People are being sober-shamed for giving up alcohol

People are being shamed for giving up alcohol [Photo: Getty]
People are being shamed for giving up alcohol [Photo: Getty]

As the headlines about the health risks associated with alcohol consumption continue to cause concern, more and more of us are choosing to stay booze-free.

According to recent stats two million people took part in Alcohol Concern’s Dry January this year and the Office of National Statistics says the average person drinks around 40% less than in 2004, with one in five choosing not to drink at all.

While quitting alcohol can have huge benefits for physical and mental health, the decision to hold the gin on a gin and tonic, likely won’t go down well with everyone.

New research has revealed that the path to conscious drinking doesn’t always run smoothly, particularly for men who want to cut down or cut out alcohol entirely.

The poll, of 1,000 UK Brits aged 18 to 60 years, by non-alcoholic dark spirit, Celtic Soul, found that while six out of ten (61%) men are actively looking to cut down their alcohol intake, a whopping 64% admit to having been sober-shamed by friends and family for their efforts.

Some unsupportive friends have even gone so far as to try and sabotage their mates' efforts, with 67% of men saying they've had alcoholic beverages bought for them at the bar, even after making it clear that they're not drinking.

With this in mind, it's no wonder some have kept their non-drinking preferences hidden, with 61% admitting they've ordered soft drinks at the bar and not told friends, for fear they'll be laughed at.

Some stay clear of temptation completely, as over 62% of men and 48% of women say they avoid the pub in the evenings and at weekends, to limit their chances of drinking alcohol.

READ MORE: A hangover-free alcohol substitute is in development

Commenting on the sober-shaming trend Katia Fragkou, Head of Marketing at Pernod Ricard UK says: "Whilst many are making admirable efforts to curb their drinking it appears that their friends and families aren't quite as supportive as they could be.”

From being described as “boring” to being encouraged to “have one anyway”, people who want to go alcohol-less or even free are increasingly finding themselves on the end of scorn simply for choosing to forego the booze.

Blogs from those who have chosen to quit alcohol report some people seeming peeved or put out when they hear friends are staying sober for the night.

And on the extreme end some also describe friends seeming personally offended that they can’t tempt them with a glass of something alcoholic, even after they’ve refused.

Some on the path to sobriety have to resort to pretending to be drinking so that they avoid the shame, with others coming up with elaborate excuses why they’re skipping the alcohol.

Some resort to pretending to be drinking for fear of being sober-shamed [Photo: Getty]
Some resort to pretending to be drinking for fear of being sober-shamed [Photo: Getty]

So what’s the deal?

Sober shaming is an act of making someone making you feel uncomfortable or abnormal for not drinking alcohol,” explains Emily Syphas, founder of Sober & Social.

“The majority of sober shaming happens in a social situations when there is peer pressure to drink and do what everyone else is doing. The people that are sober shaming usually do so because they feel guilty and uneasy about their own drinking.”

Laurie McAllister an alcohol-free writer and blogger at Girl and Tonic, who also helps run Sober Spring in collaboration with the charity Alcohol Change has herself been sober for two and a half years.

She believes that though it seems sober-shaming is on the increase, we’re actually just noticing it more.

"I would suggest that sober shaming is not necessarily on the rise,” she explains. “More people are choosing sobriety, and to be open with their decision to be alcohol free, therefore being sober is becoming more visible - and so more sober shaming is seen.”

That’s something Scott Pearson @theboywhodranktoomuch agrees with. “If there is an increase of sober shaming reports, it will be because the number of people choosing to be sober is also on the rise, the two go hand in hand,” he says.

“Whilst this doesn't excuse the behaviour, what is positive is that it likely means there are more people discussing sobriety, which can only lead to good things,” he continues.

“Healthy debate and discussion about being sober is the only way it will eventually become something that is deemed a social norm instead of being shunned as something people shouldn't entertain.”

Both Scott and Emily say sober-shaming can take many different guises; from the off hand comment "what you're not drinking?!", to snide remarks "what is wrong with you?!", to social exclusion and losing friends.

READ MORE: What your drink says about your personality

How to respond to the shamers

So what should people do if they do find themselves on the end of booze-free taunting?

“My advice to anyone experiencing sober shaming is to remember why they decided to get sober in the first place, to hold on to their reasons for sobriety and all of its benefits,” Laura advises.

“No thank you is a complete sentence when offered a drink,” she adds. “People do not get to pass judgement on your sobriety, even if they think you can. Find friends and colleagues who are supportive and if all else fails, get as far away as possible from the person doing the sober shaming."

Emily suggests you own your choice, and be proud that you are bettering yourself and have made a positive life decision.

“Just simply state; ‘not drinking makes me feel happier, I don't judge your decision to drink so please don't judge me for me not drinking',” she advises.

If the situation becomes unmanageable she suggests leaving.

“And don't feel guilty about leaving a situation that makes you feel negative and uneasy,” she adds.

“You want people around that make you feel good, that light you up. If people are sober shaming you and they can't understand your reasons for not drinking, these are not the people you need around you. It's time to leave the party!”