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The Drunkard's Progress, a lithograph by Nathaniel Currier supporting the temperance movement (January 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 (also spelled teetotaller; plural teetotalers or teetotallers) 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[2] 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."

Reasons and justifications[edit]

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

Contemporary and colloquial usage has somewhat expanded teetotalism to include strict abstinence from most recreational intoxicants (legal and illegal).[citation needed] Most teetotaler organizations also demand from their members that they do not promote or produce alcoholic intoxicants.


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[2] Turner, 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]

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)[4]

An alternative explanation is that teetotal is simply a duplication 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.[5] 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). In this context, the word is still used, predominantly in the southern United States.[citation needed]

According to historian Daniel Walker Howe (What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 2007) the term was dervied from the practice of American preacher and temperance advodate 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.


Nephalism,[6] temperance, abstinence, abstemiousness, and restraint are synonyms for teetotalism.

Numerous idioms and slang terms imply abstinence from alcohol

A common American term is "on the (water) wagon", which frequently means those who have had a problem with alcohol, as well as the terms "dry" and "sober".

"Straight edge" is a newer idiom for abstaining from alcohol and other intoxicants, referring to a sub-culture born within hardcore punk that promotes abstinence from promiscuous sex, alcohol, drugs and cigarettes.

"Temperance" was a more popular term in the 19th century and early 20th century when temperance unions throughout the US battled consumption of alcoholic beverages.

Notable teetotalers[edit]

Main article: List of teetotalers

Islam, Jainism, some sects of Hinduism and Buddhism, Brahma Kumaris, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), Seventh-day Adventist Church, Amish, Old Order Mennonites, Conservative Mennonites, International Society for Krishna Consciousness (Hare Krishna movement), Sikhism, the Baha'i Faith, the Assemblies of God,[7] 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.[8] Members 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.

Teetotalism and organized religion[edit]

Most practicing Hindus, Bahá'ís, Brahmins, Meivazhi-ites, Pillays, Mormons, Hare Krishnas, Muslims, Scientologists, Seventh-day Adventists, Amish, Old Order Mennonites, Conservative Mennonites, Church of the Brethren members, Christian Scientists, Jains, and Sikhs, can be considered to be teetotalers as abstention from alcohol is a tenet of all these religions. However, there are some exceptions.

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.

Many Christians such as Methodists and Quakers are often associated with teetotalism due to their traditionally strong support for temperance movements and prohibition. Abstinence is not a religious requirement, but the tradition is strong enough to make ritual and recreational alcohol consumption a controversial issue among some members. Members of the Salvation Army make a promise on joining the movement to observe lifelong abstinence from alcohol, but they do not consider partaking of alcohol to be inherently wrong. Catholicism, the 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[edit]

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.[9]

See also[edit]


  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. ^ The Charleston Observer vol. 10, no. 44 (29 October 1836): 174, columns 4-5.
  5. ^ "Online Etymology Dictionary - T, page 5". Retrieved 2007-04-30. 
  6. ^ From Greek νήφω (verb) = "I do not drink wine", νηφάλιος (adjective) = "not drinking wine"
  7. ^ "Alcohol, Tobacco & Drugs". ag.org. General Council of the Assemblies of God. Retrieved 24 February 2015. 
  8. ^ "Alcohol". Methodist Church in Britain. Retrieved 24 February 2015. 
  9. ^ Conroy, Dominic; de Visser, Richard. "Being a non-drinking student: An interpretative phenomenological analysis". Psychology and Health 29 (5): 536–551. doi:10.1080/08870446.2013.866673. ISSN 0887-0446.