How Do I Turn Down a Drink While in Recovery?

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Now that you have made the brave decision to seek help for a substance use disorder (SUD) and are on your recovery journey, you may be eager to get back to socializing with your peers. But as you might expect, your socialization habits now may look quite a bit different than they did when you were still engaging in active substance use. Nevertheless, this doesn't mean that you can't still have fun and enjoy yourself. You just need to be prepared and know how to turn down a drink, or any substance for that matter, if necessary. 

Many people in early recovery choose to avoid situations where alcohol use will be present entirely. But chances are, somewhere down the road, you may find yourself in a social situation where drinks are being served. It is possible that someone entirely well-meaning may offer you an alcoholic beverage without realizing that you are in recovery. While they may mean no harm at all, this can still put you in an awkward situation. 

You should not feel as if you have to avoid social engagements that you want to attend out of fear that you may find yourself in a situation like this. Just because it has the possibility of being slightly uncomfortable, it doesn't mean it has to be. It is entirely up to you how you choose to decline a drink in recovery. You don't owe anyone any specific details about your personal situation. 

The way you choose to decline a drink and how much information you are willing to share is likely going to depend on several different factors. For example, what the social situation is, how well you know the person, and how comfortable you are with them. Having a few different responses ready in the case that you find yourself in this situation can be beneficial. This can help avoid any potential awkwardness. 

At Pathways Recovery Center, we believe that nobody should be made to feel any shame about their recovery journey. Navigating conversations about your experience with recovery can feel uncomfortable, especially if it is with someone who has never been through it before. We can work with you to determine how to handle these conversations in a productive and positive way. 

How Do I Turn Down a Drink Without Seeming Rude?

In early recovery, you might not find yourself in a bar or nightclub where alcohol use would be expected. But you may find yourself in a different situation such as a dinner party or corporate social event where some alcoholic beverages may be served. If most people are drinking, you might be worried about how you may be perceived by not joining in. You may be concerned that you will have trouble fitting in or appear rude. 

Remember that when it comes to your recovery journey, your priority is your sobriety. Your priority is not how you are perceived by others. It is important to acknowledge that while it may feel as if people are paying attention to what you're doing, it is often just in your head. They are likely too focused on their own business and conversations to notice whether or not you are drinking. 

If you are worried about fitting in, you can always grab a cup containing a non-alcoholic beverage and sip on that throughout the night. It is unlikely that anyone is going to question you about what is in your cup. In the case that someone does offer you an alcoholic drink, you can simply politely but firmly decline. 

What Are Some Responses I Can Use to Turn Down a Drink?

Ideally, if someone offers you a drink and you decline, the conversation will end there. Most people know better than to question someone about why they decided to turn down a drink. However, every so often you may come across someone whose curiosity gets the best of them and they press you for more information. They might not mean to be rude but just don't know better. 

In this situation, it is important to choose your words carefully. If the person is particularly nosey and persistent, some responses may leave room for follow-up questions that you won't be comfortable with. In order to avoid this, it is good to keep your response very brief and to the point, leaving no room for questions. Changing the subject quickly after declining a drink is another good way to keep the conversation flowing and avoid having to discuss the topic further. 

For example, you can simply say, “I'm not drinking tonight," and leave it at that. However, if you want to give a more specific response, there are other explanations you can also give that leave little room for further questions. Consider the following: 

#1. I'm not drinking tonight because I have to drive. Driving after consuming alcohol is not only very dangerous, but it can also lead to serious and costly legal problems. Knowing this, nobody should question your response. In fact, they may be relieved that there is someone available to safely give them a ride home later in the evening if necessary. 

#2. I am on a particular medication that cannot be mixed with alcohol. There are a lot of different medications, such as antibiotics, for example, that cannot be taken with alcohol. In fact, some of them could even be a lethal combination. Nobody should question this reason for not consuming alcohol. 

#3. I'm not drinking tonight because I am trying to lose weight. Alcohol is certainly not a friend to any weight loss or fitness journey. Filled with empty calories, it can really put on the pounds. It would make sense that someone who is working on their fitness would turn down a drink. 

#4. I have to wake up early tomorrow. If you have a big day the next day and are going to be getting up early, the last thing you want to be doing the night before is drinking. Not only can alcohol impact your sleep and cause you to feel tired the next day, but it can make waking up at a decent hour difficult. 

#5. I'm not drinking tonight because I want to be clear-headed and aware of my surroundings. If you are in an unfamiliar situation or around people you don't know very well, it is important to be on alert. Consider also a situation in which you may be trying to impress someone. For example, maybe you are at a work party or a formal event where you need to be very well-mannered. 

#6. The reason I turned down a drink tonight is because I don't want to feel hungover tomorrow. The after-effects of alcohol can hit some people pretty hard. Nobody wants to waste an entire day because they feel too sick or groggy to get out of bed. This is a pretty typical reason to turn down a drink.

#7. I don't drink because there is a history of substance misuse in my family. Alcohol misuse is often connected with genetics. This could be a valid reason that one might choose not to drink. Not to mention, watching a loved one battle addiction can cause family members to decide to avoid certain substances like alcohol altogether. 

#8. I don't like the person I become when I drink. Not everyone has a pleasant response to alcohol. For many, it can make them angry, sad, overly emotional, or even anxious. This could be enough of a reason for someone to turn down a drink and give up alcohol completely. 

Should I Tell Someone I Am In Recovery When I Turn Down a Drink?

You may be thinking, “I am proud of my recovery, shouldn't I just tell the truth and tell people that I'm sober?” That is totally your option if you feel comfortable doing so. It is something to be proud of, and it may cause those around you to respect you even more. But there are some things to consider before sharing. 

For example, consider the environment you are in. Is this an environment where you are going to be comfortable sharing potentially very personal details? In addition, is it an environment where sharing these details would be considered appropriate? These are some of the questions to ask yourself beforehand. 

You should also consider how well you know this person. If this is someone you just met, for example, this might not be a conversation that you are ready to have with them. On the other hand, if this is someone you know well and respect, you might be more comfortable opening up to them. It is completely a personal preference and entirely your choice.

Another thing to consider is how well you trust this individual whom you are sharing personal information with. For example, you might be comfortable with them knowing about your recovery journey. However, would you be comfortable with them potentially sharing this information with other people? If not, it may be best to limit how much you're sharing with them. 

How Much Information Do I Need to Provide When I Turn Down a Drink?

Just as it is entirely up to you whether or not you want to discuss your sobriety, it is also up to you how much information you share with others. You don't owe anyone the personal details of your recovery journey if you don't feel comfortable sharing them. If someone does ask for more information, you can respond in a variety of different ways. For example:

  • I'm not sharing any more information than that right now.
  • This is a personal matter that I don't like discussing in public.
  • Actually, I'm not comfortable discussing this topic further here. However, if you have questions about what recovery is, we could have a conversation at a different time in a private place.

Ideally, the individual will take the hint and leave the matter alone. However, if they continue to press for more information, don't be afraid to be firm and enforce your boundaries. If necessary, remove yourself from the situation entirely. Remember that you deserve respect and that you never should feel compelled to share more information than you really want to. 

How Do I Turn Down a Drink When Someone Doesn't Want to Take No for an Answer?

Perhaps you may one day find yourself in a situation in which you are offered a drink and decline. Maybe you provided an explanation for why you weren't going to drink, or maybe you just said, “No, thank you.” You should not have to provide more information than that. However, there are some people who may be persistent and not want to take no for an answer. 

Some people may use peer pressure, guilt-tripping, or other tactics to try to convince you to take a drink. This is very disrespectful and can be very uncomfortable for everyone around. If this happens to you, make sure that you firmly decline again. In the case that they continue to press, don't be afraid to tell them that they are making you uncomfortable and that you would like them to stop. 

If they still continue to refuse to let the subject drop, you may need to remove yourself from the situation entirely. It is up to you to protect your sobriety against anyone who may try to threaten it. 

How Do I Deal With a Family Member or Friend That Is Not Supportive When I Turn Down a Drink?

Those closest to you should be very proud of you for making the decision to get sober. Not only does it take a lot of determination and courage, but it shows that you are working hard to become the best version of yourself. They should want to see you succeed by enjoying long-lasting recovery. Unfortunately, it is possible that you may come across a friend or family member who is less than supportive of your sobriety. 

This could be someone who you consider to be a very important part of your life. It can be very painful and unexpected to not receive the support and encouragement from them that you were hoping for. There are a lot of reasons why someone may not share your excitement regarding your newfound sobriety. Most likely, it has more to do with themselves than it does with you. 

For example, perhaps this individual has a substance use disorder but doesn't want to get help. Seeing you begin your recovery can upset them because they know they need to do the same but are unwilling to. They may also dislike the fact that they can no longer engage in substance misuse alongside you. They may say hurtful things to try to get you to turn back to alcohol, for example:

  • You are not as fun to be around as you used to be now that you don't drink.
  • It was all in your head; you never really had a problem with alcohol to begin with. 
  • You could control your alcohol consumption if you tried. 
  • Just one drink isn't going to hurt you. 
  • It is only a matter of time before you turn back to alcohol.
  • You are going to kill the vibe if you don't join in and drink. 

All of these things are very untrue and extremely damaging. Remember that if someone truly respects you and cares for you, they will be supportive of you and your recovery. If they are not, this may not be someone that you should hang around with. While it may be painful to end a relationship, protecting your recovery should always come first. 

Navigating an unsupportive friend or family in recovery can be very difficult, but our team at Pathways Recovery Center can help. 

Just because you are now in recovery does not mean that you can't still go out and enjoy socializing while sober. In fact, you are likely going to find that socializing sober can lead to stronger friendships and more meaningful memories. Just remain true to yourself and stay dedicated to your recovery. Don't be afraid to ask for help if you need it and make sure that you are surrounding yourself with people that support you. If you or someone you know is currently struggling with addiction, our team at Pathways Recovery Center is here for you. Don't wait. Give us a call at (888) 771-0966 to take the first step. 

Clinically reviewed by 

Moses Nasser
Dr. Moses Nasser, a double board-certified physician in Family Medicine and Addiction Medicine, with expertise in holistic healing, addiction medicine, and psychiatric care, holds an X-waiver to prescribe buprenorphine and has extensive experience in mindfulness-based customer service and medication-assisted treatment.

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