Deflecting Douchebaggery: Why (Some) Friends React Badly to Our Sobriety

It can be a deflating experience: building up the courage to tell a close friend about the decision to part ways with alcohol, only hear “That’s ridiculous. Don’t be so dramatic.”

Here are some of the more awkward things people have said to me personally:

“Great! Now we’ll always have a designated driver!”

“You can have a drink now and then. It’s not like you’re a raging alcoholic like my brother.”

“It’s okay with me if you don’t drink, but you probably shouldn’t go telling people that.”

“If you were able to just quit, you probably weren’t an alcoholic.”

“I don’t really know if I believe in that.”

Have you seen this too-true video Frankie Norstad a.k.a “Little Miss Addict” made for YouTube called “Sh#t Normies Say to 12 Steppers”?

Anna David wrote a great article for The Fix about how to answer such clunkers.  You can read it here:

What’s really behind these questions? What are our friends really trying to say? Why are their words so hurtful?

In early recovery, we are sensitive. We worry so much about what others think, and are coming to terms with our inability to control that very thing. Words do hurt, but compassion lessens the sting.

Here are some common douche-y things normies say and the insights to help you be less affected by them:

Normies say:      “Are you going to stop coming out with us now?”

We hear:             “You’re ruining our fun.”

It likely meant:     “We still want to spend time with you. What’s the best way to do that?”


Normies say:      “Did I do something to make this happen?”

We hear:             “Your recovery is about me.”

It likely meant: “I would never knowingly hurt you” (or…”I feel guilty for something I’ve done.”)


Normies say:      “Do I have to quit drinking around you?”

We hear:             “I don’t want to be with you now.”

It likely meant:     “I am not ready to face my own issues around alcohol.”


Normies say:      “What are we supposed to do after baseball now?”

We hear:             “I only want to be your friend if I can drink with you.”

It likely meant: “Is this going to change our relationship? I like things the way they are.”


Normies say:      “It’s no big deal. I don’t care if you’re drinking or not.”

We hear:             “Don’t expect me to do anything differently to accommodate you.”

It likely meant:     “I’m acting nonchalant to show you that I’m supportive.”


Normies say:      “My cousin was in rehab and it made him worse. Stay away from recovery programs.”

We hear:             “All alcoholics are the same. I know more about this than you do.”

It likely meant:     “I don’t know what to say so I’m relating the only thing I know about recovery.”

Of course, while friends can say stupid things there is also the possibility that this person is, in fact, an asshat. How do we tell the difference between friends and asshats? By forgiving the occasional awkward comment while paying attention to actions. Friends will treat us with respect, enjoy finding new ways to connect and grow the relationship in situations that don’t involve alcohol. They will show interest in our wellness, and they will buffer us in social situations.

Asshats and douchbags will reveal themselves through selfishness, disrespect, and a willingness to endanger our sobriety. Allowing ourselves to remove these types from our lives is an important act of self care.

There’s no need for a dramatic blow up. No “friends off” speech required. Just know that we’ve shown them a better way to be, and that for now the friendship has run its course.


  1. This has been helpful reading. I’m on day 9 and haven’t even been out to dinner yet much less hanging with my drinking friends. I am dreading it because I am positive it will be noticed. They all know I’m a drinker and I know there will be comments. I plan on saying “I’m taking a break” and leaving it at that. We’ll see what happens I guess. My daughter-in-law, her husband and 4 kids will be here in a week visiting and she is sort of a wise guy. I know she will notice so I’m hoping my response will be enough and she won’t persist. I guess that’s the least of my problems; what others think or say but it’s just another part of dealing with the whole process. I’ve been feeling so great as hard as it is. I’m exercising more; sleeping better and am very proud of myself which all motivate me. My husband has stopped as well but he said only when we’re home alone together. If we’re out with friends or have friends over, he will surely drink. I have to do this for me and no one else, bottom line. This blog is so helpful. Wish me luck!!


  2. Just what I needed to hear. 7 days sober, told my girlfriends at lunch yesterday (after I ordered soda water with lime rather than wine) and heard “great, we have a designated driver”. Now I know she is concerned with her drinking and I need to be less sensitive.


  3. This is great. I have been sober for just over a year and can totally relate. I have my occasional thoughts still about having “just one glass” then I remember why I stopped. Not gonna do it. Life is just easier when I don’t have to think about booze. I feel better, look better and don’t have wretched wine hangovers. It’s all pretty good now. Thank you for posting this – I look forward to reading your posts from here on out. Plus the fact that you use the perm “asshat” and that is one of my favorite adjectives which I apply to people on a regula basis. Take care.


  4. Dear UnPickled, I’m so new to all of this and your blog is one of the ones that have given me courage and faith that I can do this, this way.

    I did already ‘come out’ to a group of online friends whom I consider to be my safe space. They were lovely except one who said ‘why do you need to tell people you don’t drink? Just don’t drink, I hardly ever do, nobody cares’ and I was torn between wanting to agree with her (because I think what she meant was, it doesn’t have to be a big deal to be not-drinking in public) and wanting to say well, bully for you and your lovely non drinking ways but for me it IS a big deal alright????? And then I caught myself and thought oh. Do I want to be that person who goes on and on about how much of a problem they [used to] have? Or do I want to be like her, someone who can not drink and not consider it an issue? Why am I angry that someone isn’t giving me recognition as defective, when I’ve spent a decade pretending exactly that?

    Anyway. This is more of a ramble than I intended, when all I meant to say was I loved this post!


  5. Just discovered your blog (day 11). So spot on, intelligent, encouraging, and funny. Anyone who uses the word ‘asshat’ in a blog post gets my readership. Keep up the great work!


  6. I struggle with this as well. (64 days) I just feel that by telling people it will open up a whole can of worms I’m not ready to open. So when I invited a couple over for dinner, and they asked what type of wine I likes, I said casually, “Oh, I’m doing a “detox”, and they replied “Well, you’re not supposed to do it forever!”. I just stood there. I still didn’t didn’t have the guts to say, “Well, yes I do”.


  7. I loved your Bubble Hour podcast on Sober Blogging – great show! I’m just getting my sober-blogging sea legs, so it was wonderful to hear how you all navigate these waters. This post is also a fantastic breakdown of what we hear versus what people (may) intend. I always hear the worst in even the most well-intentioned comment, so I totally relate!!


  8. How funny and true. This is probably one of the hardest aspects of sobriety for me. It’s not the comments that bother me, it’s the fact that they are being possibly being made due to discomfort or embarrassment. The idea that someone is embarrassed for me or I have made them uncomfortable with themselves is disturbing to me. This is actually pretty ironic considering that during my drinking career I am sure I have inflicted a fair amount of embarrassment and discomfort on others! Also, an excellent point made regarding being careful not to project our own intentions or interpretations on the actions or comments from others.


  9. Yes. Thoughtful and most relevant, interesting stuff …..

    …. but how have managed to I live to my age without my ever having encountered the term “Asshat” before?…

    Way to go, making me look like a giggling imbecile in front of 5 colleagues in a quiet office! ;o)

    Take care :o)



  10. I haven’t had to tell anyone I quit yet, going on 29 days now, except for my hubby, and don’t know what to say if they ask why I don’t drink. I’ve been avoiding situations where I might have to drink to avoid such questions. Thing is my work involves lots of those and my boss kind of glorifies drinking also. Don’t really want to advertise I quit and I’m really afraid now as I’m running out of excuses but I know I can’t do this anymore, I can’t have just one drink, I have to have the bar….


    • I loved your last line about the whole bar. So true for me too. As I approach this journey I too am afraid of telling people I don’t drink anymore. And like unpicked said we hid our drinking why are we hiding our non drinking.


      • Today is day 90, not that I’m counting…I thing most of the people think I’m pregnant or something, I get away with excuses like need to get in shape or taking a break but these are getting old. Funny that need to hide my non drinking, did not feel that way went I quit smoking that’s for sure. I realize by now that I can have and I am as much fun when I don’t drink but that I will never drink again is still somewhat of a taboo. I also realize that except for a few binge drinking buddies, people really don’t care if I drink or not. Still not easy.


  11. This is great and so helpful! The common denominator seems to be giving people the benefit of the doubt. I think many of us would agree that most friends are supportive and the ones who aren’t usually have unhealthy attachments to booze, too.


  12. I have found that the humor approach works the best for me. “Cutting back for my biometric screening coming up”, “insurance company catches onto how much I drink I will for sure be dropped”. Than, the ones that are close to me know the truth…..I think people respond oddly at times because they are reminded just how much ETOH they are putting away.


  13. My girlfriend ask me what I am trying to prove!!! I was taken back a bit. I have thought about it and now I would tell her I am trying to prove how much my life improves when I don’t drink and how many of my “PROBLEMS” disappear without the drink!


  14. Brilliant. And of course sometimes the ‘normie’ is actually a ‘boozer’ and everything they say should be heard with that knowledge at the forefront of our minds. My new neighbor said to me the other day after I’d turned down a wine ‘do you never drink? That’s a shame .. it would have been fun to have a wine with you’. At first I heard it as ‘that’s such a shame you’re so boring’ but then I saw their overflowing recycling bin and now I see her comment as having meant ‘I don’t know any other way to socialize’. That’s cool.. eventually we will have that ‘wine’ (mine will be a ginger beer) and she’ll discover that I’m not boring and wine isn’t necessary for us to spend fun time together. Excellent post as always! xxx


  15. Wow, two weeks in and I can so relate. I haven’t told a lot of people that I’ve actually committed to AA but over the years, the many times I tried to ‘cut back’ on drinking I’ve encountered these exact responses. Your insights are pretty awesome and a good way to gain perspective rather than freaking out or being hurt. At this early fragile stage it is very easy to feel bruised and put upon. Thanks! 🙂


  16. I love this post because it was – and remains – one of the toughest parts of quitting alcohol.

    Here are my two personal faves.

    “If you want to impress me then cut down…don’t quit.”

    “You don’t have a problem with alcohol…your intake is normal.”

    People will readily admit that they feel a sense of awkwardness when drinking in my presence. I can only assume this is because the enormity of how ridiculous it is to drink a poisonous substance hits them when I decide to refrain.

    The biggest issues I face are from those that are closest to me. The ones that are not so easy to shake off your leg because you have so much history such as family members.

    Lee Davy


  17. I love this! I have been trying to figure out which friends I can tell. I am calling it the “litmus test of friendship.”
    I have been debating making a “30 days” post on FB as a way to announce it to a few friends. But I have had the “yea we have a designated driver” comments or friends trying to convince me I do not have a problem. If they only seen me in jail or in the hospital, they might think differently. I have been blogging about a few responses, including my mom’s unsupportive comments yesterday. (She tried to get me to try her drink cause “it is really good” and asked “are you still not drinking?”)
    I know I might lose “friends” in this process but I must remind myself that the bond formed in bars is not always a lasting bond.


    • I have debated the Facebook post as well as I just passed day 200, but I decided that my reaction will be to keep looking to see if people “liked” it enough, and what if only 12 people like it, or I get the snarky sarcastic comments that people say when they just don’t understand (like “Yay, DD” or “You used to be fun…LOL”) Quite frankly I think my sobriety is worth more than an “LOL” or a “like” button…and yours is too. So, I’m just saying that I know I would be obsessively checking out to see the reaction, and I feel that it’s way more beneficial for ME to just tell people as it comes up in person. Just food for thought! Good luck with either decision you make!!


      • I decided to be brave and post my sobriety achievements on my personal Facebook. I didn’t make reference to the fact I have a problem, more so that I’ve achieved a certain number of days without drinking any alcohol and how good that’s made me feel. I think what surprised me most was that between five and ten Facebooks friends that I haven’t known that well before, privately inboxed me to congratulate me and share their own non-drinking experiences and have since become another source of support and inspiration. I guess what I’m saying is that I would never have known this if I hadn’t been brave enough to post but it’s definitely a very personal thing. The other reason I was fearful about posting initially was “what if I fall off the wagon, I’ll have to take it back.” But something told me that this time was for all time and so it was also a method of accountability. 🙂
        Best wishes, Aunty Lush


  18. Oh I just love this. The what we hear, what was meant and how to handle this is helpful. I had a “friend” tell me. “You’re no fun now that you aren’t drinking anymore.” I had to realize his comment was more about his drinking to excess than it was about me. I actually am having more honest, happy times than I ever have!
    Great post.


  19. Thanks Jean this is really helpful as I am too early in this journey to hear anything other than the sensitive interpretation. Sadly some friends are distancing themselves now that the common bond of booze is gone.


  20. This is brilliant. I can relate to so many of these comments.
    I had a good one last weekend.
    I was out with a girlfriend seeing a band, it was my first foray out into drinking territory for some time.
    A couple of drunk guys came over and were insisting on buying me a drink. After ignoring several refusals and questions of “Why don’t you drink? Come on! Just one!” I decided the direct approach was in order and said, “Because I’m a recovering alcoholic.”
    He blinked awkwardly several times and said, “Can I just tell you, you’re the most attractive alcoholic I’ve ever met.”


  21. This is really helpful, the reframing “we hear” vs “it meant.” When I told one friend I wasn’t drinking any more, he said, “You probably shouldn’t tell anyone else because that makes people really uncomfortable.” Now I see that he was the only one uncomfortable, as he is squarely in the ‘not facing own issues’ camp. Many thanks for helping me rethink some of what gets said!


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