“No thanks” and other strategies for politely declining alcohol

It’s the time of year where almost every occasion involves alcohol. For those of us who don’t drink it, that means finding ways to say “no” without offending or having to explain ourselves. When I first quit drinking almost nine years ago it was a time of stress and anxiety as I attempted to navigate my first holiday season without egg nog or hot cider or, my absolute favourite drink of choice, very good wine.

But now it’s a comfortable and well-practiced habit. I don’t even miss a beat when I say “no” to an offer of some holiday cheer. People who know me are aware and don’t press it. People who don’t know me … I don’t feel compelled to say more than “no thank you” or “not today.” But I realize that some non-drinkers can find it difficult to know how to handle these situations. So I’m here to offer a short list of strategies that may help. Along with some words of encouragement.

1. My favourite answer whenever I’m offered alcohol is “no thank you.” This is polite and clear. Most of the time it works just fine. If the person persists (“Are you sure?” Or “Come on, it’s Christmas!”) I just smile and say, “No thanks, really.” That seals it at least 95% of the time. Maybe even more.

2. With the insisters, heavier artillery is sometimes required. One way is to get more specific about what you will have (this is helpful even with non-insisters). I sometimes say, “no thanks but I would love a half cranberry-half sparkling water with a splash of pineapple juice and a twist of lime on ice please.”

3. If you can get a soft drink in a glass that makes it look like a “hard” drink you’re home free. You can keep one of those in your hand all night long and easily fly under the radar without having to explain anything.

4. If this is your first special occasion or holiday season with no alcohol, know that the majority of people don’t care one way or the other whether you’re drinking alcohol or not. You might be the most conscious of it if anyone in the room.

5. Though opinions vary, personally I don’t usually say “I don’t drink.” I don’t think it’s really necessary for me to tell anyone that I don’t drink. It should be enough to say I don’t desire a drink now (i.e. no thanks). I don’t like being put on the spot to explain why I don’t drink even though I’m not ashamed of or even especially private about it being recovery-related. There is a time and a place to get into that. A Christmas party or holiday function isn’t usually the time or the place.

6. If it’s an intimate gathering with people you know well and who might be surprised that you’re not drinking, you could let them know ahead of time in whatever way feels comfortable. My family and friends know I don’t drink and they don’t insist even though it’s a standard part of our traditional way of celebrating things (and a part that they know I have often…um…enjoyed in the past).

7. Take a non-alcoholic beverage. I never go to a regular party without a bottle or two of sparkling water. If you don’t drink, you can’t rely on others to have good options for you. So go prepared.

It’s easy to enjoy special occasions without drinking. In fact, I enjoy them more now than I used to. We also have a right to choose whether we will or will not drink, and we deserve to have our choice respected. It’s no one else’s business and, as I said, most people don’t really care one way or the other. See this great article by Andre Picard about the many and varied reasons someone may not drink and how to welcome them to the party.

Have fun at the remaining seasonal festivities!

If you’re a non-drinker with a strategy not mentioned here, please add it in the comments!

2 thoughts on ““No thanks” and other strategies for politely declining alcohol

  1. Haha. I like; Oh no thanks. I don’t want to sweat like frying bacon on the machine tomorrow. Thanks 😉

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