I Gave Up Drinking — And Nearly Lost All Of My Friends

Photo: Jacob Lund / Shutterstock
group of friends cheersing with drinks

"Why?", "Just have one!", and "Oh, come on!" are the most popular rebuttals I get from my friends when I refuse to have an alcoholic drink. 

Unfortunately, this scenario has played out more times than I can count in the past few years.

The moral of the story: It’s incredibly difficult to say, "I’m not drinking" to a group of friends who are drinking without the declaration coming off as "judge-y."

I have a group of friends who I have known for nearly 30 years. We’ve known each other since elementary school and now we’re all flirting with 40.

We’ve been through it all. Relationship drama, relocations, weddings, having kids, career changes, and health scares.

We’ve always been on the same track with interests and activities. We like to do the same things, and planning something fun to do has always been effortless ... until the past few years.

RELATED: 103 Ways My Life Improved In The Years Without Alcohol

While my large group of buddies has opted for bars as a meetup spot, I have been silently pining for restaurants or coffee shops.   

Like most other people, I spent my teenage years dabbling in experimental drinking. I continued the trend as I turned 21 and spent my twenties on the same path. I had my first child at 29 and it was then that my viewpoint changed drastically.

To me, there are two types of drinkers. The one who can politely knock back two beers and maintain composure, and the one who drinks as fast as possible and as much as possible.

Unfortunately, I was the second type. I didn’t drink because I liked the taste, I drank to become intoxicated.  

When I became pregnant with my first, I knew I would be an absolutely sober mom.

Before I go further, reader, please know I do not judge anyone who drinks! It just isn’t right for me for many reasons.

Here are the main reasons:

  1. I get vicious hangovers. I could take a single sip of a beer and be deathly hungover for days.
  2. Because of my inability to "set a limit," I was putting myself in dangerous positions while drinking.
  3. I embarrassed myself and my loved ones more times than I can count while drinking.
  4. The most important reason: I grew up with parents who were addicts. I have major PTSD from being around my parents when they were intoxicated. It has been a lifetime goal that when I had kids, I would never, ever be intoxicated around them because, in my adolescence, it made me feel very unsafe.  

It has been almost 11 years since I quit drinking and I can say with all certainty that I’ve never felt better. My mind is clear, my conscience is clear and my health is good.

RELATED: The One Crucial Thing Newly Sober People Should Do

I am 100% certain that I won’t have another alcoholic drink in my lifetime.  

I spent many years after having my two kids as a stay-at-home mom introvert (and online grad school student!). In those years, it was easy not to go out.

As my kids got older and my load got lighter, I decided it was time to put some effort back into my social life. A few years ago, I finally started coordinating get-togethers with my friends.  

The first night I went out in years, I walked into lots of loving hugs from my dear friends. As we all settled at the table at the bar, they were shocked when I ordered a soda.

"Oh, because you’re driving?" was the guess.

I explained that I was no longer drinking and wouldn’t be having a drink at this outing or any other outing. I rattled off the reasons until I was blue in the face and did it very carefully so that it wouldn’t come off as "better than you" vibes or judgment toward them.

Although some of my friends politely nodded and left it alone, others responded with resistance.

Why? Why couldn’t I just have one? Was my husband forcing me to do it? Did I seriously mean forever-forever??

I repeated my reasons and relayed that I do not have one ounce of judgment toward them for wanting to continue drinking; it just wasn’t for me anymore. I also relayed the fact that I am more than happy to meet up at a bar and that it’s easy for me to drink something non-alcoholic or eat and hang out.

For some reason, most of them still seemed resistant.  

RELATED: 5 Ways To Avoid Feeling Awkward On A First Date When You Don't Drink

Needless to say, planning get-togethers became a little awkward after that.

I saw on social media often that my group of buddies continued bar and party outings and I definitely wasn’t receiving invitations.  

Years later, I can say that our situation has gotten a little better. My best remedy was to find situations where everyone seemed to be on common ground.

For example, we all have kids, so I started utilizing those activities. The kids’ birthday parties, playdates, and one-on-one or small group visits were all great opportunities to connect with my friends on a "parent-to-parent" level rather than a "we used to party SO hard together" level.  

Another relationship builder I found was to relate to my friends on an academic or professional level.

I have a Master’s degree in education. Some of my friends in the group are also educators, so connecting with them in this way actually strengthened our bond.

Before my Master’s, I spent almost 8 years finishing college and grad school. Many of my buddies also went through higher education, so in the past few years, we’ve enjoyed commiserating about homework, campus life, being a student and a parent, and the many facets of college.  

The general advice for feeling like an outsider always seems to be, "Find something in common!" Sometimes, that’s easier said than done.

Searching for remedies online left me more confused. "You’re in the wrong group," "find people with common beliefs and values," and "find solo activities" seem irrelevant to my situation.

My goal is to keep my friends and find a way for us to comfortably be around each other even though I’m not drinking.  

The best solution I found is to organize events that don’t revolve around drinking, invite my group of friends, and whoever comes will come.

I tried it out and found that many of my friends are happy to grab a bite and a coffee instead of parties and margaritas.

The environment is everything and if the elephant in the room is removed (alcohol), it makes for a much more comfortable environment for all of us.  

I’m grateful that our group will likely continue to be friends for another 30 years, regardless of what type of drink I have in my hand.

Cheers to long-lasting friendships, respecting each other’s differences, and navigating this thing called life.   

RELATED: Being Human Is Hard — And Alcohol Isn't Making Us Feel Any Better

Stephanie McCoy's work focuses on motherhood, education, and other lifestyle topics.