Abstinence – A Dirty Word.

Here, Holly tackles the topic of how society views those who make the choice not to drink alcohol. 

As always, if you’re affected by a parents drinking, no matter what your age, Nacoa can offer a safe place to share where they can also provide help and support. If you have something to share as a child of an alcoholic then get in touch! 


As Dry January draws to a close I find myself reflecting on the language that we use to differentiate between those who drink alcohol and those who don’t. The immediate thought is that there is often a suspicion about why some people choose not to drink. There must be a reason why they don’t drink. Surely, it isn’t a choice? Our starting point, our normal, is that everyone would drink. Even the fact that we use ‘drinking’ as synonymous with drinking alcohol reflects the deep rooted habit.
What are some of the reasons why people don’t drink? Religion. Pregnancy. Alcoholism. Dry January. Designated driver. These, to me, seem to be our society’s only truly acceptable reasons for not drinking, and three are assumed to be temporary. The driver will take it in turns with friends. As soon as the mother is able to start drinking again, surely she will start setting an alarm for wine o’clock. On the 1 February, hundreds of thousands of Brits will grab the corkscrew and a large glass with glee.


A stigma still lingers around alcoholism – as those of us who have, or have had, drink dependent parents will know – yet the stigma resurfaces at the other end of the spectrum too. Abstinence. A dirty word for many.


The vocabulary that we use to refer to non-drinking and their symbolism propel a myth that abstinence is wrong. Dry January. Dry. Parched. Dehydrated. Wizened. Water is a life giver, so the notion that we would go ‘dry’ suggests a move away from life.


The alcohol-free bore.What does this even mean?


That interesting things only happen when we have had a few? That without a drink, we would tell monotonous repetitive stories. That somehow we will become self-righteous evangelicals who will castigate companions who do drink? Or is it really a fear within the accusers that they think they will be boring if they don’t have that sip of Dutch courage.
A soft drink. Soft. To some it may have connotations of femininity, a motherly figure. Warmness. It can also be a derogatory comment, particularly when addressing men. ‘Don’t be soft’. ‘You’re such a softie’. Then there are the mocktails. Back to the notion of ‘ab-normal’.
The fact that there is a promotion of alcohol-free beers, wine and spirits and of course mocktails is great. It means that more people are heeding the health lessons surrounding drinking. I almost wrote ‘sensible drinking’ and paused. Why? The connotations of the word. The sensible girl at school. There are sensible shoes. Sensible clothing. Sensible behaviour. Sensible. No-fun. Po-faced.
If we want to change drinking habits, and the evidence is indisputable, we need to. Then we need to start altering how we talk about our drinking. We need a new lexicon of abstinence.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Eliza Hope says:

    This is really interesting Holly, thank you for sharing. I drink, but not much, a couple of glasses with a meal if I’m out – I have noticed recently that this makes some people awkward as if they are saying ‘why don’t you want to get drunk?’ I think me not drinking shows them how much they drink and that makes them feel awkward. I have definitely felt like the ‘bore’ but this is so not true and the people who I know are doing dry January look to me like they are trying to prove they don’t have a problem. Definitely a subject we need to talk about more, getting hammered should not be seen as ‘cool,’ or the thing you have to do. X
    Ps sorry, this feels a bit rambly – it’s been a long day!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. coaisathing says:

      I totally relate to this too Eliza, as soon as I tell people I don’t drink they immediately begin justifying their own drinking to me! We have awkward relationship with alcohol in society!


  2. Kat says:

    This post tickled me!
    I can relate to the comments, quizzical looks, peoples minds ticking when I say I dont drink alcohol. Yes, I am a COA but I decided to try ‘dry January’ as a test of my own strengths, an attempt to understand how I would ‘cope’ socially without alcohol and if I actually enjoyed being drunk.
    Alcohol has never been an issue for me, I never drink alone, more of a social drinker, opting for the opposite drinking style to my mothers. If Im honest, it has crossed my mind the possibility I may turn to alcohol as she did, some say its generic! To test this theory, Ive often left half empty bottles of wine, vodka etc in the house, stared at them longingly at times of stress, tempting myself to use alcohol as a solution. Thankfully, I wasn’t tempted at any point to resort to alcohol as a coping mechanism. There are a few reasons behind my decision not to drink alcohol following dry january; health, well being, finacial and a test/challenge but majorly because I have a love/hate relationship with alcohol for obvious reasons – do I need to explain this to every person who questions why I dont drink!? Lets hope not!

    So as I head into week 6 of alcohol freedom, Im sure I’ll need to come up with some more ‘interesting’ reasons or excuses in answering the curiosity of others as time goes on.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.