To teetotallers

Our generation is growing on a romanticism around drinking. It is perceived to help us land dates at nightclubs, have deep conversations with friends and do fun stuff to create everlasting memories. It makes us instantly likeable because the indulgence is considered to be cool and broadcasting it on Instagram cooler.

This has not always been the case though. The cultural shift has been gradual and the growing popularity of drinking as a practice mirrors the evolution of India as an economy and society.

Our parents grew in pre-liberalized India with considerably less wealth and lesser exposure to western practices. The pop-culture then depicted alcoholism as being the root cause for a lot of evil—from squandering of hard-earned money to the destruction of homes. And since culture and practices mould our opinions, alcohol wasn’t such an integral part of people’s lives. This perhaps rubbed off on our upbringing as well where we were advised to not partake in drinking because of the negative health consequences and the risk of inflicting self-harm given its addictive nature.

We are living in a different India now—one that is evolving each day both economically and culturally. Our choices and lifestyle are thus being shaped by the changing times. There is now a greater degree of reception around drinking in moderation which is perceived as harmless by many. Higher disposable incomes and the growing influence of western culture due to easy accessibility have aided the process to such an extent that drinking has become almost ubiquitous.

Indians today are consuming more alcohol than any at other points in time — according to WHO’s “Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health 2018” alcohol per capita consumption in India has gone from 2.4 litres in 2005 to 5.7 litres in 2016. Moreover, this number is further expected to increase by 2.2 litres by 2025.

Such changes at a macro level signify a paradigm shift with far-reaching consequences on health and economy. But something that doesn’t get talked about much is the huge social pressure that this transition has been unwittingly mounting on the teetotalers. It is high time we address the stigma that has come to be associated with people who abstain.

I don’t usually drink so most social gatherings inevitably bring a long line of questioning around my choice. This is followed by conspicuous and often condescending disbelief springing up on people’s faces. When they have had enough time to process this information, I am showered with life advice around how drinking is critical to career advancement considering the networking opportunities it creates or how I am missing out on real fun by not indulging. With time, I have become pretty sorted about the kind of person I want to be so I am mostly unfazed by this treatment. However, it does make me sometimes question my decision to not drink. I am sure it is the case with other non-drinkers as well.

As social beings, we crave acceptance. So when drinking offers an easy path to wider social acceptability, we resort to it for the fear of missing out.

I am not against the idea of drinking alcohol though. I am nudged with sustained enthusiasm to try the rarest of wines or craft beers by friends—I do sometimes too for the experience just like I like trying out new cuisines. With time, I have even grown to appreciate some of them. But what I can’t wrap my head around is the idea of drinking for the sake of it because everyone else is doing so. I don’t feel the need to gulp a pint of beer to loosen myself at a party or the pressure to grab a glass of champagne to feel more inclusive at a corporate dinner. I can soak in the evening and strike conversations, perhaps more comfortably, with my Virgin Mojito.

Reminiscing of life as a young teenager when everything was a tad bit simpler and alcohol was yet to make an entry into our lives leaves me surprised about the extent of influence it has had since. Secrets were something that people shared out of their wish, going crazy over stupid things was a willingness and the strength of your friendships didn’t depend on the number of glasses of whiskey you’ve shared with the other person. You could be you without being judged for the choices that you make.

Now with alcohol being an integral part of our lives, it is important that the drinkers be and let the non-drinkers be as well—without judgment and prejudice. Our society needs its share of the incorrigible drunkards, the sensible social drinkers, and the sober saints.

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