5 Ways to Say No to Alcohol When You Don’t Want to Drink

Group of young people chatting and laughing on a rooftop party.

It can be difficult to say no to alcohol for anyone, but it is especially hard for those who are quitting or cutting down on drinking. You can avoid places where drinks are served, up to a certain point. But, eventually, you may be offered a drink by someone you know, or in a public situation where you aren't familiar with everyone present.

In these situations, you don't always want to explain your relationship with alcohol or the reason you choose not to drink, especially if you sense they may not understand. It can be helpful to have a casual, polite response to avoid being asked further questions, offending your host, feeling embarrassed, or exposing a personal story you aren't prepared to share.


“I'm Driving”

This is the ultimate excuse. Some people who are quitting alcohol volunteer to be the designated driver for precisely this reason—they want to spend time with friends, but they don't want to drink. This response is also great role modeling for others and furthers the important message to sober behind the wheel.

Anyone who pressures you to drink after you give this response isn't worth listening to. The dangers of drinking and driving are well documented and it is never a good idea to drive after drinking alcohol. Although some people will insist on having a drink while claiming to be "under the limit," even if technically true, they are still impaired.


“No Thanks, I Just Finished One”

How you feel after a drink is an individual matter, and if you don't want another drink instantly, all it implies is good personal boundaries around your own comfort.

It also shows you are not a compulsive drinker and sets the tone for others to pace their drinking too. Yet this response includes the implication that you might have had a drink if you felt like one and lets the power of that decision remain with you.

You may find yourself with the type of person who teases and berates those who are cutting back on alcohol or in recovery. While this might not be the kind of companion you would choose as a friend, they are sometimes unavoidable in a social situation. Don't let them make you feel bad for whatever choice you make.

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“I've Had My Limit For Tonight”

This is the best response if you regularly drink with the same people, want to control your drinking, and have set a limit based on your blood alcohol concentration. Others will learn over time that you will drink only a certain number of drinks within a certain amount of time, so they can enjoy sharing a drink with you within those limits.

Controlled drinking is a goal for many people with alcohol problems. Some pushy people might pressure you to have more. Stand your ground. Don't react to such pressure. After all, you have a right to determine and stick to your own limit, and your limit is based on scientific evidence, not on your feelings or those of anyone else.


“I Want to Keep a Clear Head”

Variations on this response are, "No thanks, I've got work tomorrow," "No thanks, I've got an early start in the morning," or "No thanks, I don't want to get a hangover."

This is a great way of letting people know that alcohol does not rule your life, nor will you let it interfere with your day-to-day functioning the next day. This is particularly important for people who could be negatively impacted the following day by drinking too much, such as students during exam periods.

Remember, too, that it can take hours for alcohol to be removed from your system, and people who drink too much at night can still be intoxicated the following morning, sometimes resulting in accidents. Keeping a clear head may not be important to all drinkers, but it should be to you.


“I Don't Drink”

This response takes the most courage and is the most frequently subject to demands for an explanation. Ideally, it should shut down any further discussion, although you should be prepared for the possibility that you may have to put up with teasing or being asked if you have a drinking problem.

“I don't drink" is the best response for anyone who is serious about recovery from alcoholism or anyone who wants to put an end to the nonsense of peer pressure to drink alcohol. Eventually, people will learn to accept that you have changed, and you may become a role model among your peers.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database

3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Drunk Driving.

  2. Luquiens A, Reynaud M, Aubin HJ. Is controlled drinking an acceptable goal in the treatment of alcohol dependence? A survey of French alcohol specialists. Alcohol and Alcoholism. 2011;46(5):586-591. doi:10.1093/alcalc/agr083

  3. Howland J, Rohsenow DJ, Bliss CA, Almeida AB, Calise TV, Heeren T, Winter M. Hangover predicts residual alcohol effects on psychomotor vigilance the morning after intoxication. J Addict Res Ther. 2010;1(101):1000101. doi:10.4172/2155-6105.1000101

By Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, MA, PhD
Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, MA, PhD is a psychologist, professor, and Director of the Centre for Health Leadership and Research at Royal Roads University, Canada.