Living an alcohol-free lifestyle

8% to 9% GST. That’s the reality we’re living now in 2024. With prices going up, we’ve had to get creative with our tips to save money during the inflation. That means using the MRT hack of tapping in before 7.45am to save 50 cents on train fare. Or stealing hoarding coffee pods from the pantry to make free kopi in the office.

So you’d understand why if I can save anywhere I can, I would want to. That brings me to my issue with clubs charging me the same cover price whether or not I drink. As a teetotaller – one who chooses to abstain from alcohol – those free house pours that come with clubs’ entry fees go to waste. Consider this my appeal to all clubs in Singapore: lower my entry fee, please. 

Why I don’t drink alcohol

OK, let’s get this question out of the way. Most people assume that those who don’t drink do so for religious purposes. But not for me. My religion permits drinking. Heck, our most important Guy even turned water into wine.

alcohol-free lifestyle - shots
That’s not me, but I definitely sip shots like her.

It’s just a rather unfortunate case of not being able to hold my liquor. My limit is usually just a third of a pint of beer, or maybe 1-2 shots – but sipped over a whole night, instead of pounding them back in well, one shot.

I wish drinking this little would at least get me to a nice buzz. Of all the vices available – and legal – in Singapore, being able to drink would be one of the most socially acceptable ways to get high and numb any pain. What I wouldn’t give to be able to head to a bar after a particularly hard day at work, or after yet another failed relationship to drown out my sorrows with alcohol.

Alas, all I get are immediate throbbing headaches and heart palpitations. If I drink any more, you’ll soon see my dinner on the floor, with me curled up next to it, probably.

alcohol-free lifestyle - beer paddle
I don’t know why my friends thought getting me a beer paddle would be helpful in training my alcohol tolerance.

Image credit: Raewyn Koh

And yes, I’ve heard enough people claim that “alcohol tolerance can train one”. But trust me, I’ve tried. I’ve had friends bring me out for drinks weekly, each time topping up my glass with various types of alcohol. Unfortunately, all that has done is rack up bills on bevvies I didn’t even finish.

So instead of wasting money and alcohol, and saving myself from blacking out every time I drink, I just don’t.

How not drinking has affected my social life

People sometimes have the misconception that those who don’t drink – especially by choice – are not a fun lot to be around. There’s a saying that no good story has ever started with a glass of water or a bowl of salad. But ask my friends and they’ll tell you that the tales I have of my dating life alone should be turned into its own podcast.

alcohol-free lifestyle - party gatherings

Even so, the stigma of not being a willing drinking participant is there. On more than one occasion, I’ve had former colleagues straight up leave me out of after-work hangs for the sole reason that it’d be a waste of time for me to join them. “Everyone drinking, then you don’t drink, might as well don’t come!” was the rude comment a manager once said to me before the whole gang left for the bar near our office.

I’ve also had potential dates ask what else there is to do if we’re not going to get dinner and drinks. For the record, there are 130 things to do in Singapore and only 7 points mention getting alcohol as a highlight.

alcohol-free lifestyle - dinner and drinks date
Not my idea of an ideal date.

“Maybe we can get coffee instead?” I’ve asked. “Sorry, if you don’t drink then I don’t see a point in going out for a date,” said one dating app match. Red flag, much?

alcohol-free lifestyle - drinks at karaoke
My team had drinks and karaoke recently. The only drinks I touched were the carafes of water.

Image credit: Nicole Ang

Thankfully, true friends and gentlemen have been accommodating of my lifestyle. This doesn’t mean that they steer clear of bars and clubs when we hang out. I’m very much invited and encouraged to come to such places. The company I’m with are more than happy to get me a mocktail or water. Plus, the generous ones often let me have a sip of their cocktail or beer if I so wish.

Do I even want to get high?

But it does sometimes beg the question – if everyone’s drinking to get high, wouldn’t I want to get high as well?

alcohol-free lifestyle - marquee

Before we get into that, I know of friends who won’t partake in certain activities unless alcohol is involved. “I’ll only go clubbing or to a party if there are drinks,” my friend Kezia shared. For her, the loosened inhibitions from drinking, thumping EDM, and strobe lights are an unbeatable combination for a fun night out.

Another friend, Joycelyn, also agrees. But she drinks at social events for the liquid courage she needs to put herself out there. “Without a drink in me, I would just feel very awkward being there,” she said.

As for me, truthfully, I wish I could get that same high from tipple. But after years of not drinking, I’ve learnt that you don’t need alcohol to have a good time. There’s a Chinese slang for this: 自 high (zì high), which basically means self-high. It’s used to describe those who are able to reach that level of inebriation without the need for booze or other substances.

alcohol-free lifestyle - zi high
That’s me in blue without a single drink in me. Kezia on the right has had at least a couple.
Image credit: Nicole Ang

For me, getting 自 high is as easy as always choosing the more fun option. In Gen Z slang, they call it “doing it for the plot” and it’s something I live by. If I’m at a club, that means getting up to dance, even if my moves are a little outdated. It also means telling the cute stranger next to me that he is quite handsome – it doesn’t matter if I get his number or not.

alcohol-free lifestyle - duck at siam diu
One time, my friend Dewi and I followed a duck into a siam diu. I didn’t need a drink to know that it was a strange but wonderful encounter.
Image credit: Raewyn Koh

Sure, it can be embarrassing and even cringe-y to be turned down or even laughed at for not knowing how to pop my booty. But these moments pass. Anyway, these make for great stories to tell in the future, thus proving my point that drinks aren’t necessary if you’re a good storyteller.

Why clubs should have lower cover charges for people like me

So we’ve established that I don’t drink but still enjoy raising the roof at clubs. The problem is that I get treated as a common alcoholic whenever I make my way to clubs like Marquee and Drip.

There are admission fees, usually ranging between $30-$50, depending on the club. This cover usually includes 1-2 house pours, which would be a blessing for your average clubber, but not for this sober one.

Now, I understand that cover charges are necessary. Apart from drinks, the money goes towards rental of the space, DJs, bartenders, bouncers, dancers, cleaners, and the behind-the-scenes team that work 9-5 instead of 5-9.

alcohol-free lifestyle - champagne dinners
All the wasted glasses of champagne and beer given to me over the years that I only took pictures of and barely drank.
Image credit: Raewyn Koh

Here’s what I have beef with though. As a teetotaller, those drinks are useless in my hands. I usually ask to exchange my drinks for non-alcoholic ones, but most places don’t offer that. Even then, you can’t tell me that a plain coke should cost as much as a rum and coke. I’m, therefore, saving the bar money by not accepting their drinks.

Not drinking has plenty of other money-saving benefits for the clubs as well. One of the most obvious would be the fees that go towards cleaners. These aunties and uncles probably have one of the toughest cleaning jobs in Singapore. After all, what’s one thing you can always count on seeing at the clubs? Drunk patrons spewing their guts out after having one drink too many.

If the cleaners are lucky, the intoxicated would aim and throw up into the toilet bowl. But I’ve seen enough puddles of puke to know that’s not really the case. You might argue that those who are able to hold their liquor would never have this problem. Let’s be real though, once you’re drunk, you don’t always know what your limit might be.

But you know who has a 100% guarantee of never having this problem? Sober teetotallers like me.

alcohol-free lifestyle - zouk
Bouncers are always watching, whether you know it or not.
Image credit: Zouk Singapore via Facebook

Sobriety also comes in handy in giving bouncers an easier time managing the floor. Bouncers aren’t just there to check your IC to make sure you’re of legal age before entering the club. They’re there to protect clubbers when fights break out. As a non-drinker, I’m very unlikely to get myself into a fight. I know better than to stare-what-stare if I see someone looking at me menacingly.

Instead, I’ll be enjoying myself in a corner, fully aware of everything that’s happening around me. If I do get involved in a brawl, it’ll still be alright as I’d probably have faster reflexes to siam the thrown hands and kicking legs. And I’m no snitch, but should the police get involved, best believe I would make a star witness.

I get that I’m just one person, so it may not make sense to accommodate me. But imagine if there were way more of us who chose to not drink when they go clubbing. There would definitely be a lesser need for cleaners, bouncers, and even bartenders. I’m not saying that we should enter for free, but we should at least get a discount for not drinking and creating trouble.

Enjoying clubbing without needing a drink in my hand

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against drinking in any way. If you require a stout to chase the Monday blues away or a G&T to work up the courage to slide into someone’s DMs – you do you. And I’ll do me by sticking to my free tap water, or $10 mocktail if I’m feeling fancy for the day.

alcohol-free lifestyle - no to alcohol
Image credit: Billy Tran

Just don’t tell me things like bo tah bo lampah, a crude Hokkien phrase that says if you don’t chug down a beer or any other alcoholic drink, you have no balls. Because maybe the one who doesn’t cave into peer pressure, i.e. having a shot poured down her throat against her will, has the biggest balls here.

I’ll still be at the clubs and the siam diu getting my groove on until the lights come on. And I’ll still be part of the crowd fumbling around on my phone trying to get a private hire car to send me home. But those car rides with peak hour surcharges add up, and significantly reduces the number of times I go clubbing a month. So please, cut a girl some slack in this economy – charge those who lead alcohol-free lifestyles like me less leh.

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