How to Say ‘No’ to a Holiday Cocktail

Image of a sober holiday party that is alcohol-freeImage via Eugene Zhyvchik/Unsplash

This is likely the first holiday season since the pandemic that most of us will be gathering in person, which is probably a source of excitement—and angst. Gathering in-person again means seeing friends and family in person—something we’ve missed quite a bit—and it also means we might be walking into situations where drinking is prevalent. 

If you’re choosing not to drink right now, holiday gatherings might feel a little scary. First, know that this is completely normal. Know also, that there are ways to cope and to enjoy yourself without alcohol. That said, you will, at some point, likely find yourself around some holiday cocktails this season. Thankfully, this doesn’t need to be a stressful event that may derail your goal of abstaining from alcohol. 

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One thing you can do is walk through the scenario mentally ahead of time, so you can prepare yourself for turning down a drink when offered. If you’re with someone who doesn’t know you’re sober, it doesn’t even need to be a thing. Here’s how. 

Be Direct & Tell the Truth

Just be direct, matter-of-fact, and move on. “I’m not drinking right now, but thank you,” is a very effective way to decline a festive mulled wine or gingerbread cocktail when offered. If you’re friendly with the host, you can request that there be a mocktail option as well or bring your own.

True friends and supportive loved ones won’t question you for making a positive change for your health and wellness. Hopefully, they’ll support it and encourage you on your journey. If someone has an issue with you not drinking, you will likely need to re-evaluate that relationship. Life is too short to surround yourself with people who will drag you down. Always choose people who have your back and want the best for you. And who knows, maybe they will come around with time. 

Keep it Light & Stay the Course

Here are some silly ways to decline a cocktail with grace, humor, and ease. Although direct honesty is typically the best way to go with almost everything, these tactics can help decrease the questions and might make you feel more comfortable, especially if you’re early in your journey. Every potentially uncomfortable conversation—be it advocating for a raise, asking for more in your relationship, setting boundaries with your roommate, or telling someone you’re trying to quit drinking—benefits from you staying neutral, direct, honest, and forthright. Don’t make something a bigger deal than it needs to be. Relax. You’ve got this!

“I’m off everything in 2021.”

This year has been a challenging, tough, and destabilizing year. Words like “unprecedented” and “new normal” and “social distancing” and “mask fashion” have made their way into our heads and now seem stuck there. This is the ultimate year of taking life as it comes, even if that means one hour or day at a time. No one will question any significant change this year because it has been yet another year of incessant change. 

“Looks delicious, but I just came from the dentist.”

My dentist’s office is across the street from my favorite coffee chain shop. But after a dental cleaning, getting a sugar-laden venti of anything is the furthest thing from my mind. I like to keep my mouth feeling pristine and minty fresh for at least the commute home. So, simply tell someone you just came from having those pearly whites buffed, and they can back off with the sugary, sweet, and alcoholic drink.

“I’m on diaper duty later tonight.”

It doesn’t even matter if you don’t have kids—perhaps you have wee ones in your life, like nieces or nephews or the children of dear friends. Who are they to know that you don’t mean your own children? If you’re seeing kids later in the day or evening, most people won’t question your refusal of alcohol.  

“I’m on a strict budget, so I’m cutting out alcohol.”

Drinking is expensive, and with the financial instability of this year, no one will question cutting out alcohol as a cost-cutting measure. Being on a budget and managing your finances smartly is respectable, powerful, and aspirational. And if someone doesn’t like it because it leaves them with one less drinking buddy, who cares? That’s their issue. Not yours. 

“Alcohol makes me feel like crap in the morning.”

You’ve got a very busy schedule. You’re constantly building the empire that is your life! Perhaps you’ve got to wake up and run 12 miles or (equally important) sleep till 12 to catch up on your health and wellness and recharge. People don’t know your life, and frankly, you don’t owe them any supplemental information in support of your decision to not drink. As the saying goes: “No” is a complete sentence. 

“Thank you, but I don’t drink alcohol. Looks great, though!”

Kind. Simple. Direct. Honest. Light. What could be better?

* * *

Although it can sometimes be awkward to be the only person not drinking, it’s important to stand your ground and learn to say “no.” Still, it’s also okay if you are not yet confident enough or don’t want to reveal information about your decision to go alcohol-free, and you’d rather turn down a holiday cocktail in the easiest way possible.

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