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Sobriety Tips for Summer: How to Say No

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT Meet The Team >

Funny thing about no.

It’s probably the first word you ever learned:


You don’t remember it, but we can guarantee your parents do.

Want cereal?


Want cake?


Want to play with Sally the Stuffed Seal?


Toddlers love saying no. They’ll say no to anything and everything, just because. No one is quite sure why – because no one can ask a toddler. And even though every single one of us was a toddler once, none of us can remember it. We can’t remember why we said no all the time, even to things we love dearly, like cereal, cake, and stuffed animals.

Maybe it was the feeling of power it gave us. Or the sense of self we got from…wait a minute. Do toddlers even have a sense of self?

Maybe – but that’s a topic for a different article. Probably on a different website.

This post is not about toddlers.

It’s about teenagers.

More specifically, it’s about teenagers in recovery from an alcohol or substance use disorder. More specifically than that, it’s about how you handle your first few months of sobriety. And even more specifically than that, it’s about It’s about what to do after you leave treatment, go out into the world, and someone offers you alcohol or drugs.

You know what you’re supposed to say: no.

Funny thing about that word: what was once the easiest thing in the world to say might now be the hardest thing in the world to say.

But you can do it.

Time to Use Your Sobriety Skills

Remember when it was easy? Back when it was your favorite word? You said no, and your parents understood. Everyone understood. But now that you’re a teenager in recovery, not everyone understands.

They ignore your “no.”

Especially peers, especially at parties, and especially when they’re offering you a drink or inviting you to come get high.

Why do they do that?

First, they probably don’t know all the details of story. They have no idea how important that no is for you. So they ignore it. That’s when you realize saying no as a teen – especially at a party – is not quite as simple as saying no when you were a toddler.

People will act they never heard you.

They’ll be like “Are you one-hundred percent absolutely positively sure?”

They’ll goad you: “Scared? Ha! You’re not gonna get caught!”

They’ll say just about anything to get you to join them. They’re drinking, smoking, and having fun, and they want company. They want a partner in crime. Another peer to join them in their experimentation. The more the merrier.

The thing is – you don’t do that anymore.


But we’re a little off-track here. We’re supposed to be telling you why they ignore your no.

Here are three things to remember about those people tempting you:

  1. It’s not malicious.
  2. They’re not trying to ruin you life
  3. They have no idea what they’re doing.

And when they respond to your No with Why?…

Basically, they’re clueless.

And unfortunately, there cluelessness is something you have to navigate in order to maintain your sobriety.

Resist the Urge to Overshare

If they respond to your No with Why, imagine – just imagine – if you replied with:

“Well, where should I start? When I was five, my parents got divorced and my dad moved out. My mom went through a rough patch with an abusive boyfriend. Then my grandfather died. Then when I was ten, my volleyball coach sexually harassed me and tried to…well you get the idea. So that’s why I started drinking when I was 14 and smoking weed when I was 15. That’s really why I  ended up in rehab this spring. And guess what? I’m getting my three-month AA chip tomorrow.”

Now, if the person asking is a close friend you haven’t seen in a while and you want to tell them what’s really been up with you, then go ahead and share your story.

But if they’re just an acquaintance or someone you barely know from the periphery of your social group, we’d call that level of sharing inappropriate.

Do. Not. Overshare.

That’s what your 12-step meetings are for.

Out in the world, in most social situations, there are a million answers to that why – and almost none of them involve inappropriate oversharing.

The next time someone asks why, try these answers:

  1. Sorry, can’t drink – doctor’s orders.
  2. I have a bad physical reaction to alcohol, like an allergy – it just doesn’t agree with me.
  3. I have a medical condition. Alcohol makes it worse.

If they try to get more out of you, then change the subject. Tell them you don’t want to talk about it. Tell them you’re tired of talking about it. Or, you can say something along the lines of “How ‘bout those Lakers? Think that new coach can handle LeBron?”

If they don’t get the hint – walk away.

How to be Honest Without Telling All

So, we’d understand if, at this point, your takeaway from this post is that we’re telling you to lie.

That’s not really what we’re telling you to do.

The answers above – they’re all true.

Okay – so we’re advising you to be evasive.

Again – not really.

Here’s what we’re saying: before you put yourself in a position where you might need to refuse a drink or an offer to use drugs, have a plan about how you’re going to say no. Medical excuses work well: you can make the doctor, the condition, or the reaction the reason. That way, you don’t have to explain, and you don’t have to share your entire story. It takes the pressure off, gets you past that awkward moment, and saves you from repeated questioning from that person.

If the three suggestions above don’t work for you, then come up with your own. And if you’re reading this and you’re still in rehab, make sure you roleplay these types of situations in group therapy. You probably have relapse prevention classes: if this isn’t part of them, it should be. If you’re out of rehab, ask sober peers at your support group meetings how they respond to that annoying why. Use the wisdom of the group to get a hundred and one ideas, then choose the ones that work for you.

Ideally, you won’t be in that position. You know you shouldn’t be. But we know as well as you do things happen. Life doesn’t always go exactly as planned, and sometimes…well, sometimes you end up in situations.

We get it.

We also get this, and you should, too: if you have a good plan, you can make it past these tough moments your sobriety intact – and that’s your entire goal.

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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