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Fitting in Socially With Migraine: (Not) Whining About Not Drinking Wine

I’m the only one drinking water at this party.

Sure, the migraine medication I’m taking as a preventative (Topamax) can also prevent me from counting, but I can clearly count all fifteen people holding wine versus my one glass of tap water.

I try swallowing that ol’ familiar lump in my throat, but I can tell it’s here to stay. One of these things is not like the other, and I’m getting the feeling it’s me.

Flashback to the playground

In grade school, when it came time to choose teams for any sporting event, I was picked last. T-ball, kick-ball…well…anything involving a ball was not my forte. Being picked last was to be my unsporty fate, and I became all too familiar with feeling left out.

This is why I can instantly recognize the awkward emptiness as an adult. This party is no exception.

Finding my new normal

While I may enjoy the occasional glass of wine or beer, my migraines do not. Alcohol is one of my many migraine triggers like excessive heat and algebra. Drinking wine in a hot sauna while working on quadric equations might cause my head to explode, so I refrain from all of the above.

It’s taken some time, but I’ve gotten used to ordering a glass of water at parties, social events, and morning brunches. Old friends know my drill but new buddies do not. My water glass and I have I’ve gotten a vast array of responses thus making my social experiences feel wallflower-like.

“Oh, just have one glass!”

“I just can’t imagine not being able to drink!”

“Take a sip of mine…”

These are some of the varied responses I’ve gotten after explaining why I’m abstaining.

Not everyone will understand

When I tell a person who asks why I’m not drinking, I can see that person’s facial expression go from “fun party vibe” to “confused downer vibe.” It’s like I’m only describing a super bad hangover. All I truly know is that conversations about migraines at parties never seem to gel no matter how humorous I try to make a throbbing head and continuous vomiting sound.

Of course, there are those who sympathize because they’ve had a cousin or parent who suffered, but for those who have no frame of reference, eventually, my glass of water fails to bond us. Our conversation reaches a lull and my new acquaintance politely leaves in favor of chatting with someone imbibing. Sometimes, I think I should just suck it up and join in. My choice is not what the popular kids are doing.

Embracing my choice

Parties, where the alcohol is free-flowing, can leave me freely flowing to a corner, but I know I can’t join them. The price is too high to pay. I’ve learned to seek out the friends that know me or the other water drinkers in the circle. My glass of water is a reminder that even though I may be feeling left out in the group, I won’t leave my head out. I’m always on my team trying to pick myself first.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • 7yuf75
    1 week ago

    I do mocktails such as club soda and bitters, non-alcoholic beer, or a virgin mary.

  • Tonilyn Hornung author
    1 week ago

    Thank you for taking the time to read and share! I love a good virgin mary drink! Thanks for reminding me! All the best to you.

  • sarahmchb
    3 weeks ago

    I can so relate to this. I love my white wine but I have to stay away from it. It used to be only red wine that was a trigger but then last year it progressed to white wine too. Since I don’t like any other alcohol I now stick with water and yeah, there’s always an awkward conversation at social functions. I often have to remind friends I haven’t seen in a while why I’m not drinking. Or I get the “Oh you’re still not drinking?” like this is something I have a choice in. So frustrating and it’s just easier to avoid functions where I know there will be a lot of drinking. Thanks for writing this!

  • Tonilyn Hornung author
    3 weeks ago

    I’m so pleased that this essay resonated with you! Thanks for taking the time to comment because I love knowing that others share the same experience–we’re truly all in this together. I too sometimes choose to avoid functions where I know there will be a lot of drinking, so I get it. Best to you!

  • jsobsey
    3 weeks ago

    I have asked for cranberry juice on a wine glass and nobody knows or cares.
    Also water in a martini glass. Or tonic water without the gin. No one ever questions me. No one thinks I’m a downer if I just say I don’t do alcohol. People who would get offended by a non drinker maybe are not worth hanging out with

  • Tonilyn Hornung author
    3 weeks ago

    Hi there! Thanks for sharing your cranberry juice in a wine glass and water in a martini glass method! Those are wonderful! Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment! Best to you!

  • DinaMay
    3 weeks ago

    I know what you mean about feeling left out, as I too was regularly picked last (or next to last), once upon a time. My personal solution to not drinking when everyone else has some is usually to not go to those things. But that’s not a recommendation by any means. If you don’t go, you’re definitely left out!

    I like the idea of carrying a fake drink around, @glassmind. One person I knew years ago used iced tea in a brandy glass for that effect. My family usually has a bottle of something sparkling with a faint fruity flavor. I don’t really like those but I’ve used ‘em as a sub for real stuff.

    Another ploy is to carry a real drink around and just pretend to sip from it from time to time. Put the glass to my lips and tilt it up till the liquid touches my (still closed) lips. Most people don’t pay me close enough attention to realize I eventually put down an unsampled drink.

    I’ve encountered my share of people who don’t really understand. My inclination these days is not to give any explanation. It’s my theory that when drinkers hear a reason for not drinking, all they really hear is, “you shouldn’t drink!” And it doesn’t matter that I didn’t say that or even imply it. So instead, when offered a drink, I just smile and say, “no thank you.” Then start a conversation about…whatever.

  • Tonilyn Hornung author
    3 weeks ago

    Thank you for taking the time to read and comment! Interesting what you say about drinkers only hearing, “You shouldn’t drink,” because I agree something definitely happens to change the mood when talking about not drinking. Next time, I’m going to take a page from your book and say, “No thank you,” and start another conversation and see what happens. Thanks again!

  • jjmcwil
    3 weeks ago

    Maybe all of us should have our OWN party!!!

  • Tonilyn Hornung author
    3 weeks ago

    That’s a fabulous idea! I am so there!

  • glassmind
    4 weeks ago

    Way to go sticking with abstinance! To avoid being questioned I ask for a small amount of juice to color the water and a pretty garnish. Juice alone is too surgary and a trigger.

    Anymore though, I avoid events with an expextation of drunkenness. Others have wine or beer during dinner or relazing lakeside is fine.

    But the noise and lighting that accompany most heavy drinking parties are also triggers, so year.

    I recently and abruptly left a retirement party at a resteraunt. To raucous of voices. Multiple sports tv plus holiday music and meal service fifteen minutes before my normal bedtime. I hit a wall and fled to an empty but open resteraunt with dim light next door.

    And I woke the next day with a migraine.


    I feel ya. Keep true to your needs. You are an inspiration

  • Tonilyn Hornung author
    3 weeks ago

    Thank you so very much for your kind words of support, and thanks for sharing your idea of juice to color the drink! (Too sugary a drink isn’t good for my head either.) I’m sorry to hear about your recent migraine! I hope it was a quick one and you found relief soon. All the best!

  • lindaann
    3 weeks ago

    I too can so relate to your article! I had to completely stop all alcohol as well. Also being one who was chosen last for sports teams, I am often feeling like the odd one out. And I love a good red wine, but is just isn’t worth the migraine a few hours later. I have done the fake drink thing as well but most of my friends now know I just don’t drink. With drinking being such a valued and high profile and acceptable way of releasing stress, I know some think I am just uptight. And yes, talking about migraine at a party just doesn’t seem to be a great conversation starter! Thanks for the article, it made my day.

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