How Do You Turn Down a Drink?

Posted on December 30, 2014

SMART Holiday CelebrationsIs there a social event in your near future that involves alcohol?

For example, you may be planning to celebrate the arrival of the new year with friends or family. If you have an established goal of abstinence and are fairly new to recovery, you may find this event challenging for many reasons, especially if alcohol is being served and your host or other party goers are dead-set on pressing a drink into your hand.

While a simple “no, thank you” is often sufficient for refusing alcohol (or other drugs), it can be helpful to plan ahead for how you will handle the inevitable invitations to drink and other challenges that you may experience.

Here are some things to consider:

Alcohol Refusal Skills

If you know that alcohol will be served at the event, having a plan for how you will respond to any social pressure to drink is important. If you expect to be offered a drink, think about how you will respond, what feels most comfortable for you. Ultimately, you will be looking for a way to refuse alcohol while remaining friendly and respectful.

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Have a convincing refusal ready to use as needed. A convincing refusal is clear, short and to the point (e.g., “No” , or “No, thank you”). Some examples include:

No, thanks… I don’t drink.
No, thanks. I’m not drinking tonight.
No, thank you. I am taking medication that doesn’t mix with alcohol.
Thank you for the offer, but I’d really rather not.

Contrary to what you might expect, most people will respect your refusal and move on without continuing to insist that you should accept the drink.

Sounds easy? Yes, but like any new behavior it will likely feel odd at first. You can build your confidence and become more comfortable: write out the chosen refusals that you plan to use when offered a drink. Rehearse your response aloud to get comfortable with what you will say and how you will say it. The NIH has a helpful interactive worksheet that can be used to organize your thoughts and record your responses.

Dealing with Urges

Even without social pressures, you may experience internal pressure. Just being around others who are drinking may spark urges or a desire to drink. You may find yourself thinking: “I’ll just have one”, “It’s New Years, everyone drinks at New Years!”, “No problem! I can quit again…tomorrow”, or something similar). SMART Recovery offers a number of strategies and tools for coping with urges. Check out this blog post, the online toolbox or pick up a copy of the SMART Recovery Handbook in the SMART online bookstore for more urge coping skills .


Some things to consider in addition to the strategies listed above:

Ask yourself: Is this an event that you must attend? Might it be better to sit this one out for this year?

Keep a non-alcoholic drink in your hand during the event.

Ask for support from others to cope with temptation.

Plan an escape if the temptation gets too great (e.g., don’t let your car get blocked in).

Review how you’re thinking about recovery. Is giving up alcohol something you “must do” or “have to do”? The difference between “I can’t drink” and “I can drink. I choose not to.” is huge!

Looking for a fun place to hang out where people aren’t pressing drinks into your hand left and right? Visit our online community as they celebrate the new year throughout the day on 12/31/14 as 2015 arrives around the world. [ More Info ]

So, tell us: How do you refuse a drink?

Please post your refusal strategies in the comment section below.

Best wishes to all for a happy, healthy 2015!

5 thoughts on “How Do You Turn Down a Drink?

  1. Richard H.

    Keeping a drink in your had has been one of my tools in the past. It surprised me that I could replace holding a beer with a can of pop and feel comfortable. As long as I had something in my hand, something to sip on.
    In the past it seemed I couldn’t go anywhere without having a beer in my hand, today it seems odd, but I like to have a can of pop in my hand when ever I go anywhere.

  2. Curly_Sue

    I don’t owe anyone an explanation. I say “No, thanks.” If the host continues to insist I have in the past turned my wine glass upside down to indicate I don’t care for any. When I’m at a restaurant I ask them to remove the drink menu and drink glasses so the waiter won’t continue to press the issue. I’ve also taken the drink then just set it down without tasting it. If I’m somewhere that sells drinks I buy mineral water, cranberry & seltzer with a twist, a virgin mary or virgin margarita.

  3. CJ

    My go-to response this New Year’s Eve is:

    “Thanks, but I’d like water, please.

    My mom baked my all-time favorite Christmas cookies this year and now I can’t handle one more empty calorie until June!”

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