It is widely documented that excessive drinking is not good for our overall health, yet mainstream culture treats non-drinking as taboo.

Especially in South Africa.

I spent a few months of taking time off consuming any alcohol. When going out, every friend or acquaintance I declined an alcoholic drink from had at least a couple of questions for me before they accepted I wasn’t drinking that evening.

READ MORE: Do you see yourself as sober curious, a mindful drinker or want to quit booze entirely?

The notion that people who aren’t drinking alcohol on a night out are “party poopers” adds to how difficult it can be maintaining an alcohol free life, I can only imagine how amplified that can be during the festive season.

Whether you’re quitting drinking for health reasons or lifestyle reasons, having people accept that decision can be difficult. So what is the best way address this?

Clinical psychologists Sian Green and Christi Gadd say they are clear ways to go about this without compromising your sobriety. Sian and Christi suggest you consider the following:

Timing is key

If you decide you will no longer consume alcohol, remember it is a personal decision and doesn’t need a formal announcement.

If you initiate a conversation around it, note the context. For example, what is happening at the time, is it appropriate to have a discussion of this personal nature. You might consider being mindful of what is happening around you as you might not want to make this a dramatic announcement at the height of the party.

Share your lifestyle change without judgement

It’s important to refrain from being condescending or judging others for not choosing and making the same decisions you have. If you’re choosing to change your lifestyle this is your journey and others might be on a different path with different needs.   

READ MORE: 10 tips to kick-start your health

A tip: Use "I" messages rather than blanket statements. For example: "I have had difficulty with my health and need to prioritise healthy eating and drinking habits at this point in my life"  versus a statement like "cigarettes can kill you, you know" or "that stuff is bad for you".

Resisting social pressure

This is perhaps a longer term issue and a commitment to what you want to experience in social situations. Don't take lightly that it’s a work in progress - learning how to have fun differently. The skills you need to practice here are assertiveness and reflection, knowing your own needs and expressing them.

Remind yourself you can have fun without alcohol

Ask yourself what you need to feel a part of the group and to join in fun.

The need is deeper than the cigarettes, booze or gluttony. Ask yourself what was the functioning of the alcohol, substances etc. Is the function of the drinking behaviour to deal with anxiety or develop strategies to be within the social context you are in and expected to "have fun" in? Think of other ways you can deal with this.

Surround yourself with a good support system

You need to be clear about why not drinking is important to you, bring people along on your journey and ask for their assistance. For example, how they can help or support you in achieving this goal.

But also be selective with whom you choose to include in your journey. Not everyone is going to understand and cheer you along. Choose your pit crew!

READ MORE: "I was the weird person on the Gautrain bus, eyes closed with my hands on my lap, meditating"

At the end of the day, the festive season can be tough for many people for various reasons, so being there for friends and family is a good idea, whether alcohol is involved or not.

Sian and Christi encourage you to check in on your family and friends or loved ones during the festive season and have those vulnerable conversations. They suggest you take action to make a change in how you share emotions, if you want to have close rewarding relationships, to start engaging differently with those you want to experience this with.

READ MORE: How to spot the signs and help a friend who's battling with mental health issues

Sure, you’re not going to fix all of this before Christmas, but perhaps explore different options of where you can really vent and blow off steam for the new year!

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