The Humanist Dilemma: I’m Not In Recovery, I Just Don’t Like Drunks

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I Hate Drinkers: When I was young I occasionally drank more than I should, and eventually I realized I didn’t like the way I acted while drunk or how I felt afterwards. From then on I drank minimally in social situations and otherwise not at all. I also became conscious of how much alcoholic beverages cost in restaurants and how little I enjoy them, so I really prefer not to order them. Finally I realized I don’t even want them when they’re free, such as when I’m a guest or there’s an open bar.

My problem is that other people seem to have a problem with my choice of sobriety. People act horrified when I say “just water” or “no thanks” or whatever, as if I’m spoiling their fun. I’ve learned to order things like Campari and soda to look like I’m imbibing, but really I’d rather just stick with coffee or tea. And if that isn’t bad enough, I’m also realizing that I dislike people who drink. My flesh crawls around people who are tipsy—not only those who get ornery, but also those who start laughing too raucously about things a sober person would not consider particularly funny. I find myself making excuses to avoid situations where people will be drinking, which includes most social events. I feel pretty safe with breakfasts and lunches, but dinners, parties, weddings—the list of situations I’m inclined to avoid is getting longer all the time.

I’m wondering if there’s something wrong with me. I know some people must suspect I’m a recovering alcoholic (I’m not), and others just think I’m uptight. It may be ungenerous and uncharitable, but I just don’t want to have anything to do with these people, sloshed or not.



Dear Prohibition,

There was a time when our nation passed a law outlawing alcoholic beverages, and while Prohibition did cut alcohol consumption rates in the thirteen years of its existence, other unintended consequences of banning booze led most to see it as a failed experiment. So I don’t think you would be in favor of re-instituting Prohibition.

Unfortunately, the very real downsides of alcohol are overshadowed by cultural celebration of drinking and even drunkenness, such that people who partake are perceived as fun and sociable, and those who don’t are viewed as sourpusses. Public service messages against drunk driving and offering help for alcoholics are drowned out by attractive lifestyle ads for beer and wine, and by movies like The Hangover that portray dangerously out-of-control intoxicated guys as hilarious bands of brothers.

Don’t let that affect your resolve to steer clear of drinking and drinkers. The only potential downside is that you might be isolating yourself. Very often socializing, whether among friends or in business situations, involves alcohol, and if you banish yourself from all such circumstances, you may miss out on networking, bonding, and other opportunities that could be beneficial and rewarding to you. So there may be occasions when it’s worth putting in an appearance, even if you are poised to slip away if and when things become uncomfortable.

But it’s also quite possible to live a perfectly good life with minimal contact with heavy drinkers. Many people just enjoy a drink or two and they’re done, and those would be who you’d naturally gravitate to. Focus on spending your time with people who don’t need mass quantities of alcohol to have a good time, and pursue activities and groups that don’t typically involve a lot of drinking. Excuse yourself from situations that center around inebriated carousing.

Alcoholism can be a terrible problem, and many people don’t realize or admit that they’re addicted. I wonder how many of them began by just going along with the crowd. You are wise to resist. People who, in the name of congeniality, urge you to drink when you don’t want to aren’t doing you any favors or offering you the kind of camaraderie you want. Keep avoiding situations and people that push you in that direction.

Although I cringe at the idea that you actually hate drinkers (I’m sure we all have good friends who are problem drinkers, whether or not we know it), I understand where that aversion is coming from—especially when you feel pressured to join the party and are made to feel as if you’re the one with a problem if you don’t. Although it may seem somewhat uncharitable or un-humanistic, I don’t encourage you to try to reform acquaintances with drinking problems if they aren’t close to you. Alcoholism is a difficult disease, not only because it has serious medical, social, career, relationship, and safety repercussions, but also because people with drinking problems can be extremely resistant and even hostile to any suggestion that they have a drinking problem. Be kind and constructive if you see an opportunity, but don’t go out of your way to intervene with associates who drink too much—other than to speak up if someone is being abusive to someone else or attempts to drive while under the influence.