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​How to Explain, That No, You Really Aren’t Drinking

Tools to employ
when you want to say no to drinking at drinking events 

It can be difficult to explain to
acquaintances, strangers, and sometimes even close friends and family that
you’re not drinking. Whether it be just for a night, or as a long-term
decision, refusing a drink can be met with a wide range of reactions. From perplexed
looks to refusal to take no for an answer, friends and hosts may even take
offense that you aren’t accepting their well-intentioned gesture. Though the
decision should be wholly your own, you may find there are some who have a lot
of thoughts about your choice.

are often assigned a plethora of meaning, such as hospitality, a good time, an
opportunity to relax, or something to share. It may not click right away for
everyone that refusing a drink is not the same as refusing all those wonderful

So, what happens next? When we encounter a
situation where we feel pressure to drink, how can we enjoy the evening
together without either seeming rude or just giving in? The following are some
tools you can employ for all types of occasions.

Know the
situation and plan ahead.

prepared may sound like a given but taking a moment to pause and mentally walk
through the upcoming event can be a useful tool. How you decide to respond at a
casual meet-up with friends may be a bit different than when you’re attending
an obligatory party with family or co-workers. Know the people, the setting,
and yourself.

  • Define your comfort level before the event. If
    you have trouble saying no or feel some guilt when you do so, you may need to
    take a bit more time deciding how you want to approach the subject of drinking.
  • Take the temperature of the situation and the
    Some people will be more receptive to your decision not to drink than
    others. You may have to adjust your words and your tactics accordingly.
  • Understand the type of location where you’re
    If it’s a bar where the main purpose is to drink, more questions may
    pop up than if you were meeting at a restaurant or a home. If the location is
    far from your home, that may be a good excuse to skip out early if you feel the

Own it.

The simplest response to a drink
offer is a polite “No thank you,” without any hesitation or indication that you
might consider it. To make it clear, add, “I don’t drink.” In a perfect world,
this would suffice. However, this is the point where the puzzled looks, or
attempts to convince you otherwise might come in.

If you’re so inclined, this is also
a good time to talk about why you choose not to drink. In opening up the
subject, you may be surprised to find others in the same boat as you! If you’re
not up to it, or you don’t think it’s the right setting, then there’s no need
to say anything further.

The following are some useful go-to

  • I don’t drink.
  • I’ve reached my limit for the night.
  • I’m trying to cut back.
  • I’ve just finished one.
  • No, but thanks so much for the offer!

Make it easier to say no.

There are some instances where
you’d rather not make a fuss, or you know your audience well enough to foresee that
a polite “no thank you,” might land the wrong way. The following are ways to be
a bit more subtle or congenial:

  • Have a drink already in hand. This may require some planning ahead to make sure you’re early to the
    event. Order a soda at the bar. Have a non-alcoholic beverage. If anyone
    happens to ask about your drink, you can go into as much or as little detail as
    you like.
  • Make a joke about it. Tell them about how the last time you had tequila, you ordered 50 pounds of cantaloupe online, so it’s really not great for your budget.
  • Have a more immediate reason. Some people find
    these easier to grasp.

    • You’re the designated driver.
    • You’re on antibiotics.
    • You’re participating in Dry January or Lent.
    • You’re running a 10K in the morning.   

For some helpful resources to create your own phrases, check
out the following:

What if I’m
handed a drink?

If someone hands you a drink, there are a few
options that can help you in the short or long term. You can insist you need
some food before you take a sip. You can hang on to that drink – at least you
shouldn’t be offered another while you have one in your hand. You can
discreetly ditch some in the bathroom or ask the bartender to pour out half (or
all) of it. You can give it away and maybe make a new friend.

Some people won’t get it, and that’s ok!

You are not obligated to explain any more than you
feel comfortable with. It’s not your job to convince anyone why you’ve made a
personal choice. Remember that you’re setting healthy boundaries, whether
expressed to others or not, and it’s in your best interest to stick to them. So
when you find yourself being handed a drink you didn’t ask for, or trying to
turn puzzled faces into understanding ones, these tools will help you navigate alcohol-based
events, alcohol free.