What happens when you tell people you've quit drinking

One of the things that makes it so hard to contemplate quitting drinking for good is how heavily socializing revolves around drinking. It’s not just parties; it’s wine tasting as an activity; it’s also brunch, game night, tailgating and networking events, like art gallery openings or work happy hours.

But it’s also hard to tell people you’re quitting (or deciding not to drink at a given event), because people make uncomfortable assumptions.

Here are some typical reactions you can expect when you tell people you’ve quit drinking, and a quick recommendation for how to respond to them:

  1. “Why? You don’t have a problem…”": Friends who say this may be coming from a supportive place, but it’s one of the most dangerous responses, because it can make you question your decision. They may be trying to avoid hurting or insulting you. To respond to them, you need to change the way they think about your choice. Try something like “This isn’t about having a problem. This is about what I want to do. I feel better when I don’t drink.”

  2. “Oh, yeah. You did seem to drink a lot.”: People who say this may be worried about their own drinking, and trying to draw a line that separates their behavior from yours. Try to focus the conversion on the benefits of cutting back on drinking, rather than on the downsides of drinking. It’s easier for them to acknowledge that quitting drinking can lead to weight loss, or fewer awful hangovers, than it is for them to contemplate too hard the idea that drinking too much causes serious problems.

  3. “Have you tried just cutting back?”: If you’re quitting and not just moderating, you may get this one. Friends who say this are trying to avoid mentally bucketing you along with ‘alcoholics’ who ‘have’ to quit. The typical mental image of alcoholics is a tragic one - people who’ve lost their livelihoods or families over devotion to alcohol. You may or may not be in such a dire situation, but even if you’re not, there are good reasons to just quit. Try explaining the problems you had with moderation, like finding it hard to stop after one or two drinks, or finding you ended up craving the few drinks you allowed yourself.

The core of how to respond to these questions is clarifying that what you’re doing is your choice, made by considering the costs and benefits, rather than being something you have to do, or something you don’t want to do.

If you' are choosing to quit drinking (or just cut back!), we can help! Download Drinker’s Helper here.