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9 Easy Ways to Say ‘No’ to Alcohol

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Here are some phrases that can help you stay sober by giving you the words to say “no” to alcohol.

You thought you left peer pressure behind when you outgrew those high school football buddies, but Sam from marketing is here to tell you otherwise. He’s urging you with every bit of his sales ability to take a shot with the rest of the staff. It’s team happy hour, and you’re part of the team, right??

Or maybe you don’t know a Sam, but you’re reuniting with an old friend for dinner. Great conversation is flowing, but they’re hating that you won’t take them up on their offer to split a bottle of Merlot. They keep asking you not to make them drink alone.

It can be challenging—at any time, but especially in the early days after you quit drinking—to find the right words to say ‘no’ to alcohol. So we’ve found them for you. If you feel comfortable telling folks that you’re in recovery, you absolutely can do just that. But if the situation or people make you wary of telling them about your recovery (or if you’re not ready to tell anyone yet), you can and should rehearse what you will say. As we’ve said before, if there were ever an occasion for stretching the truth, sticking to your sobriety goals is it. Here are 9 easy ways to say ‘no,’ from the straight up to the indirect to the fibbing.

“No thanks, I’m good with what I’ve got.”

The power of the mocktail, club soda with lime, or mineral water is not to be underestimated. Having a non-alcoholic drink in your hand will not only help you feel more natural, it will also put those around you (including bartenders) at ease. In fact, having a beverage in hand can be a shield that stops others from offering you a drink in the first place. And it’s a lot easier to say no to alcohol when you have a tasty replacement beverage within arm’s reach.

“Thanks, I’m okay.”

As advocates of boundary-setting so often remind us, “No,” is a complete sentence. When you’re offered a drink, often all you need is a confident “No,” stated with a smile. If you’re questioned further, you can then decide whether or not to go into your personal choices. But a brief, polite refusal with no explanation is absolutely socially acceptable.

“I’ve had enough to drink, thanks.”

And you clearly have, right? Or you wouldn’t have decided to stop.

“I’m allergic to alcohol, I break out in handcuffs when I drink.”

This is a popular joke within the recovery community, and it’s a clever way to refuse alcohol. But this response is both pretty flippant and directly references your difficulties with alcohol, so if you use it, expect some follow-up questions about your history.

“It’ll give me a massive headache.”

What, when, and to whom you reveal your new lifestyle choice is entirely up to you. If now isn’t the right time to announce to your coworkers that you’ve been hitting the booze too hard every night and you need a change, then a physical ailment is a perfect excuse not to drink.

“I have to get up early in the morning.”

Everyone understands the need for a restful night of sleep. Is there any better reason not to hit the bottle?

“I’m on antibiotics (supplements, another medication, etc.) right now.”

Claiming a medication interaction is another white lie that many people choose to use. And it’s often not a lie; many of us really do take medication that shouldn’t be mixed with alcohol. Most people will respect that booze and pills don’t mix.

“I’m picking up my kids on the way home.”

Very few people will hassle with you wanting to provide a safe ride for children. No children? Sub in another important person if you feel comfortable. Better yet, offer to be the designated driver if you’re in an inebriated crowd. Decades of reminders not to drink and drive and increasing legal penalties for doing so make needing to drive a great reason not to drink.

“I’m in a green juice phase.”

Saying that you’re doing a cleanse or participating in a health challenge can be an easy way to refuse alcohol without making your companions defensive. Side note: you may need to actually drink a green juice to commit to the bit.
There are plenty of other ways to say no. It’s up to you to weigh the pros and cons of how much you want to reveal. Try to plan in advance which excuses you are comfortable with and prepare for any potential resistance. Refusing alcohol in social situations is an art, not a science. It might feel funny at first, but with practice, it becomes second nature.
Feel like all you do is refuse booze? It might be time to add some new people and places to your life. But there will always be another work party with an open bar. Luckily, there’s also an endless amount of ways to say no to alcohol.

Kali Lux is a consumer marketing leader with a focus on healthcare and wellness. She has over a decade of experience in building and operating metrics-driven brand, demand generation, and customer experience teams. A founding member of Workit Health’s team and a person in recovery herself, she’s passionate about fighting stigma and developing strategies that allow more people access to quality treatment at the moment they’re ready for help.

Any general advice posted on our blog, website, or app is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace or substitute for any medical or other advice. Workit Health, Inc. and its affiliated professional entities make no representations or warranties and expressly disclaim any and all liability concerning any treatment, action by, or effect on any person following the general information offered or provided within or through the blog, website, or app. If you have specific concerns or a situation arises in which you require medical advice, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified medical services provider.

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