On Hardly Ever Drinking Alcohol

Has anyone else noticed that Drynuary is now followed by the FebFast, giving us two potential months of abstaining from alcohol? The Guardian had a stab at Drynuary here. Myself, I’m going to discuss what it’s like to not drink alcohol all year ’round.

Women's temperance: pretty badass in 1874.

Women’s temperance: pretty badass in 1874.

For all practical purposes, I’m a nondrinker. I have an alcoholic drink an average of every 3 – 4 years, so rarely that I can remember each individual occasion – a wedding toast, or a friend asking me to try something incredibly special. I don’t mind, because I don’t have a medical or addiction-history reason to not drink alcohol – I just don’t like it much, so I choose not to, as a rule. My choice puts me in the curious company of other liquor abstainers and minimalists: temperance-movement suffragettes, evangelical teetotalers, Mormons, Muslims, “health nuts”, and straight-edge punks. (New Zealand, it turns out, narrowly dodged alcohol Prohibition in 1911!)

Like most nondrinkers, I don’t tend to bring it up, because not drinking leads to social weirdness in most Western societies. In one memorable conversation at my first job, I was told that I wouldn’t get far in publishing because I didn’t drink (sure enough, I work in tech today). I was brought up in the USA and lived there until I was 28, and not drinking is relatively common there, 1 in 3 – 4 people, whereas in New Zealand, only 2 out of  10 are nondrinkers. Dating as a non-drinker in New Zealand has been particularly fraught. “If I can’t get you drunk,” said one swain, “how am I ever going to get you into bed?” A statement to make everyone go teetotal right there.

Seeing my friends enjoy wine and cocktails and whiskey, I know I am outside their shared connisseurship of bitter and subtle flavors. Once, I asked a dear friend who is also a globetrotting gourmet, “Do I seem naive, childish, because I don’t drink?” After a tense moment, the confession came: “Yes.” Well, then, so be it.

Courtesy of Lombro Bulmbha via Creative Commons.

Somebody’s got to light that absinthe.

There are a lot of pluses to being a nondrinker. I’m welcome at wild parties – someone has to drive home. Recently, I was the one torching absinthe sugar cubes for other guests with my steady hands. I am also a reliable caberet emcee. One of the joys of burlesque and cabaret for me is that it can be a wicked evening activity without boring alcohol as a focus.

I may seem naive and childish, but so does my complexion. My partner, a light and occasional drinker, has also been touched lightly by time – someone accused me of cradle-snatching him, when he’s 8 years older than I am. The Drinking Mirror App shows what drinking alcohol does to your skin.

ShoesorboozeAlso? The financial benefits of being a non-drinker are insane. Forget the Latte Factor: others have also noted that not drinking alcohol suddenly boosts their budget. I remember being shocked into silence the first time I heard that someone had racked up a $150 bar tab. My house, which I own, I saved up for between the ages of 30 and 35 – it’s the house that No Bar Tabs built. Now that I’m there, nothing ever stops me from driving home to its slightly distant location.

Then there are the aspects that aren’t pros or cons, they just are. Yes, I have fun, but…my standards are different. Some parties in New Zealand are hosted in raw spaces to avoid damage to houses due to enthused drinkers. But I am swiftly bored hanging out in somebody’s garage with a bag of potato chips and drunk people.  Food has to be good – company has to be interesting – I admit, I’ll get off the dance floor sooner – I’m going to admire every detail of your outfit. I remember what I did and said, and what everyone else did, too.

And life has rolled on. Nondrinking hasn’t barred me from experiences or misfortunes. As a nondrinker, I have ridden pillion on a motorcycle at 5 AM through the last of lurid old Times Square, modeled, partied in the Meatpacking District in New York, visited ten countries, been mugged, been divorced, gone urban spelunking, enjoyed world-class cuisine, danced at big band Motown and radical feminist punk concerts, flirted badly, flirted with shocking success, and celebrated getting engaged again.

This month, I support fellow Wellington redheads raising money for the FebFast – please consider donating to help young New Zealanders learn how to enjoy alcohol responsibly.

For a nondrinker’s night out in Wellington with some beverage variety, I happily recommend the delicious virgin drinks at The Library. And at the world-famous Matterhorn, just ask the bartender and they will make virgin versions of their amazing cocktails.

My life as a nondrinker.

In conclusion: this is my life as a nondrinker. From the irresistible Tumblr Babies Covered In Money.


  1. I used to think I was more socially awkward than everyone else because I dislike parties where you just stand around talking, and will actively avoid networking events. Then I realised – it’s not that I have a problem, it’s that everyone else is using alcohol to get sociable.

    Part of me wishes I had some way of doing that, the other part still thinks events you need to be drunk to enjoy are not worth my time.


    • -nods in agreement- In one of the pieces on nondrinking I read (can’t find the link, sorry) some university students saw other students who didn’t drink as having exemplary social skills because they didn’t “need” to drink to go out, be at a party, etc.


  2. I have been told that it is impossible and completely unheard-of to do karaoke while sober. I just smile sweetly in reply. I’ve never done karaoke while drunk.

    I think the worst thing I’ve ever been called was “wowser”, which (I think) means that I’m just out to ruin everyone else’s fun by ostentatiously Not Drinking at them. *shrug* IN YR CRAFT BEER BAR GIVN U FROWNY FACES! >:( 😛

    Also, I’ve found that I’ve grown to like drinks that aren’t sweet. The Hopt salted lychee soda is a nice alternative to lemonade, and their elderberry & herb soda is cinnamony and delicious. The celery tonic from Six Barrel Soda isn’t half bad, either, and it’s locally made which is an added bonus.


    • I’m just out to ruin everyone else’s fun by ostentatiously Not Drinking at them.


      Your Interesting Soda recommendations are spot on too. Mmmmm, Hopt!


  3. I do like a tipple because I enjoy the flavours of certain drinks, but plenty I don’t, and I also dislike environments where booze is used to break the ice, or oil social cogs. If it wouldn’t be fun sober, it won’t be fun drunk. Makes sense to me! And, if too many people get drunk, I cease to enjoy it anyway.


    • Good to hear from a moderate drinker! Though I must say, any party where you are is automatically going to be better than average.


  4. Straight edge punks? Now I’ve seen everything!

    Of course, there’s yet another advantage to not drinking; no hangovers.


  5. Drinking and getting drunk is just puzzling for me. I like to know that I had fun and who with and why. It means that I had fun, not the alcohol. I like to know what happened and when. There have been a few times in my life that I wished I could just go off and get drunk to get rid of some really high stress (most notably when I split with my ex) and yet I never did.

    For me it is not just a choice, I really can’t stomach the stuff. But I guess it is a little psychological too because my mother always told me; “Well you have to drink to be social and be accepted”. Did I prove her wrong? Well yes I did.


    • You most certainly did prove her wrong! Congratulations for sticking to your guns and doing what is right for YOU, my dear. Missing you and our friendship right now!


Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *.