Drink Refusal Skills for Alcoholics

Being offered a drink is common in social situations. For recovering alcoholics, developing refusal strategies that allow them to enter social situations without giving into the temptation to drink is an essential part of remaining sober.

Avoiding bars and drinking friends is an important part of avoiding relapse, but it is not always enough. Anything from a wedding toast to a casual offer to have a drink can produce a high level of temptation and the potential for relapse. Being able to refuse a drink when it is offered requires more than a simple decision to quit drinking. Modeling tempting situations and practicing refusal skills can help recovering alcoholics avoid relapse when these situations arise.

Avoid High-Risk Situations

An essential part of successfully refusing drinks is avoiding situations where the temptation to drink is present. Some high-risk environments, such as bars and parties, are obvious. Others are more dependent on the individual. When working with recovering alcoholics, addiction counselors will try to help the person identify the situations that trigger drinking.

Simply identifying these situations can help to prevent relapse. Doing so helps the person in recovery establish strategies that they can use when the situation occurs. Beyond this, adopting a more objective perspective and acknowledging that certain situations come with higher risk can help to lessen the temptation when the situation occurs.

Common Drink Refusal Techniques

Regardless of how careful a person is, it is nearly impossible to avoid all social environments in which alcohol is present. For these situations, recovering alcoholics can practice techniques for refusing drink offers. Many times, a convincing “no” is all it takes, but it is important to plan for more aggressive offers. These are some of the most effective strategies for drink refusal:

Being Clear and Assertive

One of the most important aspects of drink refusal is speaking clearly and firmly without hesitating. While turning down the offer to drink, it helps to make direct eye contact with the person making the offer.

It is also wise to avoid making long and drawn-out excuses when turning down a drink. There may be a temptation to talk around the fact that drinking is strictly out of the question. For example, some find that saying “Not right now” or “Maybe another time” is easier than a succinct “No thanks.” However, answers like this give the impression that drinking is something that the person in recovery is open to. It may even imply to the person making the offer that they only need to be a bit more persuasive. Conversely, a clear and simple “I don’t drink” without any caveats is harder to maneuver around.

Suggesting Alternatives to Drinking

In some cases, it may help to present an alternative to having a drink. When meeting up with friends or colleagues, this could mean suggesting a venue that does not serve or actively promote alcohol. In a situation where people may be sharing drinks, such as a bottle of wine in a restaurant, suggesting a non-alcoholic alternative may be in order.

Changing the Subject

Similar to suggesting an alternative to drinking, a person in recovery may need to suggest an alternate topic of discussion. Some people can be pushy when trying to convince others to drink with them. A quick and assertive “No thanks” followed by a shift in conversation may be enough to move beyond the drink in question.

Recruiting Help from Others

There are times when the person offering the drink simply refuses to back down. They may be slow to realize that there are well-grounded reasons for the refusal. In this case, it can be appropriate to ask for this person’s support in remaining sober. Simply stating quickly and clearly that drinking is strictly out of the question and then asking them to stop offering should be enough. At this point, it will probably become clear to them that their repeated offers have the potential to do harm.

If the person making the offer continues to insist, then making an excuse or even walking away may be necessary.

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