How do I say 'no' to drinking but still have a social life?

When you talked about the fact that you don't drink alcohol and you never really have, I was really impressed. I am in Year 11 and have never had a drink and never want to (at least that's how I feel at the moment). Could you give me any tips, based on your experience, on how to tell my friends I don't want to drink and yet still go out and have a social life

Thanks for the great question - the good news is that I'm meeting more and more young people who are finding themselves in the same situation. They have made the decision not to drink (for a range of reasons, including concerns about the developing brain, family or religious reasons or simply because they don't enjoy it) and are looking for ways to get them out of drinking but at the same time, keeping face with their friends and not seeming like they are boring or complete nerds!

Firstly, it is important to remember that there are some young people who just don't care what others think and are strong and confident enough to simply 'say no', if that is indeed what they want to do. I salute those teens and always smile when I see them 'high-five' each other or stand up and take a bow when I talk about non-drinkers during one of my presentations. To choose not to drink alcohol can be tough for a teen, but to stand up and declare that you're a non-drinker is a very gutsy thing to do ... let me tell you, even as an adult it can be hard sometimes! There is great pressure to conform and drink in social situations.

I think how you respond depends on the situation. I have to say that when I was a teen I never felt any pressure to drink alcohol. My friendship group didn't drink and so it was never really a problem for me but when I talk to teens today, they say in certain situations what really helps them is an 'out', a simple excuse that they have come up with that helps them to refuse a drink but ensures that they 'save face' in front of others (particularly if they don't know them that well). Here are just some of the 'outs' that I have collected from students over the years:

"I am allergic to alcohol."

"The medication I’m on at the moment doesn't mix well with alcohol."

"I got really drunk last week and I'm trying to have a few weeks off."

"Dad found out I was drinking last weekend and I'll be grounded if I get caught again."

"We've got a big game next week and I'm trying to be prepared as possible."

"Mum's picking me up this evening and she always checks my breath when I get in the car."

"Maybe later – I've already had a few and I just want a break for a while."

"My uncle is a police officer and he is staying at our house tonight. I've got to be really careful."

"Dad's an alcoholic and we've been told it could run in the family."

Of course, it would be so much better if you didn't have to tell a white lie and that those around you just accepted your decision not to drink, but that doesn't always happen. If you do get to a point when it all becomes too difficult and trying to explain why you're not drinking is just getting too much, you can always fall back on the 'old standard' of simply holding a glass, can or bottle and pretending to drink. I have to admit that I have used this, even at my age, and it certainly eases the pressure off people asking where my drink is, do I want another and the like…

The best thing for you is that you're coming to the age when you will get your driver's licence and when that happens it makes a non-drinker's life so much easier! You can then say you are the designated driver and no more questions will be asked - in fact, your popularity will soar!

First published: March 2015