What Are Refusal Skills for Drugs? - Definition & Activities

Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

Developing strong refusal skills is the best line of defense to avoid further substance abuse. Read this lesson to learn about the importance of refusal skills, as well as examples of strong refusal skills. They just might make the difference.

Developing Refusal Skills

When someone is a recovering drug addict, one of the first steps of therapy is to learn why they are drawn to substance abuse. What situations make them want to use most, and are there certain emotions that can be linked with abuse? Identifying these factors, or triggers, can help a person learn specific ways to deal with the cravings that may surface and make a plan on how to respond to each trigger.

It has been estimated that approximately 1 in 3 substance abuse relapses result from not knowing how to say 'no' to peer pressure. Like anything else, saying 'no' gets easier with practice. Refusal skills are methods and strategies for saying 'no', and can help to avoid situations a person doesn't want to be a part of, or prevent a recovering addict from relapsing. Needless to say, these are pretty powerful skills to develop.

Like everything, practice makes perfect when developing refusal skills.
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There are two types of social peer pressure, and both can be important factors in a person's commitment to recovery. Direct social pressure is when someone openly asks if you'd like to participate in an activity. Indirect social pressure is when you are surrounded by other people doing the activity, without anyone directly inviting you to join them. It's best to be prepared for either scenario.

Successful responses include practicing drug refusal training. It is almost inevitable that a recovering addict will have to face scenarios of temptation; having a plan in place before being in a pressured situation increases the likelihood of staying committed to sobriety. Practice and assertiveness are critical components of these skills.

Refusal Skill Techniques:

Be prepared beforehand:

  • Remember why you want to avoid using this particular substance. Working with a therapist can make this easier.
  • Avoid troublesome situations when possible and learn to cope when they can't be avoided.
  • Set goals to practice these refusal skills. If you will be in a situation you know is one of your triggers, role play the conversation ahead of time so you feel prepared.
  • Form at least 3 'go-to' refusals so you are never caught off guard.
  • Be proactive - leave before you find yourself presented with temptation.

In a peer pressure situation:

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