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2. EI skills: How to resist pressure & say no to alcohol

Written by Rachel Green, Director, The Emotional Intelligence Institute

Many of us drink alcohol, and drink it regularly in order to manage our emotions, so it would seem unusual to want to not drink. However, going without alcohol can be a good thing which is emotionally intelligent as there are other ways to manage your emotions and social life, and still be happy!

Typically people drink in order to celebrate and express delight, joy and excitement; to express grief and dampen down misery; or simply to ease stress and tension in order to relax. Emotional intelligence skills provide other options for managing emotions without needing so much alcohol!

There may be several times in your life when you promise to cut down alcohol or give it up, including Dry July. You may be pregnant, over-weight or drinking too much, for instance. Or it may be a New Year's resolution made for the sake of your health, financial status or driving licence.

If you do want to give it up, it won't necessarily be easy unless you learn to find other ways to manage your emotions, and to gain self-confidence in saying "No". You are likely to be put under pressure from everyone else who is drinking; without the emotional intelligence skills to combat this pressure you may find it stressful to give it up.

You will be offered drinks. You will see drinks. You will smell alcohol. Alcohol will be served at parties you attend, at restaurants you visit and during celebrations you may be involved in. That's why it's so important to gain self-confidence in saying "No" and to find other ways to manage how you feel.

Gain emotional intelligence: Four key ways to say no to alcohol.

When you can say no to alcohol without feeling awkward, embarrassed or guilty, it will give you an increased chance of keeping your promises. When you feel comfortable in saying "No" to alcohol then you will feel better about yourself and more in control. There's a lot of emotions potentially involved in saying "no" to alcohol;  that's why you need to develop your emotional intelligence skills!

Emotional intelligence skills 1: Prepare set-lines in advance. 

You know that you'll be asked if you'd like a drink, especially when you go out. Before you go decide on your answers. Have a pre-prepared line that you can trot out whenever anyone asks you.

Keep it simple. A simple "No thanks" is a good start but may not be sufficient unless you're feeling strong and confident to withstand the questions that may follow. You may need something as a follow-up line. "No thanks, I don't drink", "No-thanks, I'm not drinking tonight, I'm driving", or "No thanks, I'm allergic to it".

These lines are simple and straightforward ways of saying "No". Keeping it simple will help you stay relaxed about doing it. If you make it too complex you may start to feel awkward or embarrassed and these are emotions that may not help you.

The important point here is to decide IN ADVANCE what you will say so you don't get thrown, flustered or caught off guard.

Emotional intelligence skills 2: Use a set line to deflect persuaders. 

Have a second set line to deflect the persuaders. Be prepared for the people who ask you why you don't drink. Or those who try to convince you of the health benefits of drinking red wine, for instance. They are out there in droves. The drinkers will try to convince you that you've made a mistake.
  • You'll need to manage your emotions really well in order to deal with them. It is at this point that a second set line or repetition of the first line may help you.
  • What matters is that you don't let these people make you feel stupid, awkward or humiliated, as you are more likely to give in if you do. Also, do not let them make you feel guilty.
  • Sometimes they are simply trying to persuade you because they feel challenged by someone who does say "no" to alcohol, and they may feel embarrassed that they don't have the same courage. This does not mean that you have to give in to them, stay strong.

I gave up drinking alcohol some years ago and initially when I refused I used to be given so many lectures on the benefits of drinking, even from close friends. Then I realised I was making it hard for myself.

What I used to do was explain why I had given up. Oh no! That was not good as it opened me up to further persuasion and manipulation and I could become increasingly uncomfortable. Most of us do not like feeling uncomfortable, so without really high-level skills of emotional intelligence, we can give in.

All it did was give people more opportunity to argue with me. All I really wanted was to blend easily with people and not be noticed for not drinking. I stopped giving any reasons. 

Instead, I developed a second follow-up line that didn't encourage conversation and closed it. My line, in response to "Why don't you drink?" is "It's how I am, I suppose". It's such a non-informative line it works because there is nothing to argue with me about. How emotionally intelligent was that!

Other more complicated lines I've used occasionally include, "I've got so much energy already I'd be bouncing off the walls", "I've never needed it", and "Have you seen me when I drink alcohol, it's not a good look, I get so depressed." You could also try something silly with a laugh, such as, "It's a family thing, I'm the only one still sane."

Whether you don't drink for health, religious or other reasons don't tell people why. It can open you up to arguments and potentially leave you feeling flustered as you have to meet so many opposing questions.

Emotional intelligence skills include the ability to manage your own emotions in awkward situations and to help manage the emotions of others. These kinds of lines do both, they take the emotional heat out of the discussion.

Emotional intelligence skills 3: Suggest an alternative. 

If you're offered a drink suggest an alternative you'd like so the person still feels helpful and sociable. For example,

  • "No thanks, but I'd love a glass of soda water, thanks".
  • Or "Thanks so much, not tonight, but is there a glass of apple juice you can get me, please?" 

This keeps the other person busy and takes their mind off alcohol straightaway. Again, this helps to manage their emotions and leaves them feeling comfortable in that they know what to do. It also helps to manage your emotions as you can be comfortable knowing that you're not obstructing the social process. It's all good practical emotional intelligence!

I have gone one step further: I try to turn up with whatever I would like to drink, including herbal tea-bags! I always carry them in my handbag or pocket so I can produce them in a moment, "No, thanks. I'd love a cup of tea though, and I've got some tea-bags here" and out comes a peppermint tea-bag.

Make it easy for the other person, it will keep the fuss down and give you the most chance of leaving both yourself and the other person feeling at ease.

Emotional intelligence skills 4: Remind yourself why. 

Remind yourself why you're giving up. One thing that inspired and motivated me to give up alcohol, both of which are important emotions in producing behavioural change, was my husband drawing the molecular formula for how alcohol gets converted to fat in my body. Yuck!  I felt disgust at the very idea that when I drank it turned into fat in my body.

It motivated me almost instantly to stop drinking - as I wanted to lose weight at the time. Whenever I was tempted to drink and I could feel a longing for alcohol I remembered the formula. Having appropriate knowledge can help you manage your emotions and therefore your behaviour.

I hope you can also gain self-confidence in saying "No" to alcohol if you want to reduce your consumption or give it up totally. Think of all the money you can save.

It took me a while to manage my emotions well enough to be able to counter all offers of drink but it got easier and easier.  Simply knowing what to say made an enormous difference to my level of comfort and courage. Now I don't even think about it. Now, I simply don't drink, despite speaking frequently at conferences and functions where alcohol flows freely. My line there is easy. I say, "I don't drink when I'm working" and people leave me alone. Bliss!

What is your line going to be so you can say no? Continue to develop your emotional intelligence and your ability to manage your own emotions and you will have more choice in what you do.