Sorry, but I won’t be having a drink whilst I write this article. I hope you don’t mind, it’s just I had a bit of a heavy night and I need to keep my head clear whilst I write this thing.
Ok ok, perhaps the above sentence is a bit out of context but the concept holds true: why do we feel the need to apologise and justify our reasons for not drinking?
In honour of Mental Health Awareness Week 2022, today’s article is all about stigma, which is a major contributing factor to loneliness (this year’s theme). We’ll be talking openly about the stigma of not drinking, why people experience it and what we can do to challenge it.
And whether you’ve experienced stigma or not, together we’re going to own drinking alcohol-free! Because choosing to drink 0% (whether that’s altogether or every now and again) is all about establishing balance. And balance is beautiful.
What is stigma?
In a nutshell, stigma describes negative attitudes toward those who are different from the social norm. Stigma can take the form of discrimination, stereotyping, shaming and devaluing, which can have a heavy toll on one’s self-esteem, resilience and overall wellbeing.
Stigma and alcohol
How many stereotypes can you think of in association with alcohol? Lazy drunk, lightweight, waster, party animal…we can think of a lot worse besides! And if you’re not drinking? Unsociable, boring, wuss, party pooper…
Whether we choose to drink or not, alcohol and stigma seem to go hand in hand. In fact, it’s seen as one of the most significant barriers to seeking help for alcohol-related problems. But the truth is that most of us simply want the freedom to choose not to have a drink without facing any judgement.
If you are worried about your drinking, help and support are available at Alcohol Change UK.
Stigma as a barrier to not drinking
Why do we face judgment then? Well, the most apparent explanation is that drinking is normalised in British culture. Alcohol is seen as a reward at the end of a hard working day. If we want to socialise, it’s common to gather for drinks at the bar. We often get in a few bottles of beer to watch the footy or a bottle of wine to drink with dinner. And of course, if we wish to celebrate, let’s get the champagne in!
There is widespread acceptance that alcohol consumption is integral to British culture so it’s perhaps no surprise that being a consumer of alcohol is the social norm. And when there’s a social norm, there’s stigma. Studies have found that the stigma of not drinking has even led young people to hide the fact that they aren’t drinking.
Do we have to justify why we’re not drinking?
As we outlined in our blog on how to be the best designated driver, sometimes it’s appropriate to be forthcoming with our reasons for not drinking. It can help your friends and loved ones to understand and support you.
Nevertheless, if you’re comfortable with your motivation and know you’re making the right decision, then you shouldn’t have to justify yourself to anyone. It’s entirely up to you to decide how much you wish to share and who to share it with.
How do we normalise not drinking?
The stigma of not drinking is not going to disappear overnight but there are certainly lots of things we can do to reduce it. The first and most important step is to assess our own behaviour and endeavour to be as supportive and encouraging as we can to anyone choosing to moderate their drinking. If a friend has decided not to drink next Friday, you could even team up!
In the event that someone is sarcastic or demeaning about your decision to not drink, try not to get defensive and, instead, employ some Socratic questioning (open and exploratory) such as “Why do you feel uncomfortable with me not drinking?”
Another great way to change the norm would be to shift the focus of nights out with your friends. For example, you could suggest going to an activity bar or a virtual reality centre, rather than your regular club. You could even ask your local pubs and bars if they wouldn’t mind stocking alcohol alternatives. If they need motivation, tell them about these trendy bars that are already serving alcohol-free!
Next time you host for pre-drinks, ensure there are always alcohol-free cocktails or other 0% options available; there are plenty of incredible challenger brands creating new and innovative non-alcoholic beverages that will excite your guests.
Lastly, to address the stigma of not drinking, we need to be talking about it. From telling your friends about the latest alcohol-free whiskey you’ve tried to changing the language we use to talk about our relationship with alcohol (#NoSuchThingAsALightweight), the more we talk about sobriety and drinking in moderation, the more accepted not drinking will become.
Want to do your bit? Share this article online and instigate a conversation! You may just find that your friends already feel the same way.