How To Say No To Free Drinks (Without Feeling Deprived)

How To Say No To Free Drinks (Without Feeling Deprived)

Picture the scene: you’re trying to be good when all of a sudden, you’re offered a free drink.

It might be during a flight or on holiday; at a wedding, a party, a restaurant meal or a work conference…

Wherever it is, there’s something about turning down booze you haven’t paid for that can be extra tough.

You might feel as if you’re missing out on part of the experience, or – if you’re on an all-inclusive holiday – it can seem as if you’re not getting your money’s worth.

So how do you politely refuse a free drink, without feeling deprived?

Here are four tips to help you feel good about saying no:

 

Understand the true cost of free drinks

We tend to assume that free = good, so part of us automatically thinks, ‘why not say yes? Let’s make the most of it’. But free stuff isn’t necessarily good stuff. When it comes to alcohol, there’s always a price to pay that goes beyond money.

When you drink, there’s a cost to your mind and body. How are you going to feel afterwards? What kind of mood will you be in? You’ll be so annoyed with yourself for not sticking to your goals.

How much time will that free glass cost? One drink will inevitably lead to more and you’ll lose hours feeling drunk, recovering from your hangover and beating yourself up afterwards.

When you add up the true cost, is it worth it? Do you want to start your holiday feeling foggy and dehydrated? (This article explains why booze and flights are a bad mix.) How good might you feel if you didn’t drink? 

 

Say yes to something else 

Declining a free drink doesn’t mean you should be left empty handed – so make sure you get something else instead. What alcohol-free options are there? Don’t just settle for water (unless you genuinely want some). Can they make you something from the cocktail menu, but leave out the booze? 

Reward yourself for sticking to your alcohol free goals by indulging in other ways too. If you normally skip dessert, order ice cream. Treat yourself to something you wouldn’t normally let yourself have. You deserve it. 

 

Know that it won’t always be this tough 

The thought of being sober on holiday – or turning down a free drink – feels hard right now because you’ve not done it before. It’s easy to catastrophize and imagine that sobriety will mean a lifetime of facing these kind of battles, but that really isn’t the case.  

‘Sober firsts’ – i.e. the first time you stay sober in a situation where you normally drink – are often tough. You’re breaking an association and choosing a different behaviour. It’s going to push you out of your comfort zone and feel a bit awkward. 

However, the next time you’re in a similar situation, it’ll feel better because you know you can do it. The time after that will be even easier. Sobriety won’t always feel like such hard work – the hardest part is right now. It’s all up from here! 

 

Practice gratitude 

If you catch yourself falling into one of those ‘I’m missing out’ spirals, force yourself to stop and list five things you’re grateful for. When our attention is solely on what we can’t have, we tend to get tunnel vision and miss all the amazing things happening around us. Focusing on what you’re grateful for gets you out of your own head.

I recommend asking this question: ‘Why isn’t this moment enough without alcohol?’ Stop to consider whether you really need a mind-altering substance in order to enjoy a fun party or a beautiful holiday. Is it not enough on its own? Pause for a moment and just be grateful to be having the experience in the first place. Appreciate it, just as it is.

If you need support to stop drinking or take a break from booze, click here for details of my online course.

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24 Comments

  1. For me, focusing on what I’ll be missing out on if I drink always does the trick. It doesn’t matter how free something is, if it causes you pain or doesn’t meet your standards, it’s not good enough. I’d never eat a free hotdog so why should I drink free booze, now that I know better? I don’t want to go back to how drinking made me feel. I’m a graduate of your January class and will be 6 months AF in a few weeks!!

    Reply
    • Love the comparison with the free hotdogs! It’s great to see you doing so well Lindsey – I’m really pleased for you ❤️

      Reply
  2. Recently my cousin was in the area for a book signing. He graciously offered to buy dinner. There were 6 of us all together. Cocktails first then wine with dinner. I was the only one NOT drinking. I had a momentary pity party and then moved on to an AF beer.

    Reply
    • You moved on and had an AF beer – that’s the most important thing!

      Reply
  3. I used to be in the habit of accepting free stuff that came with signing up for something. I’ve realized how it’s usually junk that I then have to accept responsibility for and dispose of properly (ie what do I do with this free frisbee or stapler). I started to think about drinks the same way, it’s something I don’t need and then I’m responsible for the “clean-up/disposal/aftermath.” I don’t need that in my life!

    Reply
    • I really like this comparison with junk clutter… that is a great perspective! Thank you for sharing Devon 🙂

      Reply
    • I hear you. The ability to turn down free stuff started for me via free makeup, which often comes as a bonus for buying the stuff I actually wanted. I used to get a little dopamine rush pocketing the free stuff; now I refuse it because I know in six months time it’ll be cluttering up my bathroom because it doesn’t suit me or any of my friends and I can’t donate it because it’s slightly used and I have no idea if the packaging is recyclable and I don’t want to throw plastic into landfill. It’s become a burden. As has alcohol.

      Reply
  4. For me was specially difficult with dating and flirting situations ( free booze at a wedding, saying NO to a girl giving me alcohol), after a few falls now I try to let know the other party know that I don’t drink ”any more” , being clear in my sober status, and not being ashamed of it but proud.
    If the girl seems upset or shocked, it doesn’t matter to me any more, she wasn’t for my new life!

    Reply
    • What a great observation. The right girl won’t be bothered whether you drink or not. Good luck with the dating Andrew 🙂

      Reply
  5. Gah so many times I’ve over-drank just because it was free, and I realise now that really it’s crazy to drink something toxic just because it’s being given away.
    I love this blog, thank you Kate for this.
    Sobriety is always free, and you can give that to yourself all the time!!
    Now that’s a truly excellent freebie.

    Reply
    • Sobriety really is a great gift to you give yourself. Thanks Carla 🙂

      Reply
  6. I love the idea of asking, “why isn’t this moment enough without alcohol?” I have a very hard time imagining long distance flying without a (three or so) drinks. I think asking this will help. Thanks.

    Reply
    • I’m glad that resonated with you Christine 🙂

      Reply
  7. I really need this tonight . I’m in Spain volunteering to help Spanish speak English . Lovely hotel in middle of nowhere . I’m the only vegan and they seem to think I can live off fruit and salad so I felt a bit grumpy . The wine is free ….. I was so very close ….. then I heard one of the Spanish men say what horrible wine it was … I thought …. is it worth it for horrible wine ? …… and I would never have just one ….. so now I am in huge bed with fresh sheets with Netflix and popcorn .
    Tomorrow is a new day which I will start with a clear head .

    Reply
    • Well done for not drinking Liza! It definitely would not have been worth it. You did exactly the right thing. Tomorrow is a new day 🙂

      Reply
  8. This year will be my first holiday AF and I’ve been worrying about how to deal with it. Your article and other people’s comments have helped. Thank you.

    Reply
    • No problem. Wishing you a wonderful, hangover-free holiday! Have fun 🙂

      Reply
  9. So many times I got drunk with a free drink (and many after that one), is a matter of a fact, 6 years ago, I started this bad habit with free drinks. This is so true, and it came to me at the right time today. Thanks so much Kate. Your blog is amazing.

    Reply
    • Happy to have inspired you Elvira. Keep going!

      Reply
  10. #4 is brilliant! There are too many times I play the Debbie Downer instead of the Grateful Grace! I try to make sure I write at least 2 things to be grateful for in my sobriety journal most everyday (skipping days have proven to be a problem). Thanks for posting!

    Reply
    • I have a reminder on my phone which prompts me to write something in my gratitude diary – it really helps you make sure you actually do it! 🙂

      Reply
  11. Thanks Kate for the article. I’m on a 22 hour flight next week, flying Business class and I’m worrying about how I will cope when the first round of drinks is offered. The ideas you have written could have been written just for me!! I’m now working on my mind set, thanks also to the others with their good comments

    Reply
    • Sounds like this came at the right time for you Dee. Your flight will be SO much better without alcohol! Let me know how it goes 🙂

      Reply
  12. I’ve had a bit of epiphany that I wanted to share, in case it helps anybody else. I made a list of pros and cons (an honest list) for drinking alcohol.
    Pros:
    1. The buzz I initially get from drinking feels nice. For a while.

    And that was literally the only one I could think of.

    Cons:
    1. Alcohol makes me fat
    2. It increases my risk of cancer
    3. It’s expensive
    4. It makes me feel ill
    5. It inflames my sinuses
    6. It seems to make my tinnitus worse
    7. It sends me to sleep
    8. It’s a depressant
    9. In all of the bad choices I’ve made in my life, alcohol was a contributing factor. In ALL of them.
    10. It’s a poison, and my body treats it accordingly.

    So when you look at it like that, it’s really a no brainer. There is no place for alcohol in my life!

    Reply

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