Updated on 3/8/2023

Refusal strategies can help those in addiction recovery feel more comfortable in situations when they are offered alcohol, such as at social gatherings or on holidays where drinking can feel expected. This blog outlines four tips for turning down drinks and the importance of preparing for social events. It also emphasizes and explains the value of an exit plan. 

Content reviewed by Khelsea Walker

Life outside of treatment can bring about various triggers for individuals working to recover from substance use disorder (SUD). It can be challenging to apply the lessons you learned in treatment to the real world. This can be especially true if you have recently completed an inpatient treatment program. Fortunately, there are ways you can prepare for the transition from treatment to daily life and the triggers that may surface as a result.

A common trigger that many run into throughout recovery is being offered an alcoholic beverage. This situation is not only a danger to recovery but can also make it increasingly overwhelming to attend social events. Luckily, gathering refusal skills to turn down drinks can ease these pressures and allow you to feel more comfortable in your sobriety.

The Importance of Utilizing Refusal Skills During Recovery from Alcoholism

Simply put, refusal skills are strategies you can employ when you feel pressured to do something that could put you in harm’s way. Pertaining to addiction recovery, refusal skills help you prioritize your sobriety and ultimately prevent relapse. They encourage individuals to resist social peer pressures and make healthy decisions that align with their overall recovery goals.

You probably know how intimidating social situations can be, especially because alcohol use is often central to these gatherings. It can take months or even years to feel comfortable in a situation where alcohol and/or other drugs are present. As it isn’t realistic or healthy to avoid social situations entirely, having refusal skills at your disposal during these situations can help you better manage substance use triggers.

Refusal Skills for Turning Down Drinks in Substance Use Recovery

Especially if you have not attended social gatherings since you began your sobriety journey, you may be unsure how to refuse drinks when they are offered. Similarly, you may avoid social situations altogether because you do not want to put yourself in a situation where you are pressured to engage with substances. Luckily, with the help of refusal skills, these worries can subside.

Here are some valuable refusal skills you can use next time you are offered an alcoholic beverage:

#1 Directly decline a drink.

One of the most valuable tactics for refusing drinks is simply saying “no.” Responses may vary based on who is asking you. For example, if someone who is unaware of your sobriety asks you if you’d like a beer, you could decline and offer additional details. This can ease the asker’s curiosity and close off additional questions. Consider the following examples:

  • “No thanks, I am the designated driver tonight.”
  • “Thank you, but I won’t be staying long.”
  • “I appreciate the offer, but could I have a soda or water instead?”

On the other hand, if a loved one who is aware of your sobriety asks you if you’d like a drink, you may need to be more blunt. While it could be an honest mistake, remind them that such a question can be triggering for you.

#2 Have a drink in hand.

Another important skill for turning down drinks is to already have a non-alcoholic drink in your hand. This helps avoid questions about whether you want a drink or if you are drinking. You could carry water, soda or a “mocktail,” a non-alcoholic drink made from fruit juices or other soft drinks. If you find yourself at an event with an open bar, the bartender will honor your mocktail request without question.

#3 Attend social events with a sober buddy.

If you feel rocky about refusing drinks, you can always consider attending social events with a sober buddy. Doing this can foster notable accountability in yourself and in your partner. If you are offered drinks, you can tag team your response. It might even be exciting to create a fun backstory as to why you are choosing not to drink, especially if other attendees are unaware of your sober status.

#4 Have an exit plan.

Exit plans are a vital component of a successful recovery. In essence, these are plans put in place to help you quickly and easily escape a situation that could put your sobriety in jeopardy.

Unfortunately, not all social events are safe for individuals working to sustain long-term recovery. Develop an exit strategy before you find yourself in a situation where you need to escape quickly. Exit plans can vary based on the severity of the pressures at an event as well as your unique needs and triggers. Some things to plan for in an exit plan may include:

  • Ways to remove yourself from the threatening situation as quickly as possible.
  • Easily accessible ways of reaching out to a mentor, sponsor or other loved one who can come to the rescue if you need a ride. You will want to inform these important contacts about your plans and whereabouts before attending the event.
  • Setting up a system where you can text an important contact and have them call you immediately. Have them urgently request your presence at their home. This can offer you a way out of a dangerous situation without making it seem like you are voluntarily choosing to leave.
  • Setting a curfew for yourself before you attend the event.

If You Are Asked Follow-Up Questions

Sometimes, the conversation doesn’t end with “No.” If you are asked follow-up questions after you decline a drink, such as, “Why aren’t you drinking?” or, “Why don’t you drink any more?” you may feel exposed. Remember, it is ultimately your choice whether or not you feel comfortable opening up about your sobriety. Do not feel pressured to share your experience if you are not yet comfortable doing so.

New Hope Ranch is a men’s-only addiction treatment facility that knows how challenging it can be to navigate the pressures of social drinking. We teach refusal skills during treatment to help individuals feel more prepared to face pressures and avoid putting their sobriety in jeopardy after treatment. We can help you successfully recover from your addiction. Don’t wait, call us today at (737) 600-8565.