You’d think that mixing business and pleasure would be a huge no-no but you need look no further than any dinner meeting or golf outing to know that it’s par for the course. When I made the decision to stop drinking in December of 2013, my boss at the time told me I had just put a stop to my marketing career as well. I didn’t know whether to be scared that he was right, or merely appalled; I set out to prove him dead wrong. Still, the temptation to drink at work functions is there and it can be hard to overcome.
Let’s first look at why the temptation to drink is particularly high at work functions. The fact that alcohol is plentiful and typically free is huge (those of us who have decided to quit have realized that nothing in life is actually free—you’re always trading something for that “free” drink.). Secondly, work events can be anxiety-provoking. You want to make a good impression on your superiors, your coworkers, or a potential client and you may think a drink will help you relax and do just that. Lastly, drinking in this context is familiar and the people around you probably still expect you to be having a few.
Those are the “whys” of drinking at work functions, but here’s why they’re actually major “why nots.” It bears repeating because while we are strong in our resolve it’s easy to lose focus in the moment. I know I’ve had to talk myself through them a few times myself!
I talked about tradeoffs regarding the free flowing booze—what is downing a few on the company bill worth to you? Your respect? Your dignity? Your career? Sounds extreme, right? It’s actually not. What effect would a DUI have on your career? Or a sexual harassment claim? What about a simple foot-in-mouth moment in front of the boss? Those are all real possibilities when you drink since alcohol affects your ability to make good decisions. So is the free drink worth what you might be losing?
As for dialing down your anxiety, a drink will initially numb or calm you, but according to a study done by the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in the long run it actually increases or causes anxiety. So while that drink or three at Wednesday happy hour might seem like a good idea – is it worth the anxiety you’ll be experiencing until Friday? Now imagine if you drink over the weekend as well. And so goes the vicious cycle of hangxiety. As alcohol increases dopamine – which makes you feel good, it interrupts other neurotransmitters like serotonin, which influence your mood. As your body works hard to find it’s balance again you experience a vast range of feelings and moods and anxiety symptoms. Every time you drink your body must relive that cycle to find “normal” again.
We’ve covered the why’s and why not’s of drinking at work functions. Now onto how to avoid the temptation to drink.
1. Show up. Be seen. Leave early.
If you are required to be at a work function and you’re really dreading it and the temptation to drink, make your stay short and sweet. Show up early, connect with and talk with enough of the movers and shakers to be seen and leave early. Have an excuse like another obligation or early morning meeting available so you look responsible and dedicated to your work.
2. Have a drink in hand
It’s easier to turn down drinks and avoid temptation if you already have a drink in hand. Ask the bartender to make you a mocktail or a NA version of a drink served in a cocktail glass. That way you can raise a glass to toast, and credibly turn down offers of a refill from well meaning co-workers.
3. Pay attention to HALT
You’re more likely to give in to temptation if you’re Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired. Make an assessment of those triggers before you go and make sure to cover your bases. Pack a protein bar, avoid the coworker who ruffles your feathers, phone a friend and get that turbo shot in your coffee! Know what your triggers are and how to get past them before you walk through the door.
4. Think positive
Make sure you are approaching these functions with the right mindset. Don’t go in thinking of what you’re missing out on unless you can remind yourself that some of the stuff you’re “missing out on” sucks. I knew that by resisting the temptation to drink at work functions I was missing out on the inevitable hangover the next day, the lack of sleep from staying out too late and I for one did not have to stick around and hear—yet again!—about Bob from Marketing and his messy divorce.
5. Be ready to say no
Sometimes avoiding temptation means just saying no. There’s no reason to bare your soul and tell everyone your reason for not drinking if you’re not ready to. I’m not feeling well tonight. I’m driving. I can’t mix it with my medication are all ways you can say no. You aren’t required to produce a tell all about why you choose not to have alcohol.
Most importantly, if you find yourself really struggling with not drinking at work functions in the beginning, don’t attend if you don’t have to. I realized that signing up for the 7 am sessions at trade shows and scheduling the breakfast meetings with clients at work gave me an out for boozy events and I still didn’t lose any clout in the process.