A person who completely abstains from alcoholic beverages may be called a teetotaler, a description which has surprisingly little to do with the non-alcoholic beverage known as tea. The word actually comes from a relatively obscure grammatical practice known as reduplication. By duplicating the first letter, the speaker gives additional emphasis to the entire word. Before it was applied to fervent non-imbibers, the term "T-total" was already in common use as a synonym for complete or absolute. A teetotaler, therefore, would be a person who has completely or absolutely sworn off the consumption of alcohol.
It is believed the word became popular during British temperance meetings held in the 1830s. A teetotaler may never have taken a single sip of alcohol in his or her entire life, as opposed to a reformed alcoholic or social imbiber. He or she may cite religious or social convictions as the basis for his or her abstinence, or else he or she may have witnessed the effects of alcohol on relatives at an early age. A child of an active alcoholic may choose to never touch alcohol in order to break the cycle or to discourage their own children from picking up the destructive habit.
The temperance movements of the 19th and early 20th centuries have largely faded into history, but the underlying issue of controlling the flow of alcohol into a city or county is still alive. The decision to allow alcohol sales is often left to voters in a referendum, and it is not unusual for local church leaders and social organizations to unite in solidarity against alcohol sales.
A modern teetotaler may or may not have strong opinions about other people's right to consume alcohol. The decision to not drink is generally a personal one, based on one's own moral code. While some may view such a person as someone afraid to take risks or join the popular crowd, others may see him or her as someone capable of taking a strong position on an issue and not compromising due to peer pressure.