In June 2021, we officially launched a campaign to stop sober shaming. Read on to find out more about what sober shaming is, why it matters, and how you can help to end it.

What is 'sober shaming'?

Sober shaming is making someone feel uncomfortable for not drinking. When we sober shame, we make others feel like their decision not to drink is wrong, boring, or even offensive. Not drinking alcohol – whether for an evening, a month or long-term – should be a decision we can all make freely, that others respect. When we sober shame, we make that decision much harder, and contribute a culture where drinking is the default, not a choice.

People may not know they’re sober shaming, and many of those who sober shame don’t do so on purpose. Often it’s unintentional and meant as a joke, but can still be very harmful – especially in combination with all the other messages we receive that drinking is ‘normal’ and not drinking is not.

Sometimes people sober shame to mask their discomfort with their own relationship with alcohol. They may not be ready to address their own drinking, and someone who doesn’t drink can cause them to feel uncomfortable.

When we support our friends, family members and colleagues who choose not to drink, we show them that we care, and make their lives better. It’s a simple thing that makes a huge difference. It’s time to #StopSoberShaming!

Lots of people - almost definitely including people you know - have stopped or reduced their drinking during the pandemic. As lockdown ends, they may be feeling anxious about meeting up with people again. They may be feeling worried they'll be pressured into drinking, or be made to feel like their choice not to drink is somehow wrong, boring or offensive.

“But it’s my birthday, you *have* to have a drink!”

“You’re not drinking? Why?!”

“Oh go on, just have one!”

“You can’t be serious – you're not drinking on your own stag do?!”

“Don’t be boring!”

“The night won’t be the same if you’re not getting drunk with us...”

“Oh my goodness, are you pregnant?? No? Then why won’t you have one?”

“But you don’t have a problem with alcohol, do you? So why not have a couple?”

“Don’t tell me you’re teetotal now!”

“You can’t come to my party if you’re not drinking!”

*Eye roll*

Getting bought an alcoholic drink despite saying you didn’t want one.

It makes people feel like their personal choice is 'wrong'

On an individual level, sober shaming can make people feel pressured, invalidated, upset and angry – after all, they’re being told that their personal choice, which should have very little impact on anyone else, is offensive, rude or boring, and that it somehow impacts others’ ability to enjoy themselves. It can also put people off trying to be alcohol-free for any length of time and might encourage them drink more, rather than less.

Some of us don't drink for religious or cultural reasons - so sober shaming can not only make people feel like you think their choice not to drink is ‘wrong’, but also that their cultural or religious practice is. When we support rather than shame people who aren't drinking, whatever their reason, we are more inclusive of everyone.

It stops people making a change

On a societal level, sober shaming puts up a barrier for people considering making a change to their drinking. If you know you’re going to be challenged about your non-drinking, that you’re going to have to explain it time and again, that friends and family may judge you or be upset with you, it’s much easier, and probably more tempting, to just keep drinking. In fact, for some people, even the idea of being sober shamed is enough to stop them considering a change. How can we expect anyone to accept they may need to change their drinking and seek support when we paint non-drinkers as somehow flawed, buzzkills, rude, or boring?

It’s not just about those wanting to make a change to their drinking long-term. It’s also about those who have decided not to drink, or drink less, for one evening, one month, one event... When we sober shame, we put people off making these smaller-scale choices, too. The decision not to drink should lie with the individual, and them alone. They don’t owe anyone a reason or explanation, and they certainly shouldn’t be shamed for it.

It leaves us all worse off

By sober shaming others, we’re upholding society’s view that drinking alcohol is normal and not drinking is not. It’s in everybody’s interest to break down this view so we can all make our own choices about alcohol, free from any judgement. Let's make not drinking normal. As lockdown ends, it's time to #StopSoberShaming.

What can you do to #StopSoberShaming?

Here are some things you can do to help stop sober shaming and be a good mate to those who have decided, for whatever reason, not to drink:

  • Check the venue you’re going to has a decent selection of alcohol-free drinks.
  • Join in with not drinking! Showing solidarity in this way can be a huge confidence boost to people feeling nervous about premiering their non-drinking selves for the first time. That said, lots of people who aren’t drinking will be fine with you drinking – as long as you don’t pressure them.
  • Don’t question people when they tell you they’re not drinking.
  • Be curious, but non-judgmental. Lots of people won’t mind you asking questions, but try not to treat the decision like it’s weird. Imagine a friend has stopped smoking – what sorts of questions would you ask them?
  • Be aware of your own comments around non-drinking and sobriety. Question your own statements: have you ever made a joke, or said something, about people not drinking? Why did you do that? Try not to make these comments again.
  • Be their backup! If you hear someone else pressuring your non-drinking friend to drink or giving them a hard time, offer your friend some support. You could politely ask the person to back off, or just check in with your friend afterwards and make sure they know you support them.

Act now!

Click to tweet to #StopSoberShaming, or share the message on other social media channels! You can download a free image to use here.

Click to tweet your support

Share your story of sober shaming with us. Or the opposite - sober supporting!

Share your story

Donate now to support our work to reduce the harm caused by alcohol. Anything you can give makes a big difference.

Make a donation

Read more about sober shaming