5 Ways to Say No to Alcohol

How to Refuse a Drink Without Offending Your Host or Companion

It can be difficult to say no to alcohol for anyone, but it is especially difficult for those who are quitting or cutting down on alcohol. You can avoid places where drinks are served, up to a certain point. However, eventually, you will 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 alcohol problem or your wish to avoid alcohol to others, especially if you sense they may not understand.

This is completely understandable. You don't owe anyone an explanation about why you choose not to drink, yet it can be helpful to have a casual response to avoid further questions.

The best ways to say no are casual, polite responses to an offer, which provide an excuse that can't be argued with. Here are my top five ways to say no to alcohol, without offending your host, feeling embarrassed, or exposing your personal addiction recovery story.


I'm Driving

Man holding a serving tray of drinks

Cultura Exclusive / Sofie Delauw / Getty Images

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 adds to the climate of acceptability of staying sober behind the wheel.

Anyone who pressures you to drink after you giving this response isn't worth listening to. The dangers of drinking and driving are so well documented that it is no longer socially acceptable 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've Just Finished One

This response is so lacking in value judgments about drinking that no one can accuse you of being uptight or preachy. 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, so this works well as a response to the type of person who teases and berates those 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. These individuals can hardly argue that you should be drinking again immediately after your last one and, if they do, they simply come across as compulsive drinkers and pushy drunks themselves.


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 being asked if you have a drinking problem. Or, you may have be teased or told, "Come on, you can have one drink."

"I don't drink" is the all-round 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

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