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Five Ways to Say No to Alcohol

How to Refuse a Drink Without Offending Your Host or Companion

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Updated April 09, 2014

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, but eventually, you will be offered a drink by someone you don't want to explain your alcohol problem to. 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 five top phrases for refusing alcohol.

1. 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 don't want to drink. This response is also great role modelling for others, and adds to the climate of acceptability of staying sober behind the wheel. Anyone who pressurizes you to drink after you giving this response isn't worth listening to.

2. No Thanks, I've Just Finished One

What I like about this response is that is so lacking in value judgements 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 the implication is that you might have had a drink if you felt like one, so this works well for the type of people who tease and berate those in recovery -- the kind of companions you may not want as friends, but are sometimes unavoidable in a social situation.

3. 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.

4. 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 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. Keeping a clear head may not be important to all drinkers, but it should be to you.

5. I Don't Drink

This response take the most courage, and is the most subject to demands for an explanation. You may have to put up with being asked if you have a drink problem, you may have your masculinity or sense of fun challenged, or you may be informed that, "You can have one drink." But it is the all-round best response for anyone who is serious about recovery from alcoholism, or who wants to put an end to the nonsense of peer pressure to drink alcohol.
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