Ask Abbie: Teen struggles with peer pressure to drink in social situations

Published 12:14 pm Saturday, March 9, 2013

by Abbie Long

Question: I am 16.  There is something inside me that doesn’t want to drink.  All the other kids make fun of me and talk about me.  They don’t include me in their parties or ask me to hang out.  I have no social life.   I know if I would just start drinking it would be so much easier and I would at least have more friends.  I don’t know what to do.

No social life

Answer: Amid the Ginza nightlife scene of Tokyo, Japan, a group of business executives gathered for dinner.  While each attendee found his place around the table, a waiter approached the evening’s host who, out of customary and respectful practice, proceeded to order drinks for everyone.  As the drinks arrived all of the guests, myself included, hurriedly prepared ourselves for the toast.

I knew, based upon a prior conversation with my boss, I was to graciously accept whatever drink was ordered for me.  If I, instead, was to issue a personal request it would be, according to her, disrespectful and quite offensive to my host.  Being very young, inexperienced, and unfamiliar with the Japanese business culture, I did not question her instruction even though I, like you, chose to refrain from alcohol.  As a result, I thanked the waiter as he served me a glass of sake, an alcoholic Japanese beverage made of fermented rice.

I noted, however, Ted, my American colleague, mentor, and one of the automotive industry’s most well-known and highly-esteemed interior designers, was the only guest in attendance who was brought a beverage other than sake.  I assumed our host must have personal knowledge of Ted’s preferences and wanted to show him the respect he deserved.

The next day I asked Ted what type of mixed drink he was served so I, like the Japanese host, would know his preference.  He smiled and said, “It was Pepsi.  Everyone knows I don’t drink alcohol.”  In this brief eye opening moment I realized my boss, through fear and intimidation, had falsely convinced me I needed to compromise my choice not to drink.  Unlike her, my mentor did not have to use alcohol to compensate for personal weakness or for a lack of talent.  I decided that day nor would I and neither do you.

The previous night’s business dinner was my last, international or domestic, without the hot water and cup I needed to enjoy the instant decaf coffee packed in my bag.  Did others talk about me and laugh at me?  Yes!  I laughed with them because my actions were laughable.  At least I was starting to make an impression.  Now it was up to me to prove I was not just weirdly unique but also a very talented designer with much to offer the automotive industry.  I knew this task would take a lot of hard work but I kept telling myself if Ted could do it with his Pepsi so could I, one day, with my coffee.

Anyone who pressures you to drink is only doing so to weaken you to a point where you will no longer be a threat to him.  This way he will also be able to feel better about himself.  These are not the actions of a real friend.  Real friends encourage you, strengthen you, and accept you for the person you are, not for who they want you to become.  The sooner you stop attempting to friend the unfriendable the more time you will have on your hands to use for something more productive.

For example, use your extra time to start a little business doing something you love.  As you become successful you will make those who tried to pressure you even more jealous of what you were able to accomplish while they were investing their time in the oh so productive act of getting drunk.  This extra time may feel lonely at first but never forget haters hate only to make you great and now is your time to show them how.

I can speak to you from personal experience when I say, stick to your convictions and you will rise higher that you ever imagined.  My most recent business dinner in Japan was proof positive.  Hot water was delivered to me before I could ask, without a laugh or snide remark, and with a smile and a bow.  Although Ted could not be there to see this in person I know he was watching from above.