4 Ways to Say “No” to Alcohol Without Saying It

Sarah Dermody Ph.D.

Cutting down on your drinking? Set SMART goals and practice refusing drinks now.

  • Someone can set a SMART goal about their drinking to imbibe less.
  • It helps to make sure one knows how much booze is in each drink one has.
  • One doesn’t have to offer an excuse to reduce or stop drinking, but it helps to be prepared with responses.

It is officially summer! Many of us are finally enjoying some downtime in the sun at cookouts, sporting events, or weekend getaways.

Dry January has long come and gone, but you may have decided to cut back or even stop your alcohol use for a bit longer. If so, you are not alone! More and more people are drinking less alcohol for a variety of reasons. Drinking less can improve one’s physical health in many ways, such as reducing cancer risk, avoiding “empty calories,” and reducing the toxins your body is exposed to on a daily basis. While actively drinking less used to be closely linked to having alcohol-related problems, it is clear that there are any number of reasons that someone may want to reduce drinking in the here and now.

Getting started with SMART goals

So, you may have decided you want to drink less. As a first step, it is helpful to define what that means for you. Having a specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-specific (SMART) goal can help you on this path. For instance, considering how much you want to drink, when, in what context, and for how long can help you clarify what “cutting back” means to you.

When considering how much, think about how much you want to drink in a week versus in a sitting. This could look like setting a goal to drink no more than four drinks in a week and no more than two drinks in a sitting. There is no one-size fits all approach, but a helpful starting point can be low-risk drinking guidelines issued by your local health authority. For example, you can view the guidelines for Canada and the United States using the provided links.

Tips for counting your drinks

When sticking to these limits, it is important to know “What is a drink?” While it is natural to count by the glass, bottle, or can, the actual alcohol content of beverages varies widely. A “standard drink” is an agreed-upon way of measuring one drink based on the amount of alcohol in the beverage. One standard drink is whatever size beverage leads to 0.6 fluid ounces or 14 grams of pure alcohol. For instance, a 12-oz can or bottle of regular beer (5 percent) is one standard drink. But 12 ounces of strong craft beer (9 percent) is nearly two standard drinks! This can give you a sense of how much booze is in your go-to beverages to help you keep count of your drinks.

Simple ways to say “no” to a drink without saying it.

Even though you may have decided you want to drink less, it can still be difficult at first to refuse drinks offered by friends and family. Here are some ideas of how you can say “no” to a drink that is offered to you without using the word “no”:

  1. “Thanks, I already have a drink.” Bring your own non-alcoholic drink of choice and perhaps even some extra to share! There are more and more non-alcoholic drinks coming to market, which provides a number of options to partake in drinking-centric festivities without alcohol.
  2. “Thanks, but I am good for now.” Express appreciation, but indicate that you do not really feel like a drink right now.
  3. “I would love to have a [insert non-alcoholic drink] instead.” Ask for another option that they likely have on hand.
  4. “I decided not to drink today because [insert reason], but thanks for offering.” Express appreciation and provide a reason. Reasons are not necessary, but if it is someone that is close to you and you want to share why—go for it! Common reasons are for health, well-being, later plans for activities or driving, or just wanting to fully live in the moment.

You can do this!

These options provide some ideas of how to refuse a drink without saying “no” outright. Remember, you don’t need to explain your reasons for not drinking. The key is to keep it simple and polite. Most people will understand and respect your choice! The more you practice refusing drinks, the easier it will become.

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