5 Ways to Say 'I'm Not Drinking Tonight'

There are plenty of reasons you may pass on alcohol at your next social event, but these handy statements will help you deflect intrusive questions.

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5 Ways To Say 'I'm Not Drinking Tonight'

Abstaining from alcohol can be difficult. Don't let other people make it even harder.
5 Ways To Say 'I'm Not Drinking Tonight'

Picture this: You’re at a family dinner and someone makes a toast. You hold up a pint glass of water, surrounded by delicate wine glasses, and immediately hear “[Insert your name here] needs a drink!” Or: “It’s bad luck to toast with water!”

There are lots of reasons you might choose not to drink. Maybe you’re pregnant, you’re on medication, you’re driving, you're cutting down for health reasons, you’re on a cleanse, or maybe you just don’t like the taste. Regardless of the motive, it’s not anyone's business.

Depending on your social circles and where you choose to socialize, choosing not to drink might feel like the path less traveled. But data suggests it’s pretty common.

Only 60 percent of adults report drinking any alcohol (63 percent of men and 57 percent of women), according to a?2021 poll carried out by analytics company Gallup. “However, parties and other social events are places where alcohol use tends to be more prevalent,” says Aaron White, PhD, senior scientific adviser to the director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).

A February 2022 survey by American Addiction Centers found 29 percent of respondents reported drinking more during the holidays, for example. And that can lead to more uncomfortable questions if you choose not to imbibe, or pressure to do so.

“It is a common experience for people who choose not to drink at parties to feel pressured to do so. Questions might begin with, ‘Why are you not drinking?’ and move to comments suggesting you’re not fun, or that you should just have one,” says Dr. White.

Whether you struggle with resisting the pressure to participate in a behavior you don’t want to do, you feel irritated by the rude or judgmental comments, or any combination, there’s no denying that this unsolicited commentary can be annoying to deal with, at the least.

So, how do you stand your ground and curtail intrusive follow-up questions? Next time you’re facing this situation, the experts recommend using the following phrases and approaches.

And keep in mind, these tips are not intended for people living with alcohol use disorder. If you’re managing this condition, discuss your situation with professionals who have experience managing alcohol use disorder.

1. ‘No Thanks’ or ‘I’m Good’

Cut to the chase. “The idea of not drinking should be as easy as saying ‘No thank you. I don’t want to go bungee jumping,’” says Hilary Sheinbaum, New York City-based author of The Dry Challenge: How to Lose the Booze for Dry January, Sober October, and Any Other Alcohol-Free Month.

If someone seems put off your response, quickly deflect by asking them something that’s of interest to them, she advises. Keep the conversation moving.

Lisa Amodeo, a certified alcohol and drug counselor based in Barrington, Illinois, likes this response because it keeps things casual, and it’s appropriate for environments when you may not want to go into detail about why you’re not drinking. Remember there’s nothing unusual about skipping the alcohol, and act accordingly.

2. ‘I Have an Early Morning, and I Won’t Sleep Well If I Drink’

Have an early commitment (like a meeting, workout, or class) the morning after your night out? It’s only natural to want a good night’s sleep beforehand. Sheinbaum recommends this response if you’re in a business context, since it suggests you’re driven and focused. It also works well if the people you’re talking to are into fitness. And since it’s a specific answer for a particular day, it’s a good option if you do drink on some occasions.

You might get a bit of pushback from people who think alcohol helps you sleep, Amodeo says, but that’s a common misconception. While alcohol might send you to sleep sooner, you’re likely to experience sleep disruptions as your body metabolizes it, lowering your sleep quality and leaving you feeling sleepier the next day, per the?Sleep Foundation.

And if they try to tell you “Just one drink won’t hurt,” remember that alcohol affects your body long after you’ve stopped sipping, per the?NIAAA.

3. ‘I’m Trying an Alcohol-Free Challenge’

More people than ever are participating in alcohol-free months like Dry January or Sober October. You might be surprised to learn how many: Over one-third of legal-aged U.S. adults (35 percent) skipped alcohol for Dry January in 2022, up from 21 percent in 2019, according to research carried out by CGA, a food and drink research firm. (And of course, you can set yourself a personal challenge to go alcohol-free for a certain period at any point throughout the year!)

If you’re passing on alcohol at your next social function, you can shift the focus to your competitive spirit when managing questions about your drinking habits. Sheinbaum said this tactic worked wonders when she was on dates during a no-alcohol challenge: “It almost automatically got [my dates] to want to support my effort [and help me win].”

(Just remember people might ask you about it next time they see you: “So did you win your contest?” At this point, you could let them know whether you’ve decided to make it a permanent decision!)

4. ‘I Already Have a Drink, Thank You’

In addition to bringing your canned response, you can bring your own beverage. “When you already know what you’ll have in your hand, it’s less likely you’ll be offered something,” notes Brian Couey, PsyD, director of outpatient services at Betty Ford Center in San Diego.

The market for sophisticated alcohol alternatives has grown exponentially, says Sheinbaum, who works with bars and restaurants in New York City to expand their nonalcoholic offerings. If you can BYO, set yourself up with a quality mocktail. If you have control over the location, Sheinbaum likes the app Better Without, which locates nonalcoholic options at bars and restaurants in your vicinity.

You can even build a drink that looks like a real cocktail (club soda, ice, and lime for example) — no one will be able to tell that you aren’t drinking.

But if someone does remark on the lack of alcohol, reply with the statement above.

5. ‘Alcohol Doesn’t Sit Well With Me’

It would be downright rude for someone to push you into drinking if you say you don’t feel well. Take a page from people who are comfortable expressing their dietary needs (for example, people with food allergies or intolerances), and express how you physically don’t feel well when you drink.

If you know that a certain food or drink is going to disagree with you (for example, because of a dietary restriction or health condition), you may feel more comfortable declining that offer, says Dr. Couey. “Have the same matter-of-fact attitude with alcohol,” he suggests.“

Many people are familiar with alcohol’s unpleasant potential side effects, which include dehydration, fatigue, headaches, stomach discomfort, and nausea, according to the?NIAAA?— so they’re unlikely to press you on the topic.

More Tips on Managing a Social Situation When You’re Not Drinking

With these key phrases in your pocket, hopefully people won’t press you much further about your decision. But the experts have a few more tips to help you navigate these social scenarios.

“A lot of times people try to wing it, and what ends up happening is their guard is dropped and it’s easier to succumb to pressure and take that drink,” explains Amodeo. That’s where practicing these phrases before you walk in the door can help.

“More than just refusal skills, you need good prevention planning,” adds Couey. “Know why you’re there, know how long you’re going to be there, and have your own way to leave if you need to.” For example, drinking generally gets heavier later into the night, so consider coming early and leaving early if you suspect that will be the case, he says.

If words fail, Amodeo and Couey suggest removing yourself from the event. Use the old “I have to go walk my dog” excuse, or explain that something unexpected came up with a friend. And if you’re uncomfortable, just leave, they advise. You don’t have to tell anyone.

“Sometimes it’s really hard to explain yourself because there are people who will not even take the explanations,” concludes Amodeo. In these situations, it’s always okay to simply step away.

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