Content Reviewed by Jennifer Wheeler, Clinical & Community Outreach for New Life

Recovery from substance use disorder (SUD) is a lifelong process, which means there will inevitably be bumps in the road. Treatment helps individuals address underlying causes of substance use, establish healthier coping mechanisms and ultimately prevent future relapse. Lasting sobriety sometimes requires specific skills to maintain. One such skill is turning down drugs when presented with the opportunity to engage with them.

Sobriety is personal.

Although social support is an essential component for lasting recovery, your sobriety journey is a deeply personal one. When an individual abuses alcohol and other drugs, they are likely doing so to cope with unresolved trauma or mental distress. Unsurprisingly, recovery requires you to bring past trauma to the surface and overcome it. This way, you may find yourself less likely to self-medicate in the future.

Knowing that sobriety is a personal journey, remember that you do not owe anyone an explanation for your choice to abstain from alcohol and drugs. This is especially vital to keep in mind when you are offered alcohol and other drugs. Declining the offer is hard enough, so you do not have to explain yourself if you do not feel comfortable doing so.

In addition, refusal skills help keep your sobriety intact. Refusal skills will likely be incorporated into your aftercare plan once you complete treatment. Nonetheless, here are several refusal skills that will be valuable for maintaining lasting sobriety.

#1 Just say no.

Although it’s easier said than done, one of the most important refusal skills is just that: refusing substances when they are offered. Even then, you may feel more self-conscious about how to respond when a subsequent comment or question is asked, such as “Why not?”

In such cases, you can respond with whatever makes you feel comfortable. If you prefer not to go into your sobriety, some appropriate examples may include:

  • “Just not feeling it today.”
  • “I’d rather have a water or a soda.”
  • “I don’t prefer to talk about it. Could I have something non-alcoholic?”
  • “I’m working on hydrating myself better. Could I have some water?”
  • “I am driving tonight,” or “I am leaving soon.”

Though dismissal like this can be helpful, you may feel just fine discussing your sobriety, especially if you have been in recovery for several years. If you are offered a drink or someone asks why you are sober, use it as an important educational opportunity. You do not have to go into your entire recovery journey, but you can provide some insight into what substance use and addiction can do to your brain. More likely than not, those caught in addiction do not consciously understand how substance use affects brain structure and functioning.

Additionally, you can bring up the benefits that sobriety has brought to your life. Remember to avoid judgment if you are given the opportunity to explain your experience. Although you can not change someone’s behaviors, you can never underestimate the power of planting a seed.

#2 Attend gatherings with a sober buddy.

Another valuable refusal skill is to attend gatherings with someone who prefers not to partake or someone who is a peer in recovery. Your closest friends and treatment peers likely know about your sobriety. Since there is strength in numbers, attend gatherings with someone who understands your situation and can keep you accountable.

Avoiding social gatherings may be beneficial during the first few months or years of recovery. However, it is not always feasible to dodge them entirely. Therefore, having a sober companion to ease social anxiety and shut down intimidating questions is a great option.

#3 Have an exit plan.

One of the most important things you can do to prevent relapse is to have an exit plan. An exit plan is a step-by-step guide that includes ways to escape a situation that would otherwise put your recovery in jeopardy. Exit plans are often a component of aftercare plans.

An effective aftercare plan will list your addiction triggers and offer valuable ways to manage those triggers. In contrast, exit plans go a step further. They help you prepare for potentially triggering situations by giving you tips on finding a way out. Your exit plan will list valuable coping mechanisms you can use when you are under pressure or remind you of important skills that you learned during addiction treatment.

#4 Have a friend on speed dial for check-ins.

Another refusal skill involves having a close friend or mentor on speed dial. If you express to your friend that you feel unsafe at any given time, they can request your immediate help with something at their home. This will provide you with a valid excuse to leave a situation where you may otherwise feel uncomfortable.

#5 Set a curfew beforehand.

If you know that you tend to have greater accountability for yourself while the sun is up, consider setting a curfew to leave before sundown. The nightlife scene can bring about heavier substance use, so give yourself a way to leave the situation before you are triggered.

#6 Have weekly check-ins with your mentor or therapist.

Continuing care is imperative for your sobriety and overall recovery. Consider adding weekly check-ins with your mentor or therapist when you feel uneasy about your sobriety. This way, if you do experience a lapse or relapse, you can get back on the right track much more quickly. With check-ins, you are less likely to relapse and fall back into chronic patterns of substance use.

New Life Addiction Counseling and Mental Health Services recognizes how difficult it can be to decline alcohol and other drugs when offered even years into your sobriety journey. Our treatment facility offers a wide range of treatment modalities and aftercare opportunities to ensure that your long-term recovery will be successful. We suggest you practice saying no before you find yourself in a situation where you need to do so. We can help you create a valuable and effective aftercare plan, along with an exit plan, so you feel better prepared to navigate these situations. To learn more about our treatment facility and program options, give us a call today at (877) 929-2571.