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The Drunkard's Progress, a lithograph by Nathaniel Currier supporting the temperance movement (January 1846)
An allegorical map on temperance, accompanied by a lengthy poem. The "Religion Channel" was a strong current away from "Misery Regions" and the "Reprobate Empire", 1846

Teetotalism is the practice or promotion of complete personal abstinence from alcoholic beverages. A person who practices (and possibly advocates) teetotalism is called a teetotaler (plural teetotalers) or is simply said to be teetotal. The teetotalism movement was first started in Preston, England, in the early 19th century.[1] The Preston Temperance Society was founded in 1833 by Joseph Livesey, who was to become a leader of the temperance movement and the author of The Pledge: "We agree to abstain from all liquors of an intoxicating quality whether ale, porter, wine or ardent spirits, except as medicine."[2]


There is some dispute over the origin of the word "teetotaler". One anecdote attributes the origin of the word to a meeting of the Preston Temperance Society in 1833. The story attributes the word to Richard Turner,[2] a member of the society, who in a speech said "I'll be reet down out-and-out t-t-total for ever and ever".[3] Walter William Skeat noted that the Turner anecdote had been recorded by temperance advocate Joseph Livesey, and posited that the term may have been inspired by the teetotum;[4] however, James B. Greenough stated that "nobody ever thought teetotum and teetotaler were etymologically connected".[5]

A variation on the above account is found on the pages of The Charleston Observer:

Teetotalers.—The origin of this convenient word, (as convenient almost, although not so general in its application as loafer,) is, we imagine, known but to few who use it. It originated, as we learn from the Landmark, with a man named Turner, a member of the Preston Temperance Society, who, having an impediment of speech, in addressing a meeting remarked, that partial abstinence from intoxicating liquors would not do; they must insist upon tee-tee-(stammering) tee total abstinence. Hence total abstainers have been called teetotalers.

— The Charleston Observer vol. 10, no. 44 (29 October 1836)[6]

An alternative explanation is that teetotal is simply a reduplication of the first "T" in total (T-total). It is said that as early as 1827 in some Temperance Societies signing a "T" after one's name signified one's pledge for total abstinence.[7] In England in the 1830s, when the word first entered the lexicon, it was also used in other contexts as an emphasized form of total; a comparable American English locution would be "total with a capital T" (an instance of the "[word] with a capital [word-initial letter]" snowclone).

According to historian Daniel Walker Howe (What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 2007) the term was derived from the practice of American preacher and temperance advocate Lyman Beecher. He would take names at his meetings of people who pledged alcoholic temperance and noted those who pledged total abstinence with a T. Such persons became known as Teetotallers.

Reasons and justifications

Some common reasons for choosing teetotalism are psychological, religious, health, medical, familial, philosophical and social, alcoholism, or sometimes it is simply a matter of taste or preference or a desire to engage in virtue signaling. When at drinking establishments, teetotalers (or teetotallers) either abstain from drinking completely, or consume non-alcoholic beverages such as water, juice, tea, coffee, non-alcoholic soft drinks, virgin drinks, mocktails, and alcohol-free beer.

Most[citation needed] teetotaler organizations also demand from their members that they do not promote or produce alcoholic intoxicants.

Religions that make members teetotalers

Islam, Jainism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Brahma Kumaris, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church or Mormons), Seventh-day Adventist Church, Conservative Laestadians, International Society for Krishna Consciousness (Hare Krishna movement), Quakers, the Baha'i Faith, the Assemblies of God,[8], Christian Science and the Salvation Army are notable religious groups that require adherents to abstain from alcohol. Methodists also historically abstained from alcohol, though many Methodist denominations no longer teach this.[9] Yet, the Church of the Nazarene, an offshoot of Methodism, teaches abstinence from alcohol.[10] Many members of these religious groups are also required to refrain from selling such products. A translation of the New Testament, the Purified Translation of the Bible, translates in a way that promotes teetotalism.

Organized religion

Abstention from alcohol is a tenet of a number of religious faiths, including those of the Sikhs, Bahá'ís, Hare Krishnas, Hindus (particularly Brahmins), Jains, and Meivazhi-ites.

"Khamr" is the term for all intoxicants which are prohibited in Islam. (See Religion and alcohol § Islam)

Similarly, one of the five precepts of Buddhism is abstaining from intoxicating substances that disturb the peace and self-control of the mind, but it is formulated as a training rule to be assumed voluntarily rather than as a commandment.

A number of Christian denominations also forbid the consumption of alcohol, including the Amish, Seventh-day Adventists, Mennonites (both Old Order and Conservative), Church of the Brethren members, and Christian Scientists. Many Christian groups, such as Methodists, Mormons, and Quakers, are often associated with teetotalism due to their traditionally strong support for temperance movements and prohibition. However, tenets forbidding the consumption of alcohol are variably practiced. In many Christian denominations, abstinence is not a religious requirement, but the tradition is strong enough to make ritual and recreational alcohol consumption a controversial issue among members. Members of the Salvation Army make a promise on joining the movement to observe lifelong abstinence from alcohol. The Catholic Church, Orthodox churches, and Anglicanism all require wine in their central religious rite of the eucharist, and while many Protestant churches often allow grape juice or alcohol-free wine in their communion services, only a few Protestants require a non-alcoholic beverage as official policy. (See Christianity and alcohol.)

Research on non-drinkers

Several authors have conducted research looking at the social and subjective experiences of young people who do not drink alcohol in varied social settings. For example, Dominic Conroy and Richard de Visser published research in Psychology and Health which hinted at the types of strategies involved in refusing alcoholic drinks or explaining reasons for non-drinking.[11]

Caroline H. McClave published a comparison of 3 studies entitled Asexuality as a Spectrum: A National Probability Sample Comparison to the Sexual Community in the UK[12] which studied asexual people and gray asexual people in comparison to those who are not on the spectrum of that sexual orientation. All three of the studies that were compared found that asexuals and gray-asexuals drank significantly less than the people not in those categories, and also more people with those sexual orientations abstaining from drinking altogether.

A 2015 study by the Office for National Statistics showed that young Britons were more likely to be teetotallers than their parents.[13]

See also


  1. ^ Road to Zion - British Isles, BYU-TV; http://byutv.org/watch/801-207
  2. ^ a b Gately, Iain (May 2009). Drink: A Cultural History of Alcohol. New York: Gotham Books. p. 248. ISBN 978-1-592-40464-3. 
  3. ^ Quinion, Michael. "Teetotal". worldwidewords.org. Retrieved 22 April 2012. 
  4. ^ An Etymological Dictionary of the English Language, by Walter William Skeat; published by Clarendon Press, 1893
  5. ^ Words and Their Ways, by James B. Greenough; published 1902
  6. ^ The Charleston Observer vol. 10, no. 44 (29 October 1836): 174, columns 4-5.
  7. ^ "Online Etymology Dictionary - T, page 5". Retrieved 2007-04-30. 
  8. ^ "Alcohol, Tobacco & Drugs". ag.org. General Council of the Assemblies of God. Retrieved 24 February 2015. 
  9. ^ "Alcohol". Methodist Church in Britain. Retrieved 24 February 2015. 
  10. ^ "Church of the Nazarene Manual" (PDF). Church of the Nazarene. Retrieved 22 April 2017. 
  11. ^ Conroy, Dominic; de Visser, Richard. "Being a non-drinking student: An interpretative phenomenological analysis". Psychology and Health. 29 (5): 536–551. ISSN 0887-0446. doi:10.1080/08870446.2013.866673. 
  12. ^ Asexuality as a Spectrum: A National Probability Sample Comparison to the Sexual Community in the UK 
  13. ^ Neville, Sarah (February 13, 2015). "Young Britons turning teetotal in growing numbers, survey says". Financial Times. Retrieved September 16, 2016. 
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