I am in a treatment program called Harm Reduction, for people who need to get their drinking under control. It’s been wonderful for me, my health is better, my blood pressure, weight, skin, mood, marriage, everything. I drink two drinks maximum, ever. I want this to be my lifestyle – it’s very important to me.

So: what do I do about heavy-drinking business occasions, where it would be good for my career to get sloshed with the others, and where it will make them feel like I think I am better than them if I stay mostly sober?

I really don’t think I am better. I have no judgment for anyone else, and I think for a lot of people partying hard works fine and can be  awesome. But I have been at a professional seminar where I ended up being bullied by my group, who were all super hard partiers and saw me as a threat because I was sober.

Do I secretly go smoke some pot once everyone is drunk, so I am also intoxicated? Do I pretend to drink more than I am? Do I say I have a stomach virus? Do I say honestly that my drinking was getting out of control, so now I am on a program to help me manage it?

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6 replies
  1. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    This is not an uncommon problem if you think about it in terms of values. Sticking to your values means you are excluded from some things.

    For example, investment bankers who won’t go to strip clubs lose some clients.

    Women who won’t sleep with their boss lose some easy promotions.

    Accountants who won’t do small, maybe-illegal things the CEO asks lose some jobs.

    It’s just the way the world is. Everyone has different standards for their life. You need to live by those standards and lose the business benefits that come with having different standards.

    My brother does not drink, and he has the same problem — that people who drink feel like he is acting like he’s better than they are and they get defensive.

    But this is not just about drinking. I have never owned a TV, and people get so defensive when I tell them that that I mostly just don’t. So that I don’t have to deal with their defensivenss — I just say no when they ask me if I’ve seen a certain show.

    Try not to do a lot of explaining. Just act according to your values, and don’t preach your values to people who don’t ask for your opinion. If your values don’t fit where you work, then it’s time to get a new job.


  2. chris
    chris says:

    This is a good question. I’ve been sober for a little while, and

    Penelope’s right — try not to do a lot of explaining, if only because it draws more attention. The “I’m on antibiotics” excuse usually works, as does “I’ve got an early morning.”

    I’ve rarely been bullied for not drinking. The truth is that most people are too self-involved to actually notice. But here are my my two best strategies:

    1. Create the illusion of drinking. Make your two alcoholic drinks vodka/sodas, then just drink seltzer water in the same kind of glass for the rest of the evening. Bartenders are often really helpful with this (especially with a generous tip). Cozy up to one, then ask you to make you a non-alcoholic drink that looks like a drink and to just keep serving them to you.

    2. Master the art of the irish goodbye (leaving without telling anyone). It will save a ton of drama when you leave, and if everyone’s too wasted to know when you leave, the next day won’t be as awkward.

  3. ARW
    ARW says:

    I love Penelope’s answer so much.

    I quit drinking a while back, and in a way it’s made my life a lot easier. At house parties, no “good” host keeps pushing drinks on me.

    But it also makes it a bit harder to socialize. I can’t go out for drinks with friends, I can’t have a drinks night with friends. Sometimes I wonder if I should just have a drink or two (ie compromise my values) just to have more fun with friends…

    • Melissa
      Melissa says:

      When I don’t feel like drinking, but I want to meet my friends “for drinks”, I try to arrive first and order a mocktail.

      It’s also helped me to practice punctuality.

  4. Recovering
    Recovering says:

    I’ve been sober for just over five years. It gets so much easier as time goes on but the first year was definitely the hardest on my career. Now at company of industry events where I think everyone is drinking, I order a mocktail upon arrival and if anyone notices that my drink is not alcoholic, I smile brightly and tell them I have a health issue that makes drinking problematic but if they want to promise me a ride to the emergency room in about an hour, I’d be happy to let them buy a drink. I stay just as engaged with the group as I would if I was drinking and I try to volunteer in advance to be a designated driver whenever possible.

    It will feel like more an issue in the beginning but it gets so much better with time and practice.

  5. LeAnn
    LeAnn says:

    The times I’ve chosen not drink at work conferences I have found two things that worked – be a fun sober person (I had someone say they had always thought I was fun because I was drinking, but when they realized I wasn’t drinking they realized I was just always fun) and do a lot of moving around with something in your hand. There’s not always a big group but when there is it’s easy to just keep networking and move on before someone offers to buy a round. Sadly, it should never be a problem if just going out with friends. We have a good friend who doesn’t drink and when we have get togethers and he is there my husband will stay sober also, just because they’re friends and it shows it’s not a big deal.

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