Sometimes it can be hard to stop drinking alcohol. There’s enormous social pressure on us to overindulge at Christmas, even if it’s just at home with family, a pressure we might not fully appreciate until we try to say no.

I know because my partner has an inherited liver condition and can’t drink, and I’m regularly astonished at how people still try to push alcohol on him, despite the health implications. I’ve seen people become quite pushy and unpleasant when he’s made it clear that he won’t indulge.

It’s similar with a friend who is a recovering alcoholic. Despite her being very clear about why she won’t drink, people still try to convince her that ‘one won’t hurt’. Actually, yes.

What’s wrong with people? The decision to drink or not is entirely up for the individual.

In many ways, I think how people react to you saying ‘no’ to alcohol can reflect their own psychological hang-ups about drinking and the role alcohol has in their lives. They’re unwittingly holding up a mirror to themselves and their relationship with booze and this can make them feel uncomfortable.

So, if you don’t want to drink or over indulge this season — and while the party season has been much reduced, there will still be plenty of smaller get-togethers to navigate — here are my eight tips to help you avoid alcohol this Christmas.

NHS psychiatrist Dr Max Pemberton shares his top eight tips for avoiding alcohol this Christmas (file image)

Max Pemberton, a psychiatrist at the NHS shares eight top tips to avoid alcohol during Christmas. (file image).

Don’t ‘just have one’

It is important to make clear promises not to have alcohol before going. If you go to a friend’s house with just a vague notion of ‘well, maybe I’ll have one if I feel like it,’ you’re much more likely to give in and have a drink. Once you’ve had one, chances are you’ll keep going and things will spiral, leading to regret in the morning. Don’t fall into this trap.

Be clear with yourself that you don’t want to drink at all and plan beforehand how you’re going to deal with any temptations you’re going to face over the course of the day or evening. Remind yourself of why you’ve decided not to drink — previous bad experiences, health, weightloss — whatever your motivation may be.

Inform the host as soon as possible

It is a good idea to let the host know if you are able. It makes it far more likely they’ll be mindful of this when initially offering drinks and, if they’re good hosts, will intervene if people pester you to drink later on. They might also let you know of other guests who won’t be drinking, so you can find an ally when you’re there.

Fake it

If you’re at a party with a group of people you don’t know very well, stick to clear drinks with ice and a slice of lemon or lime. People will assume it’s gin or vodka and tonic and stop asking you what you’re drinking. By not drawing attention to the fact you aren’t drinking, you’ll sidestep any unwanted discussions as to why.


Even if you’ve told the host you’re not drinking, don’t assume they will have catered for you. You might find that they don’t have the time to make mixers or provide you with drinks. Always bring a non-alcoholic substitute with me, my partner.

Seedlip — available at Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and Tesco — is a delicious range of non-alcohol spirits which make lovely cocktails.

If the rest of the party is drinking wine, then Jukes Cordialities (, a range of non-alcoholic cordials created by the Mail’s own wine expert, are made using apple cider vinegar and make a clever alternative. They have a complex, adult taste and will look like you’re holding a glass of wine just like everyone else.

Don’t pay for it

If you’re going for a meal and not drinking, don’t feel obliged to pay the same as everyone else.

Dr Max (pictured) said you don't owe anyone an explanation as to why you aren't drinking, but have an excuse to hand if your reason is sensitive

Dr Max (pictured), said that you do not owe anyone any explanations as to why your aren’t drunk, but you should have an excuse in case you feel sensitive. 

If you resent paying for other people’s alcohol when you’ve abstained, then that’s perfectly fine. Make it clear early on that you’re not drinking and therefore are just paying for what you order. In order to avoid any quarrels, request to see the invoice as soon it arrives. If you go with a partner or friend, get them to speak up too and remind everyone that you didn’t drink and therefore should pay less.

Prepare a story

If you do feel comfortable talking about why you’re not drinking, then think through what you’re going to say and are happy sharing. The majority of reasonable people will only ask because they are curious and then move on. People usually take the other person’s lead, so if you don’t make a big deal of it, then usually they won’t either. Then explain your reasoning and move on to the next conversation.

Or, make an excuse

If the reason you can’t drink is sensitive, have an excuse to hand just in case. Maybe you’re the one responsible for driving the car to the airport, or have a morning workout.

Always be polite, firm and courteous

Remember you don’t owe anyone an explanation as to why you aren’t drinking. If you don’t want to share your reason, that’s fine. It’s none of their business.

True friends won’t pressure you but will be open to your decisions. You can be polite, but firm, if someone keeps trying to pressure you. And remember: You can still have a merry Christmas without being ‘merry’.

Just admit you’re in the wrong, Ben

Dr Max said many people struggle to accept they were responsible for using substances. Pictured: Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez

Dr Max explained that people often struggle to admit they used substances. Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez 

Ben Affleck has blamed his troubles on being ‘trapped’ in his marriage to ex-wife Jennifer Garner. People turn to alcohol, drugs, and other unhelpful behaviors for many reasons. Yet, why is it that we often point fingers of blame when there are so many reasons people turn to drinking. There’s a difference between understanding the reason for your behaviour, and dodging responsibility.

This was something I witnessed a lot while working in the drug and alcohol service industry. Many individuals have had troubled or traumatizing pasts. They often had difficulty accepting that they were responsible for choosing to use drugs to relieve their pain. You can’t spend your life looking back and blaming others for something you’re choosing to do now. Acknowledging the difficulties in your own life is key to emotional growth. Accepting responsibility can be scary. But it’s also incredibly liberating. It is only then that we realize we have the power to make different choices in the future.

  • An Ofsted report found that nearly all children are now behind due to Covid. The report found that pupils have suffered a decline in their language skills, physical dexterity and social interaction. This must be taken seriously. A targeted and specific plan is needed. Teachers’ unions aren’t going to like this, but surely this is a reason to do something radical — extend the school day for the next two terms, or reduce the summer holiday. This isn’t a permanent change, just a readjustment until we can redress the damage of Covid. We’ve already lost so much to this pandemic, we can’t sacrifice the younger generation’s development, too. 

Dr Max recommends…

Boxing Day walking

Dr Max recommends pulling on your wellies this Boxing Day for a walk, following research that trees are beneficial to our mental health (file image)

According to Dr Max, it is a good idea to take a stroll this Boxing Day. This comes after research showing that trees can be beneficial for our mental health.

Forest Research has published research funded by Forestry Commission, Scottish Forestry, and the Welsh Government that shows the benefits of trees for our mental well-being. For England alone, it’s estimated that woodlands save £141 million in costs associated with mental illnesses, including GP visits, drug prescriptions and days lost due to mental health issues. Get your wellies on this Boxing Day, and let’s romp in a forest.