink, instead of getting too drunk after only two cocktails. Or if the “normal” shit you do in your early 20s was seen as less of a rite of passage and more like self destruction.

That rite of passage feels especially like a requirement in New York, where the city itself sparkles like Champagne and thrives on excess, chanting, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” to everything, just because it can. Young people are drinking less than previous generations, and sober dance parties are seeing huge success with people of all ages, but making the choice to not drink in NYC can feel like missing out on a milestone — even when you feel like that milestone might not be the right one for you.

The actual, specific reason that led me to quit drinking is boring: In December 2015, I stopped drinking momentarily because I was going off an antidepressant. It sounded like the rational decision — I was purposefully messing with my brain chemistry — and like most millennials I know, taking a break from alcohol was a thing I did on occasion when I felt like I had been drinking too much, wanted to detox, or just wanted to “see if I could do it.” I was going to do it for a couple of months, which turned into a few, which turned into thinking I might just not drink anymore. Or ever again.

I don’t remember if people were surprised. I do remember that they didn’t take me seriously. One of my best friends even said, “I mean, come on, you’re not an alcoholic,” as if it was a terrible or unusual thing to be in the first place (it’s neither, and if you’re struggling with addiction, please reach out to someone close to you or call 1-888-NYC-WELL for resources in New York City). I told her I might start drinking later in the year, laughing off her dismissal and feeling like a pariah while I figured out how to exist at a party without making myself a whiskey sour.

That immediate feeling of discomfort when someone in your circle stops drinking is totally understandable. “We tend to be more comfortable when everyone is on the same page in social situations,” says Dr. Kelifern Pomeranz, a clinical psychologist with a specialty in substance use disorders. “If others make different choices, this may highlight any insecurities or doubts I may have about the decisions that I am making, [and] I might begin to question whether I am a follower or a leader.”

And when the nondrinker doesn’t have a “good excuse” to not be drinking, the situation can feel reversible. I’ve stopped telling people that I have one or two drinks a year, because it usually leads them into (consciously or subconsciously) trying to make that night be the night I have a drink. It felt like society decided I had to go through some specific, life-altering experience to justify not having a glass of wine at dinner; like turning down alcohol is only possible when it’s compulsory, a last-ditch effort, a final choice to make when you’ve exhausted all your other options.

“Humans are meaning-makers,” says Dr. Pomeranz. “Simply making a decision not to drink feels too ambiguous. We like stories and explanations that make clear and linear sense, and when we are faced with ambiguity, we experience discomfort.” When our brains are able to put name tags on people, we feel more comfortable. We crave solid boundaries and justifications, diagnoses that tell us how to act and what to expect.

When we don’t get that explanation, we fill the space with assumptions about the person making the unusual choice. A guy recently asked me, “How do you date people if you don’t drink?” What a question, from someone who was also dead sober at the time, making out with me in Washington Square Park at 2pm on a weekday.

“You know we’re on a third date, right?” I asked. He didn’t have a response. We kept making out.

No one owes anyone an explanation about why they don’t drink, but I still have one at the ready: “I’m really sensitive to substances — like, even prescription medication — so I could never really drink casually. I’m drunk after like two drinks, so it’s not really fun for me.” Easy, clean, done. There’s more to it than that, of course, and it can be tricky at open bar situations like weddings, where liquor flows like water, and I’m that person asking the waiter for another ginger ale with bitters.

But quite simply, my life is better when I don’t drink. It’s magic to feel fully responsible for all of my actions and to foster higher chances of making choices that benefit me. Now, I go to concerts and feel every feeling possible when the band plays my favorite song. I go on dates and kiss people I really, really want to kiss. I laugh and dance and sing with my friends at parties, just like always, except I keep my balance.

And it’s easier than ever to live a highly social life without alcohol. Bars across the city have “spirit-free cocktail” menus; Mother of Pearl and Sunday in Brooklyn are two of my faves. You can even buy fancy non-alcoholic drinks like Curious Elixirs and Seedlip at the grocery store to take to your next party.

As it settled in, people who were truly uncomfortable with my life’s lack of alcohol sort of just left it. I don’t know if it’s part of getting older, our changing attitudes toward drinking, or just the way I handle myself in social situations, but these days, I rarely meet new people who are uncomfortable with my drinking habits.

And making a choice to quit drinking, without having to quit drinking, has made me evaluate everything else in my life. I don’t have to spend time with people who aren’t very good friends. I don’t have to tolerate creepy comments on my Instagram. I don’t have to wear cute shoes that are uncomfortable, or go to a party when I’m sick, or do anything out of obligation at all, really. Saying “no” to anything that doesn’t serve me feels so easy now.

I’m happy when I don’t drink, so I don’t. Isn’t that the only reason you need to do anything?

Want more? Check out our guide to a healthier 2019