Should You Just Say No to a Drink or Divulge Recovery Status?

It’s practically impossible to get through the holiday season without some well-meaning person offering you a drink or another substance. Though the intent is to help you enjoy yourself and relax, each person who offers you a beer or a line of coke is unknowingly putting you face to face with your demons. Many people in recovery can simply say “no” and move on without incident, but others struggle with how best to respond and are haunted long after the moment has passed.

What’s the best way for you to manage the offer of drugs or alcohol this holiday season?

The Alibi Approach

Many people sidestep the issue by coming up with an “alibi.” If you just say “no,” someone may feel the need to urge you again and again to take the drink and try and talk you into it. But if you have a reason for not drinking, one that can’t be refuted, then you have a better shot at keeping the interaction brief and painless. Some common options include:

  • “I can’t: I’m on antibiotics (or some other medication that can’t be mixed with alcohol).”
  • “I’m the designated driver tonight, so no alcohol for me.”
  • “I’ve already had a few, thanks.”
  • “I have to get up early for work.”
  • “I’m not a big fan of _________.” Fill in the blank with whatever substance is being offered.

Note: Some may hear the last two reasons as an invitation to continue to ply you with alcohol or drugs, encouraging you to let loose, try something new, or deal with the consequences so you can fully enjoy yourself. The first two, however, are relatively foolproof; most people will not try to talk you into altering the efficacy of your medication or getting behind the wheel after drinking.


Keep it light by making a joke that makes it clear that you’re not interested in whatever is being offered. You may have to follow up with a “no, thanks” if the person persists, but it allows you to avoid any uncomfortable questions or throwing a wet blanket on the conversation.

  • “I can’t. I’m pregnant.” This one is especially funny if you are male, have a half-dozen children already, or are over the age of 65.
  • “I heard alcohol causes your eyelashes to fall out.” Any odd, unlikely ailment will serve the purpose.
  • “Last time I did ________ (insert drug being offered), I ended up in a compromising position with a snowman. Never again.”
  • “Maybe next time: I understand ________ (insert drug or alcohol offered) doesn’t pair well with reindeer cookies.”


The Truth

There are some people in recovery who adamantly believe that it’s important to state the facts when offered drugs or alcohol. By saying, “No, thanks. I’m in recovery,” you leave no room for argument. Additionally, many people say that honesty has other benefits, including:

  • Increased accountability: If you state out loud that you are in recovery, it makes you more accountable for your actions that night and in the future. If everyone knows you are sober, you may be less likely to relapse the next time you are offered a drink.
  • Avoiding secrets: Secrets are poisonous to recovery, and feeling like you have to lie or hide your past addiction history can cause feelings of shame and guilt unnecessarily.
  • Being a good example: You never know what is going on with people around you. Other partygoers who are struggling with drugs or alcohol may see you easily turning down a drink after living in addiction and realize that recovery is a possibility for them as well. Similarly, people who have a loved one who lost their life to addiction or a loved one who is actively addicted may seek you out to hear your story and get and give support.
  • Putting yourself in a position to help: If the host or hostess knows you are sober for the evening, you may be able to help out by driving someone home who is incapacitated or otherwise helping out in case of trouble.

There’s no need to get into a long detailed story about your addiction history or to put a damper on the party by mentioning the true reason you won’t be drinking. If anyone reacts poorly to your response, it says far more about their issues with drugs and alcohol than it says about you.

Don’t Isolate

Above all, don’t let your recovery status make you feel like you need to isolate during the holiday season. Isolation is deadly in recovery. You need community and to spend time with other people, connecting and building positive relationships while learning how to enjoy yourself without drugs and alcohol. The fact is that we live in a society that very heavily depends on alcohol and other substances to have a good time. If you are going to be in the world, you will eventually come across people who are drinking and getting high. If you are early in recovery and feel that being exposed to those behaviors is a threat to your ability to stay sober, seek out sober events and sober people specifically. Reach out for ideas from your therapist, sponsor, and peers in recovery about how best to celebrate the season safely.

How do you turn down a drink or drugs during the holiday season? Do you use humor, an excuse, or simply say “no, thanks” and leave it at that? What works best for you?

You aren't alone. You deserve to get help.
Desert Hope is located in Las Vegas, Nevada, which is easily accessible from most locations in the Southwest. We offer a full continuum of care that spans from inpatient medical detox and rehab to outpatient services and sober living. Take the next step toward recovery: learn more about our addiction treatment programs near Vegas or learn about how rehab is affordable for everyone.