Being sober won't hold you back.
Office Culture

How do you socialize with coworkers if you can’t drink?

There are a lot of reasons people don’t drink: religion — Mormons, Muslims, Baptists and Methodists all expect adherents not to imbibe  — as well as being pregnant, taking certain medications, a past history with alcohol, or just not liking the taste, calories or effect.

While skipping alcohol may be a good decision for health, mental health or spiritual reasons, teetotaling gets complicated. Alcohol is a constant presence at many corporate events, and the pressure is there to imbibe.

Worrying about promotions and social belonging

There exist many working professionals, both young and old, who do not drink.  Those familiar with alcohol abstinence know that the social pressure of going to a bar and not drinking can be annoying—and borderline rude. A variety of professionals can describe intrusive lines of questioning from colleagues—including inquiry about alcohol abuse, religious doctrine, and pregnancy.

Staying sober also means worrying about whether social opportunities are going to waste: to fit in with the office, to hear gossip or simply to be able to bond enough to be considered for promotions. Whether people skip alcohol for health, religion, personal choice or — let’s be honest — simply because they dislike their coworkers or don’t want to see them drunk — there’s a fear that conspicuously missing out on drinking means missing out on promotions too. Does ditching happy hour mean missing out on valuable team building and career development?

If I don’t go to a happy hour am I missing out on potential career development?

First lets see how common happy hour events with co-workers are.

The good news is, they look avoidable.

According to a 2014 study conducted by Statisa of happy hour patrons in the United States, only about 23% of professionals have happy hour with colleagues. The survey also cited that 55% of respondents who lived in a city (defined as 100,000 or more people) attend happy hours with friends on Fridays.

About a quarter of all professionals in the United States actually participate in Friday happy hour festivities with coworkers. In 2014 that fraction, was composed of patrons between 25 and 31 years-old, according to a study by consulting firm Technomic.

Most likely, promotions won’t depend on how well you drink, in most companies. A study by the Harvard Business Review states that the most common quality in performance was quantitative leadership, meaning the numbers you turn in — not in number of shots you can do.

What to do if you’re not drinking

For those who aren’t drinking — on principle or temporarily — there are a few things you can do to fit in socially, if you are worried about it.

1. Hold a drink that’s not alcoholic; you’ll still feel a buzz

Many suggest—and in fact do—to go to the happy hour and simply not drink. A little seltzer with lemon, or a Coke, or cranberry juice gives you something to hold in your hand without actually drinking any alcohol.

The worry for teetotalers: won’t that be awkward, if you’re stone-cold sober and everyone else is a little buzzed? Does alcohol really make a difference in social situations?

According the Centers for Disease Control, alcohol can act as both a stimulant and depressant, which is why some drinkers feel a buzz with a few ounces of alcohol while some have limited motor function and with similar doses.

However, the social buzz doesn’t necessarily come from the booze. New research has shown that it is not so much the type of alcohol consumed, but actually the context. Ambiance, mood, and mixers all contribute much more to the effects than previously believed.

“It depends on what mood you were in when you started drinking and the social context,” pharmacologist Paul Clayton has said. Additionally, humans are easily susceptible to the placebo effect. Numerous studies have show the diaphanous hold of sobriety when drinkers simply believe they are drinking alcohol.

2. Don’t talk too much about it

Those looking to remain social but avoid the investigating into their beverage can take the advice of etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore. Whitmore suggested ordering a club soda or ginger ale with a lime wedge at a bar. “There’s no need to share details about your situation.” I’m inclined to agree.

3. Be authentic and likable

Regardless of the happy hour specials, spending time with coworkers in a positive setting can lead to positive relationship building.

While alcohol does have clear physiological effects on the mind and body, it’s not necessary. You can be social, charming, and witty if you are in the mood to be, without the booze. Just be yourself, and enjoy conversation without the booze.

 

Tom Edathikunnel is a science and tech writer located in Astoria, New York. Previously an Editor at Patch, he covers the latest discoveries in evolution and astronomy, as well as emerging tech in renewable energy and climate change. When he’s not writing, he’s playing bass guitar and collecting vinyl records.