It is a situation that has become more and more common in my life. Just take any place where there might be alcohol or the potential for drinking, throw me in with a couple of friends, add some questions and follow up with a lot of ridicule.
I’m sure this setting sounds familiar to a lot of people but mostly to those that don’t drink. You’re hanging out, it’s a good time, and then someone asks the group to go back to their place and have some drinks. Suddenly you find yourself worrying about how you are going to say no this time and explain why not.
I’ve become an expert in saying no to invitations where I am sure alcohol will be found because I end up being the designated babysitter. However, living near and spending most of my time on a college campus means the talk of alcohol and everyone’s latest drinking frolic can be found almost more often than the substance itself.
A lot of the time, all that follows the sentence “I don’t drink,” is playful banter and a few jeers, maybe a few sidelong glances, but those are enough to make me never want to leave my apartment on a Friday night again. Occasionally, you will come across a good-natured soul who takes time to ask, “why?” but that opens a whole other can of words.
I don’t drink because alcohol and its effects have torn half of my family apart. So, besides the occasional celebratory sip of champagne or taste of my parents’ beer or wine out of curiosity (yuck btw), I probably will never be a consumer.
This is usually all I need to say to get the pressure off my back, but there are people who have it way worse than I do. They get forced to drink or ex-communicated from their group of friends for missing too many parties. I’d take a few jokes and maybe some looks of pity over those options any day. But why should I have to?
The fact that I’m not 21 doesn’t seem to stop the harassment either. That’s because people like me, people who don’t know what it’s like to be drunk, who don’t know which alcohol pairs with what mixer, and who haven’t figured out the exact number of shots we can take and still remember the party, have become the minority. Especially on college campuses, those that don’t choose to drink, whether they are underage or not, seem to be harder and harder to find.
Many people choose to ignore this problem. If they don’t see it or hear about it daily then it must not be happening. Even I choose to live in this oblivion sometimes because it’s easier. But alcohol remains the most commonly used and abused drug among youth in the United States.
In 2016, it was reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that people between the ages of 12 and 20 drank 11 percent of all alcohol consumed in the United States.
Some may argue that responsible, underage drinkers are not the problem. It’s the people that don’t know how to stop after a few good-natured drinks. I agreed with this argument until I started doing more research and found that young people consume more than 90 percent of their alcohol by binge drinking. So while the majority of youth may be drinking less often than adults, when they do drink, they consume much more.
Most of us, if we have ever had a job or attended orientation, have been lectured endlessly on how drinking alcohol, especially irresponsibly, can ruin our lives. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence lists alcohol as the leading cause of crime among youth, changes in brain development, abuse of other drugs…the list goes on and on.
This problem is so much bigger, though, and can be devastating later in life. The CDC reports that young people who start drinking before age 15 are six times more likely to develop alcohol dependence or abuse later in life than those who begin drinking at or after age 21. I can tell you from personal experience that this affects more than one person. It affects families, coworkers, children and countless others.
The list of reasons a person may have not to drink is a long one. Maybe they have grown up in a house full of alcoholics, maybe they had a bad experience in the past. It could be as simple as they don’t like the taste, or they hate the way it makes them feel. Maybe they would rather spend the money or save the calories for something they actually enjoy. Whatever the reason, people should feel comfortable enough to give their reason and have it end there.
I’m not trying to say that everyone under the legal drinking age should be put in jail after one sip, and I’m definitely not saying we need to reinstate a nationwide prohibition. I don’t want to turn this into yet another piece that says everything we are doing right now to help the problem is wrong, and we need major reform.
I just ask that when you come across someone at a party who doesn’t want a drink, or a friend who chooses to not hang out with you if there’s alcohol around, try to think about all the reasons they may be choosing not to drink, and please have a little respect.