Britni de la Cretaz

Making Parties Accessible for Those Staying Sober

“There’s seltzer in the fridge!” It’s a familiar refrain, the one I’m used to having party hosts casually yell my way after we greet each other. Most people in my social circles know I don’t drink alcohol and respect that fact. I don’t usually have boozy drinks pushed on me, and I’m very rarely questioned about why I don’t imbibe (when I do get the question, dropping the word “rehab” usually stops that line of questioning quite quickly).

But non-drinkers are nonetheless an afterthought in a host’s party plans, whatever the occasion. I once showed up to an all-family event for my child’s preschool and the only drink options were beer and wine for the adults, or juice boxes for the kids. Womp womp.

Which is why, the first time I attended a gathering where the hosts had gone out of their way to make sure that non-drinkers were explicitly included in the festivities, it was an extremely pleasant surprise. It was a friend’s birthday party and in the kitchen they had pitchers of cocktails and mocktails, along with champagne and sparkling cider for the toast. At that party, I really saw the difference between tolerating non-drinkers (“There’s seltzer in the fridge!”) and actively including us. The latter means making sure that for each alcoholic option there is an equivalent non-alcoholic option.

There are lots of reasons people don’t drink: maybe they’re in recovery from addiction, perhaps they’re pregnant, maybe they have religious or health reasons for not imbibing, or maybe they just don’t like it. With the opioid epidemic revealing the dangers of addiction, it may be time to rethink our social culture to make it easier for everyone around us.

I don’t think most people are purposely being dismissive and exclusionary of non-drinkers when they plan their parties or holiday gatherings. But having options for people who want to skip the booze makes it easier for people to make choices that are comfortable for them without having to reveal private information they might want to keep to themselves. 

For people in recovery—particularly early in their recovery—parties where people are drinking can be especially fraught. People may even avoid holidays and religious rituals if there’s pressure to drink.

But when it’s clear that drinking is not the expectation of everyone there, it can help relieve pressure and make someone feel more comfortable. When a guest walks in, instead of saying “Can I grab you a glass of wine?” how about: “Can I get you a drink? We have wine, beer, ginger beer, or sparkling soda.” Similarly, avoiding jokes or proclamations about how “You must need a drink after the week you had!” or assumptions that everyone has booze in their cup should be avoided.

Once you get used to thinking about how to include non-drinkers, it becomes a whole lot easier. Maybe you’re throwing an Oscars party with a fancy cocktail menu that includes a special drink for each Best Picture nominee. Make one or two of those special drinks into mocktails and you’re good! If you’re hosting a holiday or Shabbat dinner, be sure you have grape juice next to the Manischewitz, even if you’re not expecting children at the table. Make a wine-free charoset to sit next to the traditional one on your Seder plate.

A good rule of thumb is to remember that non-drinkers want to have fancy drinks and to participate actively in the festivities; we want to feel special and that we’re celebrating when we show up to a party. As a non-drinker, it’s not that I feel unwelcome when my only option is seltzer or water, but when it’s clear that my needs have been considered, it feels like I’m actually wanted in the space. It’s a small thing for hosts, but makes a big difference to me.

Addiction: Jewish Women Caught In The Crisis

The articles in this special section:
Screen Shot 2019-07-02 at 3.17.25 PM

Women and Addiction: The Pop-Culture Parallels

Justine Orlovsky-Schnitzler

Lilith tracks famous Jewish women who have spoken up about their struggles with addiction. 

Screen Shot 2019-07-02 at 3.36.10 PM

Making Parties Accessible for Those Staying Sober

Britni de la Cretaz

"As a non-drinker, it’s not that I feel unwelcome when my only option is seltzer or water, but when it’s clear that my needs have been considered, it feels like I’m actually wanted in the space."