Developing Refusal Skills

Girl showing stop hand sign gesture (Body language, gestures, psychology)
Girl showing stop hand sign gesture (Body language, gestures, psychology)

Developing Refusal Skills

Abstaining from alcohol and drugs is challenging for a large variety of reasons. Temptations often come from the inside and include things such as a longing to escape, a need to relax, physiological craving, and a desire to comfort yourself. Additionally, cues, urges, and temptations come from the outside.

Certain situations bring about an almost automatic urgency to use again. Walking into some specific environments may trigger intense cravings. Consider the following situations.

Which of these might trigger a desire to use again?

  • Fishing
  • Boating or sailing
  • Snowmobiling
  • Hunting
  • Camping
  • After working out at the gym
  • Playing softball
  • Playing golf
  • On a sales call
  • At a holiday celebration
  • Family reunion
  • Going to a sports bar
  • Watching a game on TV
  • Playing frisbee golf
  • On a shopping trip
  • At a birthday party
  • Going to a ballgame or hockey match
  • Being offered wine with dinner
  • Going to VFW meetings
  • At a concert
  • On vacation
  • Watching a TV show at home or with friends
  • After dropping children off at school
  • Being at a using-friend’s house
  • On lunch break
  • Before or after having sex
  • Having dinner in a nice restaurant
  • At an all-inclusive resort
  • Going to a festival, fair, or parade
  • After a movie
  • Stopping with a friend after work

Alcohol and drug addiction determines who you associate with, where you go, and activities you are involved in. In order to support your recovery, it is helpful to know situations and circumstances that trigger relapse. Developing skills to avoid these situations or find alternatives becomes paramount to your recovery.

Keep in mind that avoiding every place that serves alcohol or avoiding everywhere drugs are available would be impossible. You can, however, find alternate places to go on lunch break, develop different hobbies and activities, and spend time with sober people instead of your usual drinking friends.

Certain people may put pressure on you to buy, drink, or use alcohol or drugs.

Review the list below.

From whom might you feel some pressure to drink or use?

  • Boss
  • Coworker
  • Spouse
  • Significant other
  • Friend
  • Drug dealer
  • Server in a bar or restaurant
  • Family member
  • Client
  • Neighbor

Planning Ahead

Anticipating the situational pressures mentioned above is an important part of preventing relapse and sustaining your recovery.  Consider the following refusal skills:

Prepare a way of escape. If you rode to an event with friends and are tempted or start craving, it is difficult to find an easy exit. Plan for this in advance. Riding separately may be a good option. Take someone along who would be willing to leave early, if necessary.

Prepare some backup. If you became sad, lonely, frustrated, upset, tempted, or started craving, who could you call or where could you go? Load your phone with people from your support network rather than have it fully stocked with old friends who use. Watch for subtle signs of trouble, which are often ignored, and be willing to respond as quickly as necessary. Reaching out for help is important. Decide in advance who you could contact or confide in about a troubling or tempting situation.

Anticipate who will approach you. What might they say or do? Prepare a script that is kind, yet firm. Name several appropriate responses and practice them out loud, if you can. Anticipate likely responses and how you might reply.

Announce your intentions in advance. If you were going to play softball, tell your sponsor or an accountability partner you are going and don’t intend to drink or use. Stating it in advance solidifies your intentions and gives you an opportunity to dialogue further about a solid plan to stay in recovery.

Be honest with yourself. Did you get through that situation easily or did it almost trip you up? Deceiving yourself is a sure setup for failure.

Be assertive with your words and with your body posture. Don’t say, “maybe” and try to get to “NO!” Say, “NO!” Don’t bother explaining your reasons. Remember, if someone doesn’t like your refusal, they are not going to agree with your reasons. Too much reasoning and explaining often turns into an argument and accomplishes nothing but heartache.  Make sure your body isn’t saying “that sounds like fun” while your mouth is saying “no thanks.” Keep your body posture and your assertive statements in constant agreement.

Take sober support with you. You are more vulnerable alone. Taking someone along who understands your struggle to an event, ballgame, road trip, or fishing event can be wise and protective.

Identify tempting situations in advance. This anticipation will allow you to avoid situations and better equip you to face temptations when you can’t avoid them.  What situation are you most likely to face?


​Getting Stronger

Refusing an offer to drink or use takes courage, inner strength, and self confidence. The ability to refuse can be expanded by developing the related skills listed below.

Assertiveness — Developing assertiveness skills will allow you to stand up for yourself, stick to your own opinions, protect yourself, and communicate honestly and directly. Speaking assertively will allow you to say no when offered a drink, are invited to a party, or asked to buy drugs. Let your body language be congruent with your words. Stand tall, put your shoulders back, and say it like you mean it.

Effective Problem Solving — Being insecure, timid, and unsure reduces your overall effectiveness in solving problems. As you grow in your recovery, choose to develop increased skills at being proactive, taking on challenges, discovering creative solutions, and finding answers. Suggest other options or alternatives to using, drinking, or going to a party. Prepare your suggestions in advance.

Increased Self Control — As your recovery program becomes more stable, you will have an increased ability to delay gratification. Continue to set limits for yourself, live within boundaries, and stay reliable and dependable. Don’t let yourself become easily offended when someone makes demands on you. Take responsibility for your own actions and own your mistakes rather than blaming others for your inconsistencies.

Priority Management — You are growing in your ability to see and do the next right thing. Continue to highly prioritize your sobriety and recovery. Building a solid foundation for your recovery will take time. Commitment levels start out high at first but grow weak and weary over time. Be aware of this and don’t lose sight of your reasons for staying clean and sober. Keep your motivation for recovery high.

Increased Self-Esteem — Making lifestyle change is difficult to say the least. Developing refusal skills is also easier said than done, and is only possible as you believe in yourself, stand your ground, and remain confident. Continue to see past your failures and move toward your new life of recovery. Self-esteem is increased as you respect yourself and acknowledge your strengths and accomplishments. With increased self-esteem, you become a powerful ruler over your own new life.


Becoming more assertive, increasing your problem-solving ability, keeping your priorities straight, communicating well, and having healthy self-esteem all work together to enable you to stick to your recovery plan. Refusal skills are important to your overall sense of well-being and enable you to develop the healthy and sober lifestyle you desire. The above-mentioned skills are worth working through. Find ways to use your group and individual therapy to enhance your proficiency.

Good luck!

Recovery is a journey. Enjoy the ride!