Kate's Blog

What do you mean, you’re NOT drinking?!

Picture the scene: it’s your best friend’s birthday and you’ve been dragged out for drinks. You’re hovering near the bar, trying to discreetly order something alcohol-free without anyone noticing.
Just as you start to think you’ve got away with it, someone leans over and says, “Is that … sparkling water? Why are you drinking THAT?”
Heads turn in your direction. People frown with confusion.
Are you ill, they ask? Has something happened? Why aren’t you drinking? Why, why, WHY? What possible reason could there be for actually choosing to socialise sober *shudder*?

The chances are you
will have to deal with some version of this scenario, at some point.

But the good news is that with a little preparation, you can stop those ‘hope-the-ground-swallows-me-up’ moments from being such a big deal. You can close down the conversation and move on (without having to tell the whole bar about your drinking history).

First – a big picture overview

It’s completely up to you what you do and don’t say.

Before we go any further, let’s take a moment to remember that it is no one else’s business whether you’re drinking or not! Other people might think they have some right to know, but they really don’t. You are in complete control here. You don’t owe anyone an explanation – not even your oldest drinking buddy. If you decided to cut out caffeine or gluten or meat, you wouldn’t seek their approval. This is exactly the same. You’re a grown up and you get to make your own decisions.
Some people genuinely won’t care.
I think you’ll be surprised how often this happens. If you’ve been obsessing about your drinking for a while, it’s easy to assume that everyone else is also obsessed. But there are lots of people out there who really don’t care whether you drink or not – even some heavy drinkers have an ‘each to their own’ attitude. And some people will just be too wrapped up in themselves to even notice what you have in your glass.
Other people’s reactions have very little to do with you.
The way people respond says an awful lot about them, and their drinking, their prejudices and their fears. But it says so little about you. It’s not something you can control, so don’t waste your energy worrying about it.
People will say stupid things.
When it comes to alcohol, most people are poorly educated. Their beliefs are based on stereotypes, myths and Facebook memes. People will say silly, clumsy things not because they’re trying to hurt you, but because they don’t know any better.
You won’t lose your real friends.
Yes, some people will be surprised by your decision and they may need a bit of time to adjust. But you’ll soon discover who your real friends are. Long term, they’re the ones who stick around and don’t care what’s in your glass, because they like you for who you really are.
How you feel about this WILL change.
Eventually, you won’t feel so bothered about this stuff. There will come a point where it feels natural and right to offer up a truthful explanation about why you’re no longer drinking. But the chances are that in early sobriety, you aren’t ready for that yet. So for now, just say whatever feels the most comfortable. Here are a few ideas. 

~ Possible responses ~


For people who know you, and expect you to be drinking:

  • “No thanks, I don’t feel like drinking today.”
  • “No thank you – I’m taking a month off drinking and I’m loving it. I feel great!”
  • “I’m doing a six week, no-alcohol challenge with some friends at work.”
  • “I’ve had one too many heavy nights recently. I’m an all or nothing person and it’s time for a break.”
  • “I’m driving.”
  • “I’m trying to lose weight.”
  • “I’m too tired.”
  • “I’ve got a busy day tomorrow.”
  • “I’ve been feeling run down, so I’m cutting out alcohol for a while.”
  • “I’m on antibiotics.”
  • “I’m training for a race.”
  • “I’ve booked an early morning fitness class.”
  • “I’m not feeling very well today.”

For nosy strangers:

  • “I don’t drink.” (Those three little words are a complete answer.)
  • “None for me thanks – but I’d really love a lime soda if you’ve got one?”
  • “I just don’t like the taste.”
  • “Alcohol gives me a headache.”
  • “I couldn’t deal with the hangovers.”

For rude and annoying people:

  • “I’m having way too much fun sober to waste my time drinking again. I feel amazing!”
  • “I think I’m fabulous just the way I am, don’t you?”
  • “I caught myself pestering other people to drink, and I realised I had some issues with my own alcohol intake.”
  • “This is something I’m doing for myself and I don’t let other people pressure me into drinking.”
  • “I care about my health way too much to drink that toxic stuff. Have you heard about the cancer risk?”
  • “Sorry, didn’t you hear me? No I don’t want a drink. I’d love a sparkling water though, I find it really helps me mind my own business. Would you like one?”


Whatever you decide to say…

Do it with confidence. Really own it. Don’t apologise for not drinking. Never, ever be apologetic. And remember, less is more. There’s no need to say too much.

Now I’d love to hear how you deal with this.

How do you handle people pressuring you to drink? Have you got any great responses or excuses that I’ve missed off the list? Perhaps there’s a smart one-liner that you use time and time again… Please let me know in the comments!


Hi, I'm Kate

I founded The Sober School to show you there’s another way out of your shame that doesn’t involve AA or rehab. 


50 Responses

  1. I was recently in our local with my husband and some acquaintances of whom were quite apologetic for the venue. Without missing a beat I said it was all good as I knew for a fact the pub served my favourite lemonade. Today, 1 May 2017 I am sober nine months and couldn’t be happier. As always, thanks for your timely blog Kate, it rings true every time.

    1. Well done Deborah!! I am starting Jan 1 and determined to do the same. Some big functions coming up in Feb and April, so a little anxious about them….

      1. Hi Diane I’ve just done my first sober Christmas and then a month later my first sober holiday and the thought of it was way scarier than actually doing it.. it actually was really, honestly ok. Much easier than I thought! Go do them big functions and remember everything!

  2. I came across your blog the day after I decided to stop drinking. I wanted to do it on my own, and your blog totally resonated with me. This weekend was my first sober weekend since – I don’t even remember when. I’m 38 with no kids, so I’m just waiting for the social gathering when I’ll get ‘omg are you pregnant?!’. Lol

  3. this is still very difficult for me! I love all the suggestions and will use them! I have one friend who is so wonderful but she no longer invites me down at night. I don’t drink with her anymore so the nightly visits have ended. I am sad but understand it is about her and not me. My family is also traveling some this summer and I am very confused by how much I want to drink with the different foods we will be trying. I feel that is part of the experience. I know that is not true but that has always been my norm.

    1. Alcohol shouldn’t make or break a proper friendship. So whilst it’s painful to see some friends drift away, it’s also an eye opening experience and a reminder of who your close friends really are.
      As for the food, I would focus on how much your taste buds are going to improve without alcohol dulling them. Your palate will change and I think you’ll find a new appreciation for food. So rather than focusing on what you think you might miss – and making that your story, and your destiny – get excited about what you could gain from this 🙂

  4. I mentioned this in the course. Last month if people asked, I just told them I was playing an April Fool’s trick on my liver for the entire month. The laughed and the evening went on

  5. Stumbled on blog. Enjoy the info. Don’t know if i’m the only man in the forum or if it’s for women only but don’t really care. Enjoying the info. Had first sober weekend in 35 years. Im a 51 year old healthy functioning binge alcoholic with some health issues. Trying to find out if no alcohol can help fix some mild nerve damage. Doctors orders but I’m glad to try to make a change. Ive always been fine 5 days a week – just go overboard at times and fortunately or unfortunately rarely had any issues. Until now. Hoping and praying for strength. Feet feel better already! Thanks for your help!

    1. So what if you’re the only man! Congrats! I was one of those binge drinkers.
      I’ve been sober since 9/11/17. No turning back for me. I’ve lost almost ten pounds and I feel the best I’ve ever…..felt in my life

  6. I have been saying with a big grin on my face…” Yeah, just jumping before I get pushed..you know?”

  7. I recently attended a wedding and as an ex heavy drinker I deflected any questions with some levity which you are welcome to try. A grin to go with helps. 100 percent of people did not question any further.
    ‘My liver function test came back as ‘closed for refurbishment’
    ‘The doctor threatened to stop my viagra and anabolic steroid prescription’ (Insert your own wacky meds)
    ‘I’m working on my thigh gap for Summer’ (better if you are a 250lbs male)
    ‘I’m allergic to alcohol. It brings me out in handcuffs’
    ‘I drank my apartment deposit so I’m saving up for another’
    ‘I don’t like alcohol. My preference is solvents. Glue mainly’
    ‘I couldn’t afford the UDIs (Unidentified Drinking Injuries) on my health insurance’
    ‘I’m driving. It’s a Ferrari. Wanna go for a ride and get coffee? (I have a Mazda)

  8. When I said to friends, no thanks, I’m not drinking right now, I got “YOU????” as a response. I have been a notorious partier.
    I just said. “Yep. Who woulda thunk?”
    Complete acceptance ensued.

  9. THANKYOU for this site and for this excellent piece. I haven’t had a drink for five years and I’m happier than ever. Yes it’s still tricky at times …. but not as tricky as living with deceit, guilt and self-loathing. Not drinking makes you realise how huge a part alcohol plays in our society ….leaving drinks, end of the week drinks, celebrations…. I quite enjoy sticking up for the possibilities of an alcohol free existence. My work colleagues are all lovely …. surprised, impressed and curious but not nosey. I say, cheerily, “I don’t drink” and say stuff like …ooh haven’t drunk in x yrs … and when/if they persue the issue, I say “well I reckoned I was drinking too much …. and I found it really hard to drink less. After the first one, I had to have another …. and so I decided not to have the first one.” And VERY OFTEN I am met by a response which makes me think there are plenty of drinkers around who are very worried about the amount they drink.

    1. I completely agree – the way people respond says a lot about them. Congratulations on your 5 years!

  10. This is very much what I have needed support with. I have been alcohol free for almost five months now. It’s become much easier not to drink, I don’t even think about it most days. The only time I do is in social situations where drinking is “par for the course. ” We have a party at our church next weekend where there will be a wine grab and plenty of drinking /dancing. My high school reunion is coming up, lots of BBQ’s and other spring parties. So far I have handled six parties and a couple dinner/bar dates without drinking. The hardest part is doing those things and feeling confident in my decision not to be drinking. I always feel the need to explain too much like its a bad thing that I have given up alcohol.

    1. Hi Megan,
      You and I are in the same boat!
      My last sip of a beverage was 1159pm NYE 2016 so also 5 months in. My friends are loving me being the driver.

  11. I have been sober for 14 months now. If asked, I say “I don’t drink”. Simple as that. I sometimes cookie it up with “I lived my life with alcohol for over 30 years and finally decided it was time I saw what life was like without it”. If anyone gets really pushy (very very rare), I say “I noticed I was starting to lean on alcohol whenever I was stressed or wanting to relax or wanting to celebrate. I decided to stop because I didn’t want to go down that path. I’m an awful lot happier now that I don’t drink and I really don’t miss it at all “.
    Just had a holiday weekend here. Up early, across to the coast. Clear headed under the clear skies. Life is way too short to live it hung over.

  12. I love all of these, I’m sadly not at the stage of convincing other people . . It’s me I need to get past lol. I have decided to stop drinking again! But god loves a trier and I’m determined to get out of this horrible rut’. I have read everyone’s comments and feel very motivated by them. I especially like the life’s too short to live it with a hangover. I think my new hobby will be ‘watching others get drunk’ and note the demise in their behaviour / decisions, to let me see what I’ve been doing’ for the last 5 yrs.

  13. I am only two weeks into cutting way way down from a 20plus year habit of wine every day of my life. So far I’ve only had one situation where a close family member asked fervently “why aren’t you drinking?” and I said “It will just make me sleepy and this is going to be a long night”. In the future I plan to also use “I’m taking a break from wine.” and “Wine had become way too important to me so I’m taking a break.” So thankful to find this helpful website!

  14. I’m so,happy to have found this website! I’m on Day 2 and this is the first time in a long while I’ve had a glimmer of hope that I just might be able to do this thing.

        1. It’s a very good example of having it all yet still be determined to piss it up the wall. Good for him for waking up. Doesn’t matter who you are, once you are in the grip…

      1. I love this idea!! “Brad Pitt and I made a pact: we are sober buddies! I can’t let him down”

  15. I am so happy I found your site! I decided two days ago, after a particularly hefty binge, I was tired of being a high-functioning alcoholic. I tried cutting back many times with no success. Quitting completely is the way to go. I am excited about it. You make so many amazing points and have so many great suggestions. Thanks so very much for investing your time. It really is a lifesaver.
    I believe I will be “allergic” to alcohol for the time being until I can practice my “no” better and face losing “friends” over being sober 🙂

  16. These are all great ideas. I’m over a year & a half sober, excited for my second booze-free summer ahead!
    I’ve noticed a less-is-more approach with most people works best, as most don’t want the buzz-kill sob-story of WHY I quit drinking. With that said, being upfront that this is an actual and lasting change helped strengthen my resolve and didn’t leave me an easy out to start drinking again. ‘I don’t drink anymore’ and more recently just ‘I don’t drink’ has sufficed and kept me honest with myself and those around me.
    For me personally, if I’d resorted to clever excuses I think I’d have been much more likely to pick up drinking again as I’d have no one to hold me accountable. Just my perspective.

  17. Whole 30. It’s some 30 day cleansediet type thing. It’s really popular and it buys you a month’s worth of excuses, plus, you can extend it to longer than 30 days.

  18. Thank you for this site,it’s contents and all those have offered their input. I am on the verge of quitting and needed this particular type of support. Other methods made me feel guilty and scared. This makes exciting. Xo to everyone who actually gets it!!!

  19. I’ve been sober for 6 weeks, I used to rely on drink after ‘a bad day’ or ‘if I was upset’ This could end up being most days of the week, it was a very unhealthy habit. Your blog has been super helpful!
    I’ll be going to the Christmas markets today with my girl friends who all drink, Ive been nervous about this day (mainly because of my friends potential reactions) but thanks to your section on ‘what do you mean you’re not drinking’ I feel like I can go with my head held high! I have friends that fall into several categories.
    Thanks for the support!

  20. I’m on day 5:) feel amazing already, I wake up thinking I have a hangover but then remember …I don’t!!! Thank u so much for the way you put this across, ive read soooo many books but this makes it seem (as it is) the best thing ever to do! Worries about the weekend tho, it’s my birthday! I know I can do Christmas, I have children so will focus on them, but don’t have them this weekend and know my friends and even partner will be expecting me to go out all day to the pub!! Help!!

  21. Day 5 AF……so can anyone tell me why on earth I feel like I’m about to burst into tears??!!!! My energy levels have returned, last night was the most difficult and I nearly gave in, but didn’t, and I was so glad this morning! But now, midday, I feel so so low and tearful. Why is this? What can I do?!!! I’m so fed up!

    1. Remind yourself how great you’ll feel tomorrow if you don’t drink!! You’ll remember everything this year! You can do it. You’re worth it!

    2. Louise, congratulations on day 5 AF. Please know that your body is going through all kinds of good change. Perhaps take some time when you are feeling low and tearful to have a cup of tea/coffee, something to eat, and give yourself a pep talk about how well you’re doing, don’t give up on yourself, sobriety is so worth it. All the best in your journey.

      1. Well, I did SO well AF ALL over Christmas and up to New Year’s Day!!! I felt amazing and so much more healthy proud and in control. Thank you for your kind advice. Than on New Year’s Day, I went out, I had a long session, fell out with my partner (who is very controlling and unfortunately I put up with it quite easily sober but after a drink I speak my mind when he starts to criticise me). I got home, my partner had left. I felt terrible the next day. As you know. And have now made a definite decision that it does me NO favours. Causes trouble for me. I CANNOT moderate. And I DO NOT want to be that person ANYMORE. I’ve decided I’m going 100 days AF and this is day 2:) I’m ready for it. I’m excited. I’m hoping my partner and I make up, but if not, it’ll just all be a new beginning, me and the children, with me in control. I’ve signed up for a half marathon in October too!! Wish me luck, and I you all too.

  22. Last drink 28/12/17 so officially over a month.
    Had a few situations (weekend away with Hubby, meals out where I would’ve drank normally) but I just opted for a mocktail and didn’t miss it a bit. I’m sleeping better, my general mood has improved, my anxiety (suffered for years) is so much less and my Husband is enjoying a wife that’s happy again and not passed out or hungover. I’m going for a 100 days and really have the mentality that it doesn’t matter what I have in my glass now. I’ll never wake up and regret NOT drinking but have woke up on (so many) occasions filled with regret when I was drinking!
    Cheers to all!

    1. Hi Sara. Good for you.100 days you can do it. I have had my last glass wine sunday jan 27.. I was still hang over from saturday…so I am starting this new life. Sobber for 2 days . Trying a month..

  23. I’ve been AF for 100 days and I feel great! I’m sleeping better and my anxiety is under control.
    I had my first experience with a friend question my non drinking. I guess I knew it was coming but I was still taken aback ! Thanks to this program I knew how to respond…..I said that I was on the Keto diet and I had lost several pounds. Alcohol has too much sugar in it and it is unhealthy for me. All of this information was the truth !!

  24. When pestered about why I don’t drink alcohol, by a (drunk) fellow guest on holiday – at an all-inclusive in Barbados, in the end I said, looking straight at her, ‘I used to be a piss-head. Not any more!’ And she immediately shut up 🙂

  25. Thank you kate for your blog you’ve inspired me to quit
    3 months AF
    I do find it difficult with certain friends a few who I have avoided telling and and made up excuses like I’m on medication etc.. This has been my biggest stress giving up drinking and telling some close friends who are also big drinkers. I feel wonderful and love my new alcohol free life!
    You’ve changed my life forever thank you!

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