There are plenty of reasons for not wanting to drink: You’ve got homework to do, you’re worried about getting in trouble, or maybe you just don’t feel like it. So when someone hands you a beer at a party, why can it sometimes feel super awkward to say “no thanks”?

Nearly half of high school students said choosing a non-alcoholic drink at a social gathering might mean being judged, according to a recent Student Health 101 survey. The question is: Are people really judging you, or are you just worried they might?

“Adolescents care very deeply about who likes them and whether others their age will approve of them,” says Dr. Mitch Prinstein, distinguished professor and director of clinical psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “Peer influence is not always bad—we learn from our peers all the time, and they help us make lots of great decisions. The key is to know when peers have too much influence, leading you to do what you know is wrong or what you may regret later.”

The real pressure is unspokenTeens having fun blowing bubbles

In our survey, 63 percent of high schoolers said they’re confident turning down a drink they don’t want—and that’s great. But peer pressure more often occurs indirectly. So simply being in the presence of someone else drinking can make you more likely to join in. If the people you want to be accepted by are drinking, it makes it easier to perceive drinking as a positive and socially acceptable experience, research shows. Additionally, teens may find it more difficult to control impulsive or risky behaviors when their friends are around, according to a review of studies published in Developmental Review.

“Some notice what the group does, and they conform to what they think will make them seem more popular, even when no one specifically asked them to join in,” says Dr. Prinstein. “Some conform because they feel like when they do, everyone smiles and laughs with them—it makes them feel reinforced and they don’t realize how much it leads them to do it again. And others feel like doing what their friends do, or what the popular kids do, will make them feel like a better person.”

So if you don’t want to drink, how do you resist without busting your social scene?

It’s all about confidenceConfident boy holding a skateboard

“Being able to resist the pressure depends on the student’s power and ability to feel content with themselves,” says Patricia Saltzman, licensed social worker and substance abuse counselor in Manchester, Connecticut, who works with teens. “Low self-esteem makes it a lot harder for [students] to stand up for themselves.”

The best way to feel good? Respecting your own boundaries. It might sound cheesy, but being upfront and honest is sometimes more respected than accepting a drink you don’t want. “Stand firm in your own values,” Dr. Prinstein says. “Research suggests that teens who know what they want can get away with doing their own thing and not suffer consequences from peers. It’s probably because they’re so confident when they tell peers what they prefer.” 

That doesn’t mean it’s easy to flick a switch and suddenly emit confidence. Insecurity can impair your choices, making it a lot harder to stand up for yourself. It’s perfectly fine to want to be liked, but the people who truly care about you will want what’s best for you. If you find yourself in a situation where friends are asking you to do things you’re uncomfortable with, take a couple steps back and reevaluate your friendship. Do these people truly care about your well-being? Listen to your instincts, and think about spending more time with friends who will respect your boundaries and desires.

Four ways to talk about drinking that’ll actually work

So how do you say “no” when someone offers you a drink? And how do you hear it if you’re the one shoving drinks into your friends’ closed hands? Here are some examples of how to own your “no”—and how to respect others when they say they’re not into it.1. A Student's Advice: Say you're the designated driver for the night and you're worried about being hassled

How to say it

“I’m in charge of the ’92 Civic tonight. Can’t risk damage to my baby…or myself and everyone else on the road.”

How to hear it

“No worries. We need those wheels to get to practice tomorrow, and I’d prefer that you be functional. Lemonade?”

An expert’s advice

“It’s important when you say no to talk about how it will help you do something else cool instead. Teens will give each other a ‘free pass’ to refrain from engaging in risky behavior if it’s to do something else they consider high status, like driving.”
—Dr. Prinstein

2. A Student's Advice: Tell them you've hit your limit and don't want to throw up
How to say it

“I’ve thrown down a few already, but thanks for the offer.”
Note: You can say this even if it’s not true. They’re probably not keeping track.

How to hear it

“Sure. Not a bad idea for me to slow it down either—my capacity may be reached.”

An expert’s advice

“A student standing their ground about being at their max takes guts because there’s always that risk the peer might poke fun at them for wanting to stop drinking. This confidence could also influence the friend pressuring them to follow in their footsteps.”
Patricia Saltzman

3. A student's advice: Say you have an early morningHow to say it

“Can’t risk it tonight; I’m trying to crush my 5k time in the AM. Where’s the water?”

How to hear it

“Nice, bro. Water’s in the cooler. Slay that race tomorrow. Want us to come cheer you on?”

 An expert’s advice

“Physical activity is a good reason to not want to engage in drinking because they could potentially harm their performance the next day. Friends may understand this and respect their wishes. They may even encourage the other to take it down a notch if they understand the importance of their friend’s plans.”
—Patricia Saltzman

4. A Student's Advice: Just simply say you don't want to drinkHow to say it

“No thanks, I’m all set for the night.”

How to hear it

“Okay.”

An expert’s advice

“The thing seen as most cool by teens is when someone makes their own decision confidently and stands by it. That kind of confidence is hard to fake—but when they can pull it off, it makes them seem popular in their peers’ eyes.”
—Dr. Prinstein

More student tips for owning your decisions

Keep it comical

“I found that incorporating a joke into the rejection lightens up the mood and saves you from feeling embarrassed.”
—Shania, senior, Milton, Massachusetts

Fake it

“Take the drink, but don’t drink it. Put it down on the table or floor, or ‘accidentally’ spill it or pour it out.”
—Niamh, senior, Boston, Massachusetts

“You can also have a non-alcoholic drink in hand already, which can discourage them from giving you ‘another’ drink or a different drink.”
—Carissa, senior, Winnetka, Illinois

Don’t sugarcoat it

“Be clear about your choice not to drink. Be polite, but firm.”
—Mehakpreet, Surrey, Canada

Kill ‘em with kindness

“As long as you have a good attitude about saying no and don’t seem disgusted, most people are okay with others not accepting a drink if you politely decline or make some good of the situation.”
—Emily, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada

Know your true friends

“The people who really matter won’t mind, and those who make a big deal about it are not people who have your best interest in mind.”
—Brianna, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada

How to stop pressuring others

Maybe you feel weird being the only one drinking, so you recruit your buddies to join in. Or perhaps you’re worried they’ll miss out on the fun. Whatever the reason, if you’re the one handing red solo cups to everyone, take a moment to check in with yourself.

Keep these tips in mind:

  • Show support by letting up on your own drinking
  • Let your friend know that not drinking won’t affect your relationship
  • Apologize if you made your friend feel uncomfortable
  • Suggest a different activity that doesn’t involve alcohol

Who’s really drinking?1116_hs_alcohol_graph

Believe it or not, most people don’t drink in high school. Sometimes it seems more common than it is because people talk it up or because we see it in the media, but research tells us that the number of teens who actually drink are a lot fewer than you think. According to a recent Student Health 101 survey, most students think that up to 75 percent of their peers are drinking, when in reality less than 25 percent of students say they drank alcohol in the past month.

You must enter your name, email, and phone number so we can contact you if you're the winner of this month's drawing.
Your data will never be shared or sold to outside parties. View our Privacy Policy.

What was the most interesting thing you read in this article?

If you could change one thing about , what would it be?

HAVE YOU SEEN AT LEAST ONE THING IN THIS ISSUE THAT...

..you will apply to everyday life?

..caused you to get involved, ask for help,
utilize campus resources, or help a friend?

Tell us More
How can we get more people to read ?
First Name:

Last Name:

E-mail:

Phone Number:

Want to increase your chance to win?

Refer up to 5 of your friends and when each visits Student Health 101, you will receive an additional entry into the weekly drawing.

Please note: Unless your friend chooses to opt-in, they will never receive another email from Student Health 101 after the initial referral email.

Friends Email 1:

Friends Email 2:

Friends Email 3:

Friends Email 4:

Friends Email 5:

What was the most interesting thing you read in this article?

If you could change one thing about , what would it be?

HAVE YOU SEEN AT LEAST ONE THING IN THIS ISSUE THAT...

..you will apply to everyday life?

..caused you to get involved, ask for help,
utilize campus resources, or help a friend?

Tell us more.
How can we get more people to read ?
First Name:

Last Name:

E-mail:

Phone Number:

Want to increase your chance to win?

Refer up to 5 of your friends and when each visits Student Health 101, you will receive an additional entry into the weekly drawing.

Please note: Unless your friend chooses to opt-in, they will never receive another email from Student Health 101 after the initial referral email.

Friends Email 1:

Friends Email 2:

Friends Email 3:

Friends Email 4:

Friends Email 5:



HAVE YOU SEEN AT LEAST ONE THING IN THIS ISSUE THAT...

..you will apply to everyday life?

..caused you to get involved, ask for help,
utilize campus resources, or help a friend?

Tell us more.
How can we get more people to read ?

First Name:

Last Name:

E-mail:

Phone Number:

Want to increase your chance to win?

Refer up to 5 of your friends and when each visits Student Health 101, you will receive an additional entry into the weekly drawing.

Please note: Unless your friend chooses to opt-in, they will never receive another email from Student Health 101 after the initial referral email.

Friends Email 1:

Friends Email 2:

Friends Email 3:

Friends Email 4:

Friends Email 5:



Article sources

Jann Gumbiner, PhD, licensed psychologist and clinical professor at the University of California, Irvine College of Medicine, Irvine, California.

Mitch Prinstein, PhD, ABPP, John Van Seters distinguished professor and director of clinical psychology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Patricia Saltzman, licensed clinical social worker and substance abuse counselor, Child Guidance Community Clinic, Manchester, Connecticut.

Geiger, B. B., & MacKerron, G. (2016). Can alcohol make you happy? A subjective wellbeing approach. Social Science & Medicine. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0277953616301344

Kinard, B., & Webster, C. (2010). The effects of advertising, social influences, and self-efficacy on adolescence tobacco use and alcohol consumption. Journal of Consumer Affairs, 44(1), 24–43. doi:10.1111/j.1745-6606.2010.01156.x

Kuntsche, E., Knibbe, R., Gmel, G., & Engels, R. (2005). Why do young people drink? A review of drinking motives. Clinical Psychological Review, 25(7), 841–861.

Mascarelli, A. L. (2012, October 17). The teenage brain. Society for Science & the Public. Retrieved from https://www.sciencenewsforstudents.org/article/teenage-brain

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). (2009). Make a difference: Talk to your child about alcohol. Retrieved from https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/MakeADiff_HTML/makediff.htm

NIAAA. (2016, January). Underage drinking. Retrieved from https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/UnderageDrinking/UnderageFact.htm

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). (2012, March 2). Peers increase teen driving risk via heightened reward activity. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/news-events/nida-notes/2012/03/peers-increase-teen-driving-risk-heightened-reward-activity

Palmeri, J. M. (2011). Peer pressure and alcohol use amongst college students. Retrieved from https://steinhardt.nyu.edu/appsych/opus/issues/2011/fall/peer

Regan, D., & Morrison, T. G. (2011). Development and validation of a scale measuring attitudes toward non-drinkers. Substance Use and Misuse, 46, 580–590. doi:10.3109/10826084.2010.518748

Sandahl, E. (2016, April 1). Do you drink? Exploring the reasons behind your choices. Student Health 101, 2(15). Retrieved from https://sh101academy.getsh101.com/do-you-drink/

Student Health 101 survey, July 2016.

Steinberg, L. (2008). A social neuroscience perspective on adolescent risk-taking. Developmental Review28(1), 78–106.

Teese, R., & Bradley, G. (2008). Predicting recklessness in emerging adults: A test of a psychosocial model. Journal of Social Psychology, 148(1), 105–126.

Terry-McElrath, Y. M., O’Malley, P. M., & Johnston, L. D. (2009). Reasons for drug use among American youth by consumption level, gender, and race/ethnicity: 1976–2005. Journal of Drug Issues, 39(3), 677–714. Retrieved from https://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/family-home-consumer/adolescent-alcohol-and-other-drug-abuse-10-216/