Drink-refusal skills: how to say no to an alcoholic drink

Lauren Booker | January 2024 | 8 minutes

A key skill for taking part in Dry January® is learning how to say no to alcoholic drinks. And that skill will stand you in brilliant stead for drinking more healthily and happily year-round. Saying no to drinks can be hard, because we’re not used to it – but don’t worry, Lauren Booker, author of Try Dry®: The Official Guide to a Month Off Booze has got you covered.

Whether you’ve decided to keep your challenge to yourself or tell the whole wide world, here are some tips on how to dodge the booze this January.

Despite not having drunk in, ooh, too long to remember, my friends and family still can’t seem to get their heads round the fact that I don’t drink. Not even at Christmas, not even on my birthday, not even if England won the World Cup. On penalties. This means that my refusal skills still get a regular work out.

In other words, no matter how many people you tell, or how well they see you’re doing, at some point during Dry January® you’re likely to be offered a drink. Here are five excuses you can use if you don’t fancy telling someone you’re alcohol-free for the month:

  1. Offer to drive
  2. Tell everyone you’re not drinking because you want to go hard at the (outdoor) gym tomorrow
  3. Take control of the bottle – if you’re pouring the drinks, no one will notice you’re not having any yourself
  4. Order a mocktail or alcohol-free beer! They look just the same, so no one will be any the wiser
  5. Say you’ve had enough already and are going to switch to soft drinks for a while

Now you’ve got some excuses ready should you need them. But how can refusing a drink actually play out?

When offered a drink, I usually request, ‘Just a soft drink, please.’ The response I’m most likely to receive is: ‘Sure, there you go.’ Easy. But I do understand that not having an alcoholic drink when it’s flowing freely can be a conversation-starter, so sometimes I’ll get: ‘Go on, have a proper drink, you’re not driving/pregnant/boring, are you?’ The easiest response is: ‘No thanks, honestly, I’m fine.’ I don’t offer further information. I call that my response number one. Most often, it works.

At this point you can, of course, explain Dry January® to people. Briefly explain the challenge, why you’re doing it and what you’re hoping to get out of it. It’s useful if you have something prepared beforehand, as saying it with confidence will usually stun people into silence. So that’s response number two.

If you don’t fancy getting into it, however, you’ve got a few options. Response number three: ‘I’ve got one somewhere, actually. Now where did I leave it?’ and wander off looking for your drink . . . This also works on video calls - walking out of shot for a while will force the others on the call to change the subject.

Response number four: ‘No really, no more, thanks. I’m switching to water.’ This implies that you’ve already had a few, even though you know it’s a few lemonades. It can be a risky strategy as they might offer you another drink later in the evening, but I use this tactic when I have no intention of discussing my drinking habits.

The headline here is, don’t be offended if (when) people who you’ve told about your Try Dry® challenge offer you a drink. Politely refuse, remind them of your dry month if necessary, and carry on doing what you were doing. Refusing drinks is like building a muscle; the more you practise saying ‘no’, the easier it becomes.

This text was adapted from Try Dry®: The Official Guide to a Month Off Booze. Get your copy.

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