When Olivia Blackmore tells people she doesn’t drink alcohol, she’s commonly met with a question in response: Why not?
The 27-year-old journalist says while most people are understanding and don’t pry, others can’t help themselves. Drinking is commonplace in social situations, and she’s used to being the odd one out.
“I’ve had a few people kind of push it,” Blackmore told Global News. “And that made me realize that I have to set my own boundaries in a conversation, and I shouldn’t let other people pressure me into telling them exactly why I don’t drink.”
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Blackmore has a health condition and drinking is simply not good for her. Her doctor has said she can have a drink once in a while, and in the past, she would enjoy a beer from time to time. But today, she just stays clear.
“I found that it’s really improved my confidence,” she said. “It was just such an act of self-love to completely say no to alcohol.”
Blackmore is part of a growing group of folks who choose not to drink for reasons other than addiction or dependence. These people may be referred to as “sober curious,” a term gaining traction in North America referring to people — often millennials — who have intentionally cut back on alcohol, or stopped drinking altogether. In other words, they are mostly sober.
New York-based writer Ruby Warrington, who is originally from England, recently wrote a book called, Sober Curious: The Blissful Sleep, Greater Focus, Limitless Presence, and Deep Connection Awaiting Us All on the Other Side of Alcohol. The book explores the ways booze can have negative repercussions on social lives, relationships and work, and encourages people to adopt a more “mindful” approach to drinking.
(It’s important to note that people with alcohol addiction or dependency issues seek professional support.)
Mindfully drinking means having a glass of champagne at a wedding if you really want it, but also being OK to say “no” when you don’t. Because alcohol is a large part of many people’s social lives and drinking is often normalized, Warrington’s book argues people should question their relationship with booze.
And according to data, some are.
A recent U.K. study found that more young British people are drinking less alcohol now than a decade ago. According to the study, 29 per cent of respondents aged 16 to 24 said they were non-drinkers in 2015, compared to only 18 per cent in 2005.
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In the U.S., alcohol volumes dropped 0.8 per cent in 2018, with beer being hit the hardest with a 1.5 per cent decline, according to data complied for The Wall Street Journal. The outlet reports that growth in wine and spirits slowed, too.
For 32-year-old Amy Grieves, quitting drinking was a deliberate choice she made at 22. Alcoholism runs in her family, and Grieves said she wanted to be a good role model for her siblings.
At parties, Grieves says that people will often ask her why she’s not drinking. While she will have a sip of wine on occasion, she doesn’t drink at parties and often has a seltzer water in hand.
“I do find some people really try to coax me into having a drink, and I think that stems from their need to not drink alone,” she said.
“But generally, people are pretty respectful. I also truly don’t care if someone doesn’t approve or understand my decision to not drink. I’m just doing me.”
When people ask “Why not?”
According to Kate Best, a registered Toronto-based social worker who specializes in addiction and mental health, if people are going to question why someone is not drinking, they should do so with respect.
“Use your intuition, and approach the question from a place of curiosity versus judgment,” she told Global News.
If someone indicates that they are not comfortable sharing, or simply says they don’t like to drink, leave it at that. You don’t want to make someone feel uncomfortable.
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“Also, remember that just because it may not be something you’d choose for yourself, different things work for different people, and whoever it is that has made the decision to stop drinking is clearly entitled to do so,” she said.
If you’re a non-drinker and people ask why you aren’t drinking, it’s up to you to decide how you want to respond. You don’t need to explain yourself or justify your sobriety, Best said.
“I encourage people to let go of feeling like they have to provide an answer. ‘I’m not drinking’ is good enough,” she said. “If people press further, you can respond that you don’t feel like getting into it, or go deeper if you’d like to.”
Sly Sarkisova, a Toronto-based registered clinical social worker, says that because drinking is so normalized in Canadian culture, it can be hard for people who are interested in cutting back on alcohol to do so.
“If more than one person in a social group is drinking, there is an embedded — and often explicit — expectation that everyone in the group drinks, and drinks at the pace and volume of those in the group,” Sarkisova said.
To move away from this pressure, Sarkisova says engaging in social activities that don’t revolve around drinking is important. Of course, this can be challenging at times, but Sarkisova says “moving away from dinners out and limiting bars can be a helpful place to start.”
Happier without alcohol
When people notice fitness instructor Jacklyn Marwah-Chow isn’t drinking at an event, she says she sometimes gets “the odd eyebrow lift” implying that she could be pregnant. The 27-year-old stopped drinking after university because alcohol didn’t react well with her, and she would feel terrible after a few drinks.
“If anyone does ask, I just say I don’t feel like drinking — which is generally true, since I will have a drink if I’m in the mood,” she said.
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Marwah-Chow said her friends are similar to her, and they aren’t really drinkers, either. Her husband also rarely drinks. This normalizes her lifestyle choice.
“I also don’t spend a ton of time in places or at events that revolve around alcohol; there isn’t much drinking at the gym or at the yoga studio,” she added.
The health benefits of not drinking are something many people enjoy: Blackmore says her confidence has greatly improved and Marwah-Chow says her energy and skin are better without booze. This makes sense, given that health experts have been stressing the harms of alcohol for years.
A recent global report found that no amount of alcohol is safe for overall health — not even a single glass of wine. A different recent study said that more people are visiting Ontario emergency rooms for alcohol-related problems, especially women and young adults.
Best believes that more people are realizing the mental health benefits of cutting back on alcohol, too. While drinking is still very common in social settings, Best says that when people see how drinking is hurting them, they want to make changes.
“It’s wonderful that this is more of an open conversation now, and that there are places for people to go to explore their own relationship with alcohol or other substances, and feel empowered to make the right decision for themselves,” she said.
Grieves has seen the harmful effects of alcohol first-hand and is confident in her choice to be sober.
The only downside of not drinking?
“It can be annoying being the sober person at the party if people are bad drunks,” she said.