Day 18 – How to say no to a drink


Turning down a drink is one of those things that should be easy. You should be able to smile and say ‘Thanks, but I’m not drinking tonight’ and that’s the end of the conversation.

Somehow though it never seems to pan out quite like that, and now you’re in the middle of a conversation about why exactly you aren’t drinking, your friend is being weirdly defensive because ‘what’ are you looking down on them? You with your smug sobriety? Or no, wait, are you pregnant? Are you an alcoholic? What exactly is your problem and why won’t you have a drink?

Yeah, isn’t this a fun night out. Here are a few tips and for more great advice you can also download our Rebel Non Drinking booklet.

1. Make an excuse
You have friends who will understand a simple, ‘Thanks, I’m not drinking’, but it is fairly common for this to prompt an ‘Oh why not?’ Which makes it useful to have a few bland excuses pre-prepared, like:

‘I can’t I’m driving.’
‘I’ve got to get up early to (go to the gym, take my kids somewhere, walk the dog, etc.)’
‘I’m still hungover from last night.’
‘I’m on antibiotics (or some other medicine you can’t mix with alcohol).’
‘I have a delivery arriving from Tesco at 8.’ (This is also a good technique to resist staying out too late, actually do it!)
‘I am on a health kick’.

Or make a joke of it:

‘I’m allergic to alcohol, it makes me break out in handcuffs.’
‘Thanks but I finally decided to give everyone else a chance!’
‘I own stock in Heineken and I’d just be cutting into my profit margin.’
“I am making a career change and becoming a supermodel.’

Hey, look you’re bonding! No alcohol! Go you.

2. Enlist them in your challenge
We are all helpful folk, we like to know we can do good by others. So rather than just saying no, how about asking them to help? A little bit of non-confrontational language could do the trick.

“I am giving it a break for a month or so, and I would appreciate your help. It would really help me if you could not make a big thing of me not drinking/just get me a ginger beer each time you go to the bar/encourage me to not drink …”

And offer them (and you) a reward:

“I will let you know whether it’s worth doing after my month off/wondered if you fancied doing something fun and non-boozy with me at some point/let’s share a big piece of chocolate cake.”

3. Get your drink in first
The thing is that if someone is offering you a drink it’s because they want to include you in the group. It’s a social thing, turning them down flat can sometimes look ungrateful or standoffish.

So it’s a good idea to accept the offer but request a soft drink. I normally get Appletizer if I’m not drinking which is often met with ‘Just an Appletizer?’ So repeat calmly what you want and remember to smile. Most people are polite enough to accept this and move on. Sometimes I might get a coffee, which gives me the option of claiming I’m too tired to drink. TLDR if people just want to include you and buy you a drink they should be fine buying you a soft drink.

You can also simply buy yourself a soft drink, say a coke, when you first get in and then if anyone asks, you can truthfully tell them you already have a drink. They can assume it’s a vodka and coke if they like. This won’t always work, but it’s great if you have a habit of arriving early for events anyway, or have chronically late friends (mentioning no names, you know who you are). It is also good for house parties and other events. Just grab a cup of anything and people will assume you are drinking with no explanations necessary.

You will be surprised how many bar staff are used to making a secret no-G G&T, or just tell them you won’t be drinking at the start of the night and then ask for ‘the usual’ which can be an agreed upon softie, like a coke.

4. Be the Driver
You can also volunteer to be the designated driver. This is an easy way to keep your friends happy and yourself sober. You may not always want to be the driver, after all it means you have to stay until they are done and possibly drunk, but it doesn’t hurt to offer once in a while.

5. Check the date
With the rise of events like Sober October, Dry January and Dryathlon as well the traditional lent, at least half the year is game for an ‘I can’t I’ve given up alcohol for (pick your occasion)’. This is great because it gives you a good way to phase into sobriety. There is strength in numbers. At the end of the month you can tell your friends you feel so good you just want to keep it going.

6. Get out
If you feel like you are being constantly pushed to drink, remember to not hang out with this group for a bit. Or to leave earlier in the evening next time. Leave now if you’re not having fun. No one should feel they have to stay somewhere where they aren’t having a good time. Laura, our founder often gets to a party early and leaves early because ‘that’s when all the best conversations are had!’

It’s good to think about why you are friends with people. Is it because you actually get on well, or are you just drinking buddies pushing each other to consume more and more alcohol in search of a good time?

7. It’s ok to not drink
The most important thing is to remember there is nothing wrong with not drinking. If someone is trying to pressure you into drinking, then they are the one who is being rude, not you. There are thousands of reasons why a person might choose not to drink, and you are not obliged to explain any further than ‘I’m not drinking tonight’ if you don’t want to. I know we’ve given you a list of excuses, and it’s fine to use them if it makes things easier, but you don’t need to justify yourself to anyone. You are making the right choice for yourself.

What do I do if someone buys me a drink?
It depends on the occasion. You may be able to just carry it around for a while before ditching it at a table somewhere. If not, just pretend to take a few sips and hope they forget about it. If you are with someone who understands why you aren’t drinking, you can enlist their help and palm off extra drinks on them.

It’s pretty common to suggest excusing yourself to the bathroom and then pouring your drink
away, personally I think taking a drink into the bathroom just seems suspicious. A better option might be to go up to the bar and ask the bar person to pour a bit away. They really don’t care.

Don’t forget to let us know all your tips and tricks for a sober night out.

For more non-drinking inspiration, watch a video about refusing a drink, check out our listing of things you might order at the pub, and learn about all about sima (a sort of mead drink from Finland) in our series of drink ideas.

Coming up

Tomorrow we get back to psychology, and talk about cravings and our internal critics and saboteurs. And learn how to tame them all!

One Response to “Day 18 – How to say no to a drink

  • There are a number of distilled botanicals available. Most popularly, Seedlip from your side of the water but also Silk Tree from the beautiful isle. Seedlip has several varieties. If your pub doesn’t have it, keep asking for it and they’ll eventually cop on. Several pubs in Dublin serve it. Including one of my locals. It’s a proper grown up drink, not sugary, is used as a cocktail base in all the best places and can be mixed with tonic or soda. There are others (other than Seedlip and Silk Tree) but I can’t remember names. And because they’re made with powerful herbs, spices, flowers, berries and even bark, they give you a little non-alcoholic lift. Additionally, if someone is buying you a drink, they cost the same as an alcoholic drink, so no one needs to feel like the world has spun off its axis.

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