I generally steer clear of sugary junk food such as beer, fruit juices, etc. I'm not really a fan of drinking alcohol either, as I like my sleep. So when I go out with a bunch of work colleagues and they offer to buy me a drink, I ask for water. Which is quite awkward to be honest, as it feels like I'm declining their offer to buy me a drink, and additionally, they start to ask me if they can buy me an apple juice, etc.

At the end of the day I'm not sure if they think I'm super-religious, or if they think I don't want to socialize with them. Neither is good.

Is there a way to minimize the exclusion I get from the group by not drinking?

EDIT: In response to the question of "Why not just tell them the truth", the reason is that it almost always results in a discussion about whether fruit juice is good or evil, carbs, etc. as everybody in the world is an expert on diet and nutrition and wants to give you their advice, then somebody disagrees, and then you have an argument. (It even happened in the comments below!)

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    Please take discussion of the nutritional and medical effects of various drinks to chat. Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 15:55
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    What country are you in? The answer would be very different depending on whether you are in Japan or Niger.
    – nic
    Commented Jul 15, 2014 at 10:08
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    All bars will have a range of non-alcoholic drinks some of which will surely be acceptable. Commented Jul 15, 2014 at 18:02

10 Answers 10


I know this sounds strange, but ask for something that costs money. Perrier, sparkling water, club soda, whatever it's called where you live, with a lime wedge. Part of the reason people are offering other options to you is that water is free. It also looks less like what they're drinking, and more like something you can have at home any time. So choose something a little celebratory and embrace the spirit of being out for a drink. There's no need to take in calories or anything else you want to avoid, nor to explain why you're avoiding them.

I regularly attend open bar events where people almost pressure me to drink. Having nothing gets repeated offers to bring me something while they get their own drink. Having club soda with lime is treated exactly like having wine, beer, or scotch.

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    Exactly. You don't even have to actually drink it, or you can drink it extremely slowly. Allowing your workmates to include you by this, is exactly what you want.
    – CGCampbell
    Commented Jul 13, 2014 at 15:14
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    While I like this answer, please note that water being free seems to be a US thing. In Europa, water costs money in a bar or restaurant. It is not even cheap, most of the time same price as basic juices. However, your point still applies, because it appears cheap.
    – dirkk
    Commented Jul 13, 2014 at 22:31
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    @dirkk - in the UK, and I'm pretty sure other EU countries, bars do have to provide free (tap) water on request. Whether you want tap water in some countries is another matter.
    – HorusKol
    Commented Jul 13, 2014 at 23:33
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    @HorusKol: For example in Germany, this is not the case. Bars don’t have to provide a free drink at all, they only have to offer a non-alcoholic drink that is cheaper (or equally expensive) than the cheapest alcoholic (still, in many bars you’ll see that water is more expensive than beer).
    – unor
    Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 13:47
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    +1. This applies especially when you are at a bar. When you are at a bar, you should enjoy a beverage. Whether or not it is alcoholic is not really relevant. If you aren't drinking anything but water though, you aren't really participating in the function of going to a bar in the first place. It's similar to going to a restaurant and ordering no food while everyone else eats. The principle of group inclusion is just not as powerful. Getting a flavored, non-alcoholic drink sends a nonverbal message: "I'm here to enjoy myself and be a part of the group"
    – Conor
    Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 15:54

I can't believe that everybody are suggesting to pretend drinking, to fake the drink, to come up with false excuses.

I personally don't drink beer because don't like the taste, very rarely drink sugary drinks, don't like sparkling water, sprite, etc. In my sport club it is a custom to go for a drink after training. And I am thirsty. So I just ask for a big glass of tap water and everybody are OK with this. There is no need to justify my choice, if people ask me whether I am sure, I just smile and confirm that this is what I want. Don't see any reason to twist the truth.

If the people I am socializing with don't respect my personal drinking preferences I would consider stopping socializing with them. If drinking or faking drinking is vital for my career with this employer, I would probably start looking for another job because I don't want to work in a company where I am not respected. This paragraph is purely theoretical though - I have never had such problems.

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    indeed. A company where your merits are judged based on what you drink (or how much you drink) during company parties is not one I'd want to work. Never had that problem, and I tend to just order water everywhere, or tea. Mostly you'd end up with bottled water anyway, not tap water, as "health and safety" regulations make it illegal here to serve tap water to your employees (a company I used to work for was actually fined for that about a decade ago).
    – jwenting
    Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 11:57
  • @greenfingers Especially in "social" occupations like sales, marketing, business there is a stigma against not drinking. Same with some industries (ex: in MJ industry you're kinda expected to smoke, in finance you're expected to drink) Like it or not it's part of the culture and it's hard to fight. You have 2 options: drink/pretend/fake or have lower sales figures/find new job. In an idealistic world, yeah you should just quit, but this is not always the option for people who are stuck in a career.
    – Toli
    Commented Jul 15, 2014 at 19:38
  • (cont) I'm not a big drinker but I am "expected" to drink at a lot of social events. Best trick I've found is sippin' on a vodka cranberry the entire time and then when people offer shots I say "ah gotta get up next day". Effect is I have about 1/3 cup or less of vodka cranberry and people lay off with the "c'mon just one drink! Round's on me etc etc etc". Not drinking = very odd. Drinking a bit because you've gotta get up early = not odd at all.
    – Toli
    Commented Jul 15, 2014 at 19:39
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    @greenfingers haha nope good old Murica. NYC specifically. Definitely the case in finance (Goldman, Hedge Funds, VC Funds).
    – Toli
    Commented Jul 17, 2014 at 3:00
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    It's not pretending or faking, I am upfront that I don't drink alcohol. Drinking/asking for something non–alcoholic works better than drinking nothing at all for social aspects, which is what question is about. It's not about lying what's in your glass. :)
    – Rarst
    Commented Aug 14, 2014 at 7:55

Laugh, grin, have fun, and drink what you like. Works for me.

Apple juice can stand in for beer/cider if you'd rather pretend, although from the sounds of it, you don't like apple juice either.

You can also try the "I'm driving" excuse if you have a car.

I just tend to explain honestly that I like having firm control over my behaviour, and that I've seen alcohol ruin lives. I don't want to try to make them feel bad, so I also say that if you can drink and behave yourself, good for them.

Most of all, just have fun and be friendly. It's never let me down and I haven't had a drink in years. Sometimes people laugh at how much fun I manage to have, considering I'm not imbibing - attitude helps a lot.

  • The "I'm driving" excuse only works if you're not socializing often. Take it from experience. Commented Jul 16, 2014 at 4:51

Show them just once that bingeing on water in no way hinders your style as a party animal, and most of them will stop feeling sorry for you in no time. They'll lose their focus on you faster than you can blink your eyes and they'll quickly focus on issues closer to home base like making sure that they are having their own fun.

If you aren't embarrassed and defensive about drinking just water, they won't be either. It's called fitting in while doing something different. In my case, it's brazenly fitting in while brazenly doing my own thingy :)


You didn't actually say why you don't want to drink anything sweet or alcoholic. (Not that it's any of my business!)

If the reason is because you are trying really hard to lose weight, then say so. Then people can talk to you about this and you can exchange tips and so on, it's a conversation starter.

If there's a health reason, allergy, diabetes, whatever, say so, people will understand and may be interested to hear more, if you are willing to tell.

You did say it's not religion, that's good, because that's one thing people don't want to talk about.

If you drink tap water you can tell them you like the taste, comparing your home town to where you are and so on. This is what I do, I like tap water.

Whatever, stick to the truth, usually a good idea.

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    Sticking to the truth doesn't work. Observe what happened in the comments section above; everybody wants to pitch in with their expert diet & fitness advice! Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 21:11
  • @CaptainCodeman It’s possible that people respond this way because you are offering your opinion as an explanation, thereby initiating (or at least inviting) a conversation. If you asked someone what they wanted and they replied completely truthfully with the answer “I want a Budweiser because the most important thing to me is to fit in and not appear fussy”, that would probably lead to some discussion as well. Just say what you want! If anyone has a problem with you getting what you want, then treat them as though they have a problem with you getting what you want. Commented Jul 17, 2014 at 21:30
  • Well I saw the problem as he wants to socialise but doesn't want to drink the same things as the other socialisers. And this way it's not a bug but a feature, he gets a topic of conversation out of it as well.
    – RedSonja
    Commented Jul 21, 2014 at 5:58

Do you drive?

Everybody loves the designated driver. There will be no expectation on you to drink, and drinking any alcohol will actually be viewed negatively, you will be expected not to drink.

Also, you will make friends because you are giving them lifts home.

Even if you don't want to drive others home, drive to the event and make it apparent that you have your car with you, if you feel you have to then mention that you need to do some driving after the event (picking Grandma up from the airport etc).

Nobody responsible will try to offer you a drink with that knowledge, or judge you negatively.

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    This doesn't really address the "they keep offering me Coke or fruit juice when I really would just prefer water" part of the situation. Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 11:59
  • @starsplusplus Maybe you're watching your sugar intake? Speaking through experience, the focus in this situation is whether or not the individual is drinking alcohol or not. The designated driver drinking water is basically perfect.
    – JMK
    Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 21:10
  • Right, except OP has already tried asking for water and finds it awkward. Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 23:51
  • Maybe you're watching your sugar intake? Don't know what you're getting at here. I was talking about the OP with the bit in quotes, which is why it was in first person. It's got nothing to do with me. Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 23:51

Would something sugar free work? Like a diet coke? Or tonic water?

If not, just ask for a water, or if you like it, sparkling water. There's nothing wrong with that and you should not feel awkward.

If the sleeping problems are a problem, just tell them that you won't be able to sleep if you drink sugar or alcohol. Normal people will understand that, just don't care about the others, it's not your problem.

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    I thought of tonic water too, although, in general, it is not sugar-free. There is diet tonic water, although I don't think all that many bars carry it. Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 14:42
  • You can always get seltzer/sparkling water. It's a standard mixer, so any bar will have it via the same dispenser they use for flavored sodas. They'll probably charge the same price they'd charge for soda or juice, but being overcharged for drinks is a fairly basic part of socializing in a bar.
    – keshlam
    Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 23:35

There is a subtlety, here, regarding why people [on your team] want to drink / eat with you:

If you aren't comfortable telling your teammates about a basic thing like what you eat, then you may want to ensure that you're communicating and bonding in other ways. These gatherings happen because people want to learn more about you than they see at the office. Showing up is a tacit agreement to showing a bit more of your personality.

Your philosophy on food is an element of personality — and that character is one-such-thing your teammates want to connect with. If you're going out after work to bond, and then you're holding back and not bonding, then you might as well skip the whole affair. (You can claim family obligations, or any other excuse that basically takes you out of the obligation to bond).

If you're putting other cards on the table, then no worries. Just be aware that if your teammates realize that you're covering-over some discussion, then there may be more on the table than just beer and water....

If anyone had religious reasons for not consuming something, then best to go full-on with something like "Water! The staff of life!!" Play it to the hilt. At least the team will get to see one sliver of your authentic person (who, at heart, holds these private religious tenets).

I have done this, and very successfully. At best, you come off as having a funny-side, capable of well-placed drama, and holding a sense of humor. It's everything needed for this social litmus test. The people that like you may even try to find your favorite [water]!


As the gist of the offer seems to be buying something instead of serving something, and you seem to be into low carb, then how about a cappuccino or a tall latte? They look "special" compared to water, and they are quite low carb friendly drinks (except for induction), so that is something I would suggest you to get. At least in Europe they are traditionally served with a pack of sugar on the plate. I'm fairly sure most business-y restaurants will have various coffee drinks available.

  • If alcohol interferes with the OPs sleep, I am sure coffee would also.
    – user37746
    Commented Nov 9, 2015 at 23:32

The "discussion about whether fruit juice is good or evil" can be an indicator of people thinking that your lifestyle choices are about THEM, not about YOU. Make it clear that you are neither judging theirs, nor putting yours up for judgement.

Be aware that there are indeed some prejudices that can accidentally stick to you - refusing alcohol could, in some localities/circles, be interpreted as being a follower of the straight edge movement (which has some radical elements), or a recovered ex-alcoholic, or trying to take advantage of everyone but you being drunk, or indeed a strict follower of religion (some of which also bear the stigma of radical elements).

One way to deal with that is to casually direct the conversation to one or more of these topics in a way that does not seem to be about YOU especially, and use it to state an opinion on the topics that would conflict with you being involved - eg "I don't know, I am just not big on religious doctrine". However, use statements that show contempt/disrespect of one of these groups with extreme caution (especially if these aren't your true opinions) - you could either end up being looked down upon as intolerant, or enable others intolerance (probably putting some third party in harms way!).

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