Thursday 15 August 2013

Don’t drink, don’t smoke? What do you do?

From time to time, you come across articles by non-drinkers claiming that drinking has become the norm in society, and that non-drinkers are ridiculed, ostracised and portrayed as party-poopers. The latest example I have seen is this one: The incoherent ramblings of a tee-totaler (sic) - which I think is hosted by an astroturf anti-drink group, so might have something of an axe to grind.

However, in recent years my experience has been that, in the context of general adult socialising, drinking has become less and less commonplace, and no stigma whatsoever is attached to those who choose not to do it. Obviously there are some gatherings like Burns night suppers where alcohol is core to the experience, and non-drinkers may choose to avoid them, but even if they did attend for whatever reason I doubt whether they would become the butt of ridicule.

Indeed, it sometimes feels as though the person who does have a drink is the one who attracts funny looks and an element of disapproval. I will offer two examples from my recent experience. First, I attended a social gathering of a non beer related organisation which was actually held in a pub, and a very good pub too. I would say that fewer than half of the adults there had an alcoholic drink. And I attended a funeral where the reception afterwards was held in a hotel with a licensed bar. There were maybe twenty adults present, and I was the only one to have a drink.

And the steep decline of drinking with work colleagues, whether at lunchtimes or after work, has been widely noted.

The complaint may have some relevance in the context of student life, but even there I would say you have a wide choice as to which social contacts you make. When I was at university, I knew a number of people in the Methodist Society, which I very much doubt was a focus of alcohol-fuelled revelry, whereas the Chess Club was often just an excuse for a piss-up. Universities host a huge range of cultural, sporting and religious societies – some undoubtedly are boozy, most are not. If you don’t like drinking, don’t associate with boozers, it’s not difficult. It might also help your cause if you don’t ostentatiously make the point that you never drink every time you refuse one.

All the statistics show that in recent years there has been a steady decline in both the proportion of young people who drink alcohol, and the average per-capita consumption. This social world in which people are being constantly subjected to peer pressure to drink alcohol and ostracised if they don’t seems to bear very little relation to reality.


  1. I spoke at a Rotary Club dinner a week or two ago - I didn't drink because I was driving but it struck me that just one or two of the men (it was a men only club) were drinking.

  2. I ran a variety of different societies in my many years at university. We frequently had people come along to social events in the pub and not drink. Never once were they made fun of. No-one really noticed whether they were drinking or not, frankly.

    My experience is that the only people who claim that non drinkers are ridiculed and ostracised are the ones that simply don't bother to actually attend functions and see what they were like.

  3. People with a chip on their shoulder often perceive a problem when none really exists - applies to many other issues too.

  4. The post title reminded me instantly of some dialogue I once read in a novel, between an officer and his subaltern in some quiet guard post, on a quiet evening.

    The officer produced his cigarette case and offered his man a pleasant smoke. Goodness me no, the young man didn't smoke.

    Shortly after the officer produced his silver hip flask and proferred a mouthful of fine brandy. Nope - the young chap never drank liquor.

    The conversation turned to the opposite sex, whereupon our young hero indicated that he never had anything to do with womenfolk.

    The officer then asked 'And so do you eat hay?'

    Upon the young man shaking his head our good officer retorted - 'Then you are neither fit companion for man nor beast!'

    The quote may be Winston Churchill but whoever it is - buy that man a pint.


  5. Actually it comes from "Goody Two Shoes" by Adam Ant ;-)

  6. The dust-cutter or early doors drink is something that defines me. The crowd in a pub at six o'clock bears no resemblance to that four or five hours later - save for the odd straggler. Pubs are more chilled and relaxed and no one is steaming. Or hardly anyone.

  7. Those social occasions where you are expected to attend, like an office function, are more liberal than they were with no requirement to drink. Some people cannot understand why someone makes a different choice to themselves but they are by and large idiots.

    My decision on whether to drink or not is whether I like my colleagues and want to socialise with them. If the answer is no then its J20, I’m driving, and I’m off at the earliest that isn’t deemed rude. If I like them I’m having whatever grog is going free and dancing. Others types of function like a family occasion, family members may feel they are entitled to expect you both to attend and accept the prevailing group norms. All families are different but all are equally odd.

    People are free to choose their own social groups in accordance with their own predilections. Of course many people that find they wish to change their drinking habits then also find they have to change their friends and social groups too. Easier when younger than older.

    Social groups have unwritten rules and being a member of that group is accepting those rules. Rejecting one or more of the rules can be seen as rejecting the group. Drinking can be one of the rules in many social groups. It can be considered rude to decline a cup of tea and slice of cake as much as a dram of the Scottish stuff in visiting some people. Sometimes it is more polite to lie. I am on a diet, the doctor gave me some pills and I am off it for a few weeks. Little lies grease the wheels and remove offence.

    In some part it also depends on the individual’s personal attributes, they extent to which they are happy to none conform, ignore the expectations of others and take the view if others have a problem with their choice then it’s their problem. That is as much more mental makeup as personal strength and will also determine the number and type of friends you have.

    However you are right to say there is less pressure to drink in today’s world, and that is arguably more libertarian affording power to the individual than group.

    I like the choice. I like a drink, I also like more nights off it than I do on it. I enjoy a drink more if it isn’t an everyday routine. It tastes better and feels better. A night on the piss is great. A week on the piss is retched.

  8. Adam Ant? Is that who you are saying made the 'eat hay' quote?

    Strange that because I first read it in a Dennis Wheatley novel in the mid 1970s, one written in the 1960s.

    Long before Adam Ant then.


  9. Generally I haven't had any negative comments if I decide to have soda and lime rather than a beer or wine, may get asked are you sure? But only if its someone else's round but that all. But then I don't make a fuss about it, half wonder if the reported negative comments from some are more down to their attitude rather what they are drinking.

    As for Burns night and not drinking, unless enlightened otherwise I would assume they were on prescription medicine or driving. I enjoyed a Burns night some years ago, without a drink because of prescription drug course for acute Bronchitis, I was recovered but needed to finish the course and alcohol was a no with them. I enjoyed myself and no one remarked on it, mainly because folks were too busy chatting, dancing and singing to notice what one person was doing drinks wise.

  10. People like to be victims because that makes whatever they do, or choose not to do, more important; consequently they like to claim that they are persecuted, discriminated against, or whatever. For example, I've read Christians seriously claiming that they are persecuted in this country, which is not only demonstrable nonsense, but is an insult to Christians elsewhere in the world who are genuinely persecuted.

    Beccy, the writer in that article, doesn't need to explain anything; people are simply being curious, making conversation. They might be interested to know whether she doesn't drink on principle or whether she simply doesn't like the taste, or the effects, or both. What's wrong with that? It's called conversation. I can't stand fish or seafood and sometimes I'm asked why not: "You mean you don't eat salmon?" "I don't eat any fish." "What about cod?" "I don't eat any fish". I'm not exaggerating when I say that I've had conversations like that many times, but I don't whinge on blogs about how I'm persecuted for not conforming to society's fish eating norms: quite simply, they are interested enough in me to want to understand a fact about me. Beccy: stop trying to be a victim and just lighten up.

  11. If you're off the sauce I take it you won't be at tonight's beard club pissup, Cookie, even though it's your local one.

  12. The site you refer to is hosted by fake charity Alcohol Concern. Having had a look at it, what amuses me is that although it urges today's young puritans to tweet about it and share it on Facebook, precisely nobody has done so. They have, however, amassed a mighty eleven signatures for their petition to restrict high-strength drinks. Given that, in their words, they "have a team of young people who review alcohol advertising and hold companies to account when they break the rules", it would seem possible that no-one outside their teetotal bubble has shown the slightest interest.


Comments, especially on older posts, may require prior approval by the blog owner. See here for details of my comment policy.

Please register an account to comment. Unregistered comments will generally be rejected unless I recognise the author. If you want to comment using an unregistered ID, you will need to tell me something about yourself.