Even when surrounded by well-meaning friends and family, the social pressure to drink alcohol can be difficult to resist. For people trying to cut back on their consumption, there are steps that can help when saying no thank you in social situations.
Sometimes the easiest option is avoiding social situations where alcohol is common. While this isn't always possible with big events, there are alternative options when meeting up with smaller groups, such as having lunch with friends at a café instead of dinner at a bar or meeting up with colleagues for coffee during the day instead of after work for drinks. When picking a place to meet up, check the menus beforehand and suggest places with mocktails and other non-alcoholic options, like the many non-alcoholic wines, beers and spirits on the market.
Before you go: have a plan in place
Have a few responses ready to go for when you're offered a drink. It's easy to get flustered in the moment if you don't feel prepared, so knowing what to say – and maybe practicing before you go – can help you feel more confident when you're offered alcohol. Ideally, a simple "no thanks" or "I'm good" will be enough, but having an excuse ready – like being a designated driver, or wanting to be clear-headed for something the next morning – is useful as a back-up.
Know your limit. If you're having a few drinks, but want to make sure you don't consume too much alcohol, set a number for yourself and commit to staying within that limit. Downloading the Drinks Meter app can help track your alcohol intake.
Ask for support. If there's someone you trust, tell them beforehand that you want to manage your alcohol intake and ask them to stay close and discreetly back you up if needed. If your support network is online or otherwise not physically present, let them know in advance that you might need them at a certain time. If you want to practice resisting pressure, a support person might also role-play with you.
Know why you're doing it. Reminding yourself of the reasons for managing your alcohol consumption can help strengthen your resolve and stand up to social pressures.
Know your triggers – is there a particular person or situation, like drinking games, that makes you feel pressured to drink?
Eat before you go – if you are drinking alcohol, it will help reduce the impact on your body.
At the event
Having a non-alcoholic drink in hand can help prevent people from offering you another one, and provides an excuse to decline if they do.
If you are drinking alcohol:
- alternate alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic ones, but avoid energy drinks or those with lots of sugar.
- consider low-alcohol options (3.5% alcohol by volume or less).
- eat at the event to help reduce the alcohol's effect on you physically. Avoid salty snacks that will make you thirsty.
- pace yourself with no more than one standard drink per hour.
Stick close with your support person, if they're present. If you're getting support from someone who's not present, be ready to call or message them for help if needed.
You may notice some people are pushier than others when it comes to urging you to drink. It can be best to avoid those folks where possible. Alternatively, be ready to change the subject to distract them.
Know when to leave. If you're too uncomfortable, it may be best to say your goodbyes and remove yourself from the situation.
If you met your goal – didn't drink alcohol or drank within the limit you set – reward yourself!
If you didn't, that's OK. It can be hard changing habits and resisting social pressure, just try again next time.
Either way, think about what happened – what worked and what didn't? What can you do next time to stick to your own path?
Resources to help
There are many services, including free or low-cost options, to help people reduce their alcohol consumption.
Drinks Meter is a free, user-friendly app for your phone or tablet that provides confidential, personalised feedback about your alcohol use based on advice from doctors and the Australian guidelines to reduce health related risks from alcohol.
The Get Healthy Service Alcohol Reduction Program is a free telephone-based coaching service designed to support you to make healthy lifestyle changes and reduce your alcohol consumption, available at 1300 806 258, Monday to Friday 8am – 8pm.
Your Service Hub is an online directory with alcohol support services across New South Wales.
For free and confidential advice 24/7 call the Alcohol and Drug Information Service (ADIS) on 1800 250 015. Counsellors are available to provide information, referrals, crisis counselling and support. Or start a Web Chat with an ADIS counsellor online Monday to Friday, 8.30am – 5pm. ADIS can also provide up-to-date information about service availability in your area during the COVID-19 pandemic.