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How To Say No To Alcohol When You’re On Your Recovery Journey

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Key takeaways:

  • Alcohol is prevalent in social gatherings and can be challenging to avoid, especially for those trying to cut down on their intake or recovering from alcoholism.
  • Pressure from others and fear of judgment can make it difficult to say no to alcohol.
  • You can carry a non-alcoholic drink, pretend to drink, use the designated driver excuse, talk to the bartender for alcohol-free drinks, make up a reason, claim just finished a drink, mention a medical emergency, change the subject, be honest, attribute sobriety to health, mention pre-gaming, bring sober friend, politely refuse without explanation, and avoid alcohol-serving settings.
  • If a relapse occurs and alcohol is consumed, take necessary action and seek support from a therapist specialized in alcohol treatment or consider staying at a sober facility.
  • Having a sober mentor or companion can reduce the risk of relapse and provide valuable support in recovery.
  • Saying no to alcohol can be challenging, but it becomes easier with practice and support from a network of understanding individuals. Remember that it’s a personal choice and should be done for oneself without feeling pressured by others.

Alcohol is often a big part of social gatherings, from parties to weddings or reunions, you’ll be offered to drink alcohol almost everywhere. Whether you are just trying to cut down on your alcohol intake, or you’re a recovering alcoholic, it can get difficult to avoid alcohol in such situations where everyone else is drinking.

Some people can get pressured into drinking because they don’t want to explain their situation to the people around them for fear of being judged. While other people can easily give in to the temptation.

You can avoid restaurants serving drinks, up to certain points of time. However, when anyone from your social circle offers and even pushes you to down a shot or two, it can get difficult to refuse.

So how do you refuse alcohol, especially in early sobriety, when you are most vulnerable? We’ve got a whole guide!

How do I say no if I’m not drinking alcohol?

For those who have never touched a drop, it’s pretty easy to say “no” as compared to those who have or had drinking habits. Fear of judgment and societal pressure also increase your chances of relapse especially when you’re in a gathering where alcohol is served. You just have to realize and make yourself believe that it is okay to say no if you’re not drinking.

Because of the multitude of challenges you may face, here are some tips to say no without putting you in the highlight:

1. Carry a Non-Alcoholic Drink

In most cases, people won’t specifically ask you if the beverage you’re drinking is alcoholic or not if you had it in your hand already before they came along. If you’re going to a bar or a party, try to take a soda or water of your own in your hand at all times.

2. Pretend to Drink

If you’re going to a party where facing alcohol is unavoidable, and no other options are available, another way of staying sober is to pretend to drink. You can just hold a glass of alcohol and not drink it. That would take a lot of resolves but it’s better than going back to your drinking problem.

3. Say You’re Driving

It is common for people to not drink because they are the designated driver. You can have a fun night with your friends and tell them that you’re driving tonight in order to say no to alcohol. It’s a social setting and not drinking is a personal choice, but if it’s awkward for you to say straight-up no, driving is a perfectly valid excuse to avoid drinking. It is technically true!


4. Speak With the Bartender

Bartenders often face such situations and can be very understanding and helpful if you’re trying to avoid alcohol. Talk to the bartender and ask them to serve you in the same glass as everyone else but make it a simple Coke or any other alcohol-free drink.

5. Make Up a Reason Why You’re Not Drinking

A recovering person takes everything one day at a time. If one starts to pressure you to drink you can simply say that you are not drinking today. You do not have to tell them you quit because you lost your job or you did an 18-step interview. Many people stopped drinking either permanently or indefinitely due to reasons other than alcoholism. In some individuals, their doctors may have prescribed medications that they don’t recommend using with alcohol. Maybe your date’s recovering and you want to make him comfortable. Maybe you have a plan to run a marathon in the morning. Maybe a deadline is close and you want to keep alert! Or You can simply tell people you have to work in the morning.

6. Say You Just Finished One

How you feel after drinking is an individual matter, and if you do not want another drink instantly, the only thing that suggests is personal boundaries around your own comfort. This makes it easy and encourages other drinkers. Don’t let it make you feel awful about any of your choices and do not make it beg you for that. You might find that you are being teased by a type of individual who berates those who are cutting down on alcohol or are getting out of recovery. It may not be the kind of people you choose as your friends but they are sometimes impermissible in a social scenario. This can easily get you out of such a situation.

7. Say You Have a Medical Emergency

A lot of people have to quit alcohol due to a medical emergency. Antidepressants and antibiotics are usually prescribed medications that don’t mix well with alcohol. The persistent questioner will soon realize he is straying from boundaries and is asking about things that are not his business. This is a really easy way of getting out of drinking.

8. Change the Subject

Changing a subject is a skill that might come in handy in such a situation. You can ask people about what’s new with them, compliment their dress, or mention a mutual friend. You can also make a joke and turn the situation around.

If you feel uncomfortable for not drinking you better laugh at the funny thing. It will remove the emphasis on drinking. This is another example of how alcohol is not essential for happiness. There’s also an example of how being drunk is not a prerequisite for good times and good people should laugh a little bit. If this person offering you a drink is a friend, you can always gently elbow him up: “I can’t begin to fall like you.”

9. Be Honest

Old friends or family members know you during your high drinking moments and might support your efforts. There’s probably someone in your crowd who struggles as much as you do: open the door for them on how things go. They may remember you now months later when their son or daughter is trying to learn to stop drinking. They’ll be thrilled you’ve chosen a new lifestyle, and you have a chance to plant some seed in the midst of others’ life. But it is totally okay if you don’t feel like you’re ready to share it with someone. There is no peer pressure here! As long as you’ve accepted your identity, you can resist the stigma and resist alcohol.

10. Tell People You’re Trying To Live Healthily

Most people get out of drinking because they’re in the “green juice” phase. You can simply tell people you’re trying to live healthily or trying to cut down on some weight etc which is why you can’t drink. You can even take your healthy juice mix with you in order to avoid alcohol.

11. Say You Pre-Gamed

Another way to stay accountable for yourself in a social scene is by telling them you already went out for drinks with your friends before getting here. This is very common and totally believable!

12. Bring a Sober Friend

One way to stay sober during drunken times is to bring a sober friend who can help you avoid alcohol. It appears that some non-drinkers feel isolated and this situation can be tackled if you have a sober companion with you. Taking a friend to social events can help keep you occupied and avoid unnecessary conversations where you might get pressured into drinking alcohol.

13. Just Say No

People feel awkward refusing a drink in a social setting, but it is okay to say no. If someone is offering you a drink you can simply tell them that you don’t want to drink and that should be a perfectly fine reason without having to justify it. They might press you once or twice but eventually, they’ll take the hint. You might feel a little pressured and overwhelmed at first, but sticking with saying no and not explaining yourself any further gets easier with time. You can learn to politely say no and move on with your night. You can talk to people who have struggled with such situations and ask how they got out of it. Their experiences might also help your case.

14. Find Sober Company

One way to avoid being around alcohol is to simply avoid social settings where alcohol is served. Try to find sober company and surround yourself with people who won’t pressure you into drinking. You can avoid going to bars and parties with the excuse of work or some other responsibility. One of the easiest ways to avoid alcohol is simply not being around it!

What to Do if You Relapsed and Had a Drink

If you gave in to peer pressure and had a drink, be prepared to take necessary action instead of giving up and accepting defeat. You have to keep in mind that this is a part of your journey to sobriety, not the end of it because the first step to sobriety is your will and determination. Once you have made up your mind about getting back on track and avoiding such a situation in the future, here are some ways you can cope with a relapse:

Work With a Therapist Specialized in Alcohol Treatment

A specialist therapist helps define your future objectives and helps develop confidence in those goals and coping strategies. Your therapist can also help you locate your support network, write a plan for potentially triggering situations, and even play challenging conversations. It can be hard for one to navigate a party without a companion. An addiction treatment-centric therapy provider like Lantana serves as a consistent help for every step of the journey. 

Your therapist also can assist in identifying your support network and prepare you for a plan of action and suggest you helping tips regarding how to say no to alcohol. Studies have found that change and recovery have been made possible with the help of key professionals and peers.

Check Into a Sober Facility

There is no shame in admitting that you need help, “alcoholism treatment, as it exists today, rests on decades of research exploring the most effective ways to help people reduce their alcohol use or to stop drinking” (Advances in Alcoholism Treatment, Huebner & Kantor, 2011.) If you feel yourself slipping after having a drink, you can check yourself into a sober house to help you get back on track. This will help you avoid parties and situations where you might be faced with alcohol. Following a curfew and having round-the-clock care will help you avoid a future relapse. Work with us and find the guidance that you need without the fear of being judged!

Find a Sober Mentor

A lot of people get help from sober mentors, who have experience with dealing with situations where alcohol you are expected to drink. Not only your friends and family can help you in such situations, but you can also find this support from a mentor. According to peer-reviewed studies, having a mentor or a sober companion reduced the risk of a relapse because being surrounded by understanding views and perceptions of those who have experienced recovery can help improve recovery and support.

Bottom Line

Drinking has never been a requirement for happiness and one is encouraged to do so without any explanation. However. If you still feel like putting it out there that you don’t want to drink alcohol, your reasons can be as simple as these responses and may include a simple explanation or just going over everything and explaining your desire to have an alcohol-free lifestyle. Remember that you’re doing this for yourself and nobody else. You could be continually pressed about your decision to skip booze but gradually you can become more confident and less afraid to stick to it.

Sometimes saying no can be difficult but the harder it gets, the more you learn. If you feel overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to ask for help from a professional like Lantana, your family, or friends. Because having a support network is extremely important in order to live a sober lifestyle. Try these suggestions on how to say no and lead your way to an alcohol-free lifestyle!


Alan Goodstat

Alan completed a postgraduate degree in social work from Columbia University in New York City and is a licensed clinical social worker in FL, NJ, NC and SC. Over the past 30 years he has worked in various leadership roles in privately held organizations and private equity portfolio companies.

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Charleston South Carolina

Located on the historic peninsula of Charleston, South Carolina, Lantana Recovery takes a modern approach to Substance Use Disorder treatment, offering intensive clinical care while also immersing our clients in local Charleston culture.