If you are giving up drinking, it can be very difficult to refuse drinks when you are at a party or a bar. You may find people pouring wine freely, or pushing cocktails on you.
Often events like weddings, funerals and birthdays can be triggers for alcoholics. Family members who are used to you drinking with them may exert pressure on you to join them and ask prying questions when you refuse. Everyone socializing with a drink in their hands may make you want to pick up one as well.
Experiencing this kind of situation in early sobriety can be a real challenge. For many, booze helped assuage social anxiety, softened the edge of tricky relationships, and made being with family and friends better… until it didn’t.
One big lesson of sobriety is learning how to navigate family and social functions without the lubricant of alcohol. Besides the long term internal work that getting sober entails, there are practical logistical ways to deal with this kind of challenge.
Here are ten ways to say no to alcohol when you are out with friends or family.
1. Change the Subject
A fun night out or a family celebration is not always the right setting to let people know you have a drinking problem. You may not want to go into detail about the long and short term effects of booze on your body and mind in the midst of a family holiday.
“No, thanks, Aunt Lisa. Champagne makes me pass out and throw up. And I have cirrhosis of the liver already.” Not exactly family picnic chit chat!
Choosing how and when to tell your loved ones that you are in recovery is a deeply personal decision. You want to make sure you are ready for the conversation, and that they are prepared to hear it as well. Don’t spring it on Grandma when she is in the hospital, for example.
While rigorous honesty is a staple on many recovery programs, you also have to be careful “when to do so would injure them or others.” Don’t spoil your cousin’s special day by making it all about you.
It’s OK to be less than forthright when someone is pressing you to take a drink. You do not have to say right then and there: “I am an alcoholic.”
Changing the subject is a cool way to turn down a drink without making a big deal out of it. Divert attention: “No, thanks, I would much rather have a piece of cake!” “I’m fine, but you must tell me where you bought that dress!”
2. Cover Your Glass
Physical cues can subtly signal that you are abstaining from drinking. If the waiter is circling the table, put your hand over your wineglass or remove the glass from your plate setting completely.
You can nod silently when someone asks, “Another round?” You can wave away a tray of glasses being passed under your nose.
Another physical technique of avoiding drinking is to remove yourself from proximity to the bottles. If you are meeting at a place that serves booze, sit at a table instead of at the bar. If you start feeling the urge to order a drink, take a walk outside or go to the bathroom.
Meeting at a place with other entertainments besides drinking can help. Go play pinball, or sing karaoke.
3. Ask for a Soda or Juice
You can drink when you go out, you just can’t drink alcohol. You can sometimes avoid scrutiny completely if you sip on sparkling water with lime: everyone will think you are drinking a gin and tonic.
Many bars nowadays offer mocktails. You can enjoy a virgin bloody mary or a pina colada without the rum.
Have some juice or a soda. You will have something in your hand, which may feel empty when everyone else is clutching drinks. And you will reduce the number of people asking, “Why don’t you have a drink?’
Maybe you are on a diet; everyone knows that cocktails contain a lot of calories. If you are ordering a Diet Coke, asking why you aren’t drinking is as rude as asking if you are trying to lose weight!
4. Tell Them You Aren’t Drinking Today
If someone starts pressuring you about having a drink, you can simply respond that you are not drinking today. You aren’t even lying! Being in recovery means you are taking it one day at a time.
You don’t have to go into long detail about the long term effects of drinking. You don’t have to tell them you have quit because you got a DUI or that you attend 12 step meetings. Just say you aren’t partaking.
Although you may feel like everyone is wondering about your drinking habits, you will realize that most people are not paying attention anyway to whether you are drinking or not.
There are many reasons besides alcoholism why people may stop drinking temporarily or permanently. Some people are on medications that their doctors advise not to use with alcohol. Some people have health conditions besides alcoholism where drinking can create problems.
Maybe you are planning on running a marathon in the morning. Maybe you have an important business meeting and you want to be alert. Maybe your date is in recovery and you want to make him comfortable!
You do not need to explain why you are or are not drinking unless you want to. If someone keeps asking, it says much more about him than it does about you.
5. Say You Are on Medication
Many kinds of medications specifically state that they should not be taken with alcohol. Antidepressants and antibiotics are but a few of the typical prescription medications which do not mix well with alcohol. If someone persists in asking about the intimate details of your physical health, you can push back.
If you want to go for shock value, you can always say you are on antibiotics for a UTI. Or you can say you think you are pregnant! The persistent questioner will quickly realize he has gone out of bounds and is asking about things that are none of his business.
6. You’re Driving!
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that every day, 29 people in the United States die in motor vehicle crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver. In other words, there is one death every 50 minutes due to someone drinking and driving.
If you have driven to a bar, restaurant or event where drinking is involved, you should not be drinking anyway. Anyone serving alcohol is also liable for anything that happens after they serve someone who then drinks and drives.
You will find that you are suddenly everyone’s designated driver when you stop drinking! You are performing a useful service, and you won’t miss out on any of the fun. In fact, all you will miss are the headaches, hangovers and alcohol poisoning!
You don’t even have to explain any more than shaking your key ring in someone’s face if they push a cocktail into yours. That will let them know that you are obeying the law and keeping people safe by refusing to combine the deadly ingredients of booze and automobiles.
7. Bring a Sober Friend
One technique of staying sober in the midst of drinking occasions is to bring a friend. Maybe your sponsor or someone you have met in rehab or in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous lives near you and can accompany you to the event. As they say, there is always safety in numbers.
Recovery often entails being accountable and having someone with you is the surest way to stay accountable. They can be by your side as the bartender takes orders, and they will help you feel less alone when you both order ginger ale or Shirley Temples.
Having sober companionship will help you laugh at the antics of those around you who have imbibed too much. You can talk about how you both used to behave and how you have changed.
A sober friend can be a buffer if an ex comes around and wants to engage in a potentially upsetting conversation. They can help distract the overly eager waitress trying to push drinks on you.
They can tell you when it is time to go if they see that things are getting out of hand. They can help put things into perspective if you overreact to the strangeness of being sober in a partying situation.
Alcoholics often become isolated in their drinking. Part of recovery is learning how to make friends, how to show up for people when they need you, and how to ask for help. By asking someone to help you refrain from drinking, you are probably helping them as well.
If you ask someone in recovery to help you, you are helping them provide service. A big part of getting and staying sober is learning how to pass along the message of how you did it.
8. Just Say No
The first time someone offers you a drink and you say no, you may realize that it wasn’t as difficult as you thought it might be. When you do it once, you realize you will be able to do it again.
When you are a problem drinker, it is hard to see that many people can actually get through a social function, or their day, without having a drink. Because it is so hard for you to do so, it can be impossible to imagine anyone else doing so.
Once you stop and your head clears a little, you will see that there are actually people who are also ordering Cokes and sparkling water. Maybe they have a UTI, or are on medication, or have to drive home. Maybe they are in recovery.
Truthfully, most people will not really care whether you have a drink or not. Say no, and go on with your evening. You will eventually learn that you do not have to have booze to have a good time.
Soon it will simply be second nature to decline when you are offered alcohol. Try saying no and see how easy it is.
9. Make a Joke
Humor is another tried and true tactic to diffuse tense situations. If you are feeling awkward for not drinking, go ahead and make a joke about it.
You may find it is easier to be self-deprecating. You can even joke about yourself, or your old self. “I have had enough drinks in my life to last a lifetime!”
If it is someone with whom you are on good terms, you can always gently rib them: “I don’t want to start falling down like you, Joe!”
Or you can crack a joke about something completely unrelated. By taking the focus off of the drinking- or not drinking- you can just make everyone relax and laugh. It’s another demonstration of how alcohol is not a necessary ingredient to good times.
10. Tell Them You Are in Recovery
If you feel comfortable with the people you are with, and you do not feel it might endanger your sobriety, you can always tell people you are in recovery.
Old friends or family members who knew you in your drinking days are likely to be supportive of your efforts to stop. You probably made a fool of yourself many times in front of them, or put them in upsetting or dangerous situations. They will be glad you chose a new lifestyle.
You never know who you may help by disclosing your own struggles with alcohol. There may be someone in your crowd who is also struggling: by being frank, you open the door for them to see how it is done.
You never know how or when you may plant the seed in someone else. They may remember you months from now when their son or daughter wants to know how to stop drinking. You can be an example of how to live life without a drink or a drug.
Just Say No to Alcohol: You Can Do It!
You can say no to alcohol, and the more you do it, the easier it gets. By asking for help, being tactful and humorous, and enjoying life without booze, you will find that all kinds of events are much more fun.
For more information on recovery and staying sober, check out our blog.