We Asked 6 Millennial Women Why They Don’t Drink & How They Navigate Sobriety

From religious reasons to living in a dry community, six women explain why they abstain

Canadians like to drink. Last year, the nation spent $22.1 billion on booze, according to a Statistics Canada report, with beer and wine as the go-to bevvies of choice. We also also knock back more alcohol per capita than the worldwide average, according to the World Health Organization, beating out the United States, Spain and Italy.

Whether it’s grabbing cocktails with colleagues after work or enjoying a pint on a patio, for many of us, alcohol plays a significant role in our social lives. FLARE talked to six women who don’t drink, and asked them why they’re sober and how they navigate those incessant “why aren’t you drinking???” questions. Here’s what they said.

“Two years ago, I couldn’t imagine my life without being intoxicated.”

Sober millennial Ally Hall posing looking sideways with long hair

(Photo: Courtesy of Ally Hall)

Ally Hall, 28, is a sales associate who has been sober for just over two years

Can you talk about why you decided to stop drinking?

For me, getting sober was more of a necessity than a choice. I found myself seeking comfort from external sources through my early teenage years until my mid-to-late twenties. When I came to understand and accept that my use of substances was a symptom, I stopped looking outside of myself and started my journey to sobriety. What I was looking to soothe was an inside job.

How does being sober affect your social life?

Being sober has only enriched my social life. I am able to connect with people and go to events with more intention than I used to. I spend a lot of time thinking of others, and how I can be of service to other young sober women. I really thought that sobriety was a sentence to a quiet life, to bland nights and isolation. In reality, being sober brings me closer to the people, places and things from which I gain joy.

If people ask you why you aren’t drinking, what do you say?

Before I felt comfortable with it, I used to say I was on a prescription or a cleanse. These days, I keep it as nonchalant as possible and simply say I don’t drink. Some people ask a lot of questions and seem genuinely curious about what life is like for me. I never want people to think because I’m sober I’m judging them for not being so—it’s very much the opposite.

What’s the biggest challenge you face with sobriety?

Since it is a requirement for my own well-being, a challenge is not turning to other things outside of myself to get my kicks—whether that’s food, relationships or spending money. Maintaining emotional sobriety is what I aim for now. What I mean by that is allowing myself to feel emotions and cope with them in a positive way.

How has your life changed since you stopped drinking?

There’s the material things: I show up to work on time and am a good employee; I realized I am a morning person; I don’t experience hangovers. But there was an adjustment period that wasn’t very glamorous. I was afraid all the things that comprised my sense of self—like going dancing late into the night, travelling and eating at restaurants—would have to go. But as I got more comfortable with myself without any buffers, my life on paper started to look a lot like it used to. Two years ago, I couldn’t imagine my life without being intoxicated. Now, you can still catch me at a lot of the same events I used to be at, I am just more at peace on the inside.

“In Anishinaabe teachings, living mino-bimaadiziwin, or ‘the good life,’ means not drinking or taking mind altering substances.”

Sober millennial Sara Mai Chitty posing in black and white wearing glasses

(Photo: Courtesy of Sara Mai Chitty)

Sara Mai Chitty, 26, is a community journalism trainer who has been sober for roughly 10 months out of the past year

Can you talk about your experience being sober?

I work in a remote fly-in First Nation community, where a bylaw prohibits consumption and acquisition of alcohol and drugs. When I leave the community to go home, I enjoy a beer. Like all places with prohibition, I could find someone selling home brew, but I don’t feel the desire to be intoxicated when I’m up here.

How does not drinking when you’re at work affect your social life back home?

When I return home for visits, I am suddenly very aware of how much everyone I know drinks. I have never been the kind of person who drinks to the point of a blackout, but I’m definitely not a conservative drinker. However, in Anishinaabe teachings, living mino-bimaadiziwin, or “the good life,” means not drinking or taking mind-altering substances to a lot of people (it’s open to interpretation [in terms of] harm reduction). Since living on the rez and connecting with my culture, it’s something I think about more frequently, making me wonder if I should keep drinking to the same degree I did—or at all—when I am done my work contract. My grandfather was an alcoholic and has been sober for more than 45 years.

If people ask you why you aren’t drinking, what do you say?

If I choose to continue not to drink because I want to honour my ancestors and my body, and because of mino-bimaadiziwin, then I would take the time to explain that. When I think about the toll drinking takes on your body and mind, drinking less or not at all seems more appealing.

What’s the biggest challenge you face with sobriety?

The drinking culture back home. I love going to see live bands, and it’s hard to say no.

How has your life changed since you stopped drinking?

I’m Anishinaabe from Alderville First Nation. I really admire and respect people who have taken what Anishinaabe call the “Red Road” and abstain from alcohol and drugs. It takes a lot of self discipline and reflection to do that. I constantly struggle with living in two worlds: Anishinaabe and city life. I am not sure if that [sober] road is the one for me, but walking that path has made it easier. Those who have forged ahead of us show us that while it’s not easy, it’s doable.

“It’s anxiety provoking not knowing my own level of alcohol tolerance, and I’ve never had a desire to find out.”

Sober millennial Victoria Christie posing in a stripped shirt

(Photo: Sara Algubaa)

Victoria Christie, 20, is a fourth-year journalism student and FLARE intern who has been sober her whole life

Can you talk about your decision not to drink?

Not drinking alcohol or doing drugs is a lifestyle choice. I’ve had small sips of wine and champagne before, but I’ve never enjoyed the taste. I’ve even felt sick after a few sips. It’s anxiety provoking not knowing my own level of alcohol tolerance, and I’ve never had a desire to find out. For me, being in control of my body is something that gives me comfort.

How does being sober affect your social life?

Alcohol seems to be part of the “university experience.” As an undergraduate student, I have been faced with many situations that include alcohol. People have made comments about my sobriety, saying, “You’d be a hilarious drunk” or, “You have to experience it once in your life.” I have definitely been peer pressured countless times but I don’t let it affect me. It was tougher in high school, when I was first dealing with alcohol exposure at parties, but years later, it’s just part of my going-out routine.

If people ask you why you aren’t drinking, what do you say?

My go-to response is, “I don’t like alcohol.” I’ve learned to just put some ginger ale in a cup and no one even bothers to ask what is in it. It’s not that I’m ashamed of my sobriety, I just don’t want to be bothered about it. If people pry further, I will usually do a quick synopsis of why I don’t drink, and it is usually ends with a “good for you.”

What’s the biggest challenge you face as a non-drinker?

Going to parties or going out. I find it hard when people are on a whole other level than me, alcohol-wise, especially when I’m the only one sober. I do enjoy being social, it just takes more convincing to get me to go—especially when there is alcohol or drugs involved. I always feel more comfortable hanging out with friends without substances.

“Not drinking is for religious reasons first and foremost, but it’s also personal.”

Sober millennial Fizza Faiyaz posing near a body of water, smiling

(Photo: Courtesy of Fizza Faiyaz)

Fizza Faiyaz, 24, is a student and aspiring recruiter who has been sober her whole life

Can you talk a bit about why you’re a non-drinker?

I am Muslim, so it’s definitely for religious reasons—at least that’s how it started. In Islam, anything that causes one’s body harm is forbidden. Alcohol is known to be bad for health; even in small amounts, it can have an impact over time. In large amounts, it can lead to damaging behaviour, which can then cause harm to another person—that’s considered one of the biggest sins in Islam, to cause any sort of pain or trouble to another. Not drinking is for religious reasons first and foremost, but it’s also personal and health-related. The more exposure I got to alcohol and environments where there was drinking, the more unappealing it seemed. I just don’t want to.

How does being a non-drinker affect your social life?

My social life is unaffected. Even though I have friends who engage in social drinking, I have never felt any pressure or urge to take part. They’ve been understanding of my boundaries, and accommodating whenever needed. Just an iced tea for me, please!

If people ask you why you aren’t drinking, what do you say?

I tell them I don’t drink, and if they express further curiosity, I’m more than happy to explain that it’s a religious choice.

What’s the biggest challenge you face as a non-drinker?

When I first started out with my career, I felt that the “after-work drinks” session was a barrier for me. I never went, thinking that I would be out of place. It was with time—and good colleagues—that I realized that there are points for attendance, not necessarily participation. It all comes down to your company: if the people are understanding, drinking or not shouldn’t make a difference in any setting.

“Not drinking gives me the agency to be in total control of my actions, my words and my interactions.”

Sober millennial Adrien Reynolds posing in dark jacket and dark hair

(Photo: Courtesy of Adrien Reynolds)

Adrien Reynolds, 27, is a public relations specialist who has been sober for almost a decade, apart from the rare glass of celebratory champagne

Why did you decide to stop drinking?

For me, sobriety was a lifestyle choice. At the end of the day, I don’t feel at ease with myself when I’m drinking. I have a diagnosed anxiety disorder and, as I’ve come to realize, many mental illnesses stem from a profound sense of powerlessness. Not drinking gives me the agency to be in total control of my actions, my words and my interactions. I’m also Type A so I don’t need that social crutch.

How does being a non-drinker affect your social life?

People are usually understanding but, without fail, are perplexed and incredulous. Thankfully, I rarely feel judged. The courtesy extends both ways; people should drink if they enjoy it! I’ll socialize with friends while they’re drinking but, at the end of the day, I’m out once I sense ridiculous intoxication encroaching.

If people ask you why you aren’t drinking, what do you say?

I keep it short: “It’s not my thing!” Usually folks don’t press too much further, but on a rare occasion I’ll be berated. Either way, I’m fine to have the conversation if it’s broached respectfully. Sometimes, people interpret my non-drinking as an implicit critique of their choices, which is not the case at all!

What’s the biggest challenge you face with sobriety?

Finding an alternative outlet to relax. After a stressful day, most will kick back on the couch with Netflix and a nice red wine. I’m still seeking my go-to reprieve. Exercise helps.

How has your life changed since you stopped drinking?

I’m able to be myself more than ever.

“I can’t remember a time in my teens or adult life where consuming more than a glass of wine or more than an ounce of spirits hasn’t made me feel faint or nauseous.”

(Photo: Courtesy of Sarah Colbourn)

(Photo: Courtesy of Sarah Colbourn)

Sarah Colbourn, 29, is an account executive and cook/founder of Buona Sarah who has been sober for her entire life

Talk about your choice of being a non-drinker.

Both sides of my family drink socially, so there wasn’t a lot of stigma around drinking or getting drunk. I can’t remember a time in my teens or adult life where consuming more than a glass of wine or more than an ounce of spirits hasn’t made me feel faint or nauseous. Once I realized that alcohol was the common denominator, I just ruled it out of my life.

How does being sober affect your social life?

Going through university sober was a bit annoying. I remember wishing I could drink to take the edge off so that I had a way to cope with [things] in a less “head-on” way. Now, I’m grateful to have a lot of those memories—even the tough ones. A lot of people ask me, “Well then what is your vice?” I don’t have one, but I usually say chocolate or the gym—which are totally in contradiction but true!

If people ask you why you aren’t drinking, what do you say?

It’s a conversation I avoid with people who don’t know me, because often it’s assumed that by not drinking, I am judging people who are. Plus the question is almost always followed by, “Are you sick? On meds? Hungover?” No one is ever satisfied with “I just don’t drink.” I worked at some bars and nightclubs in my early twenties, so I have a lot of experience dodging this question—and making money off the people who ask! (laughs)

What’s the biggest challenge you face with sobriety?

In Toronto, most social activities seem to revolve around drinking, so being bored is my biggest challenge. The silver lining is that on weekends I often get my groceries done, and I’ve finished my workout before the city wakes! Other than that, I have worked in the service industry, and I run a food blog now, so I know how much the industry relies on alcohol—both from a monetary and a taste standpoint. Because of that, I feel a bit guilty eating at restaurants and not trying something off their drink menu. I want the chefs to know that I appreciate the genius food and wine pairings, so sometimes I’ll have a sip to experience the palette and flavour.

Related:
Canada’s Housing Crisis: 10 Millennials on What It’s Really Like
Author Sarah Hepola on Body Shame, Drunk Sex and Sobriety
11 Celebrities Who Don’t Touch Weed (or Anything Else)

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