These Canadians abstained from alcohol long before “dry” became fashionable

Willow Yamauchi, 50, quit drinking in 2005 and says she now has more drink options than ever.  (Willow Yamauchi – photo credit)

Willow Yamauchi, 50, quit drinking in 2005 and says she now has more drink options than ever. (Willow Yamauchi – photo credit)

Willow Yamauchi quit drinking about 17 years ago. She said alcohol made her feel unhealthy and she never stopped thinking about an alcoholic uncle who died at 37.

Yamauchi, 50, drank as a teenager and recently toasted happiness at her daughter’s wedding. But the Vancouver woman says she hasn’t drunk more than an “inch” of alcohol since 2005.

People question her choice, assuming she has allergies or an addiction.

“Alcohol is expensive and high in calories and it makes you feel like shit. So getting rid of him somehow was a great decision for me,” said Yamauchi, who would rather save her caloric intake for chocolate.

“Alcohol might be a preservative, but not for the face.”

Many Canadians are reconsidering their alcohol consumption amid rising alcohol-related deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic and new safe drinking guidelines released in January that caused a stir.

The Canadian Center on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) says no amount of alcohol is completely safe and recommends no more than two drinks a week for both men and women.

This helps generate interest in dry events and non-alcoholic beverages. There are even groups that organize dry activities, from painting nights to picnics, like Vancouver’s Sober Babes and Halifax’s Sober City.

Non-drinkers ahead of the trend

But some people skipped alcohol long before online support communities and mocktails.

People abstain for a number of reasons, from fears of addiction to taste preferences.

Kevin Hamilton

Kevin Hamilton

Kevin Hamilton’s Christian grandparents viewed drinking as a vice, and he says drinking never seemed tempting to him, having grown up in a largely alcohol-free household in Newmarket, Ontario.

“There has never been an appeal to compromise one’s judgment and mental state,” said Hamilton, 33, a Toronto writer.

He says his abstinence has made some social situations uncomfortable — he was once offered a children’s juice box at a winery — but he says most people are understanding and respectful.

Montreal filmmaker Guy Rex Rodgers, 68, says his first drink at 15 was “magical”. But at 28, he saw that drinking had made him “nasty,” like his father, whose drinking ended his parents’ marriage.

When Rodgers’ father, Murray – a drinker of 45 years – suggested in 1983 that they both quit, he agreed. Rodgers has stuck to that deal for four decades with no regrets.

Guy Rex Rodgers

Guy Rex Rodgers

“You lose a lot of friends,” said Rodgers, whose drinking buddies left him. “I’ve never seen a downside in quitting. I was just so happy to get away.”

Social pressure to drink

The role of alcohol in many social gatherings is obvious to people who abstain from drinking. In such situations, they are faced with the question of why they are not participating.

“It’s just that initial testy conversation,” Hamilton said. He adds that drinkers often become irritable until he proves he doesn’t judge them for drinking.

Hamilton says there were a few tough moments when he was 19 or 20. He recalls his “saddest” birthday coming home from university and planning to celebrate with friends. He thought of “cream drinks and board games” but ended up in a dingy pool hall to appease his friends who thought a dry birthday was boring.

Since then, he’s had many a “fabulous time” enjoying ginger ale and mozzarella sticks at a bar. He only feels left out when other drinkers compare tasting notes of their favorite wines or beers.

“People can poke fun at their favorite wine or whiskey,” he said.

Yvette Brend/CBC News

Yvette Brend/CBC News

Growing non-alcoholic options

For decades, teetotalers in restaurants had little choice.

“That tiny little space in the bottom right above the kids’ menu that says ‘soft drinks,'” Hamilton said. “My options are, you know, a few different types of popular sodas and maybe some chocolate milk. If you’re lucky.”

But he sees that changing.

Hamilton keeps a basement stash of China Apple, a Singaporean lemonade, and is always on the lookout for new drinks when he travels. He sees a real profit opportunity for restaurants and bars that offer more exotic non-alcoholic fare.

Yamauchi says that “cranberry and soda” used to be so imaginative at parties and in restaurants, but now she can enjoy drinks like yogurt-based kefir or kombucha, a fermented beverage made from tea, sugar, bacteria, and yeast.

“I’ve been in the desert for 17 years and all of a sudden… I’m in this mocktail oasis,” Yamauchi said. “It’s a good time to be a teetotaler.”

Yvette Brend/CBC News

Yvette Brend/CBC News

Hamilton admits he’s saved money and skipped hangovers by not drinking, but he sometimes wonders what else he’s been missing out on.

“If I go to my grave without trying alcohol… I’ll never know what kind of drunk I am. Am I a Happy Drunk? A sad drunk? I’m curious, but I guess not that curious.”


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