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Susan M. Heathfield

Are People Negative About Non-Drinkers?

By December 16, 2013

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Do you drink alcohol at office parties? Here's an interesting question from a reader for this time of year with the office parties, personal and family holiday celebrations, and special events. I have supplied my response, but I am curious about what you think, too.

Reader Question: "I enjoy your columns on About.com, and just finished reading your sage advice about alcohol consumption at office parties. I don't drink at all, and want to know if what I once heard is true. Do people have negative thoughts, however unconscious, about those who never imbibe? Thank you for your guidance. While I don't intend to start drinking, I do want to know what the "conventional wisdom" is about teetotalers?"

My Response: "I have never seen any research on this, so I am just giving you my opinion. I think people are more comfortable with people who act like the crowd. If they drink at the party, everyone should drink at the party. It justifies their own choices. Never feel uncomfortable that you don't drink. Carry around a glass with the beverage of your choice at the party and never mind, not even for a minute, what your imbibing coworkers think. You'll not mess up at the party (as so many people do) and you're probably healthier for not drinking."

Please share what you think with this reader. Is there conventional wisdom about teetotalers? What do you think?

Image Copyright Dieter Spears

December 13, 2009 at 10:42 am
(1) JR says:

IME if you don’t consume alcohol at company events, you’re perceived as uptight and prudish, as not one of the team, and it does count against you. It’s even harder when they start getting drunk and doing ridiculous things that they’d be embarrassed about except they don’t remember the next day.

November 29, 2011 at 8:42 am
(2) Scott says:

I believe that is a stereotype response. Not everyone that drinks gets drunk and not everyone acts stupid. Just as those who do not drink can do and say dumb things it is more a result of the person’s personality, although it may be more exaggerated with consumption. In some cases a glass of wine or other beverage can help relax folks so they can enjoy themselves in a setting that might not be comfortable or make it more comfortable. Just my 2 cents worth…

November 29, 2011 at 9:13 am
(3) April says:

I can only speak from my personal experience, but I worked for a large automotive supplier where drinking was common at company sponsored events. As a non-drinker I was made fun of regularly at these events and often left early when the “fun” moved to the bars. It was like being in high school. The stories of embarrassing and unprofessional behavior were inevitable. Did it impact my career at that company? You bet. The ones who hung out with the management team were well liked and considered more promotable. Thankfully, I now work with a company that knows the difference between co-workers and bar room buddies.

November 29, 2011 at 9:42 am
(4) Donna says:

Only insecure people worry about what others think so be yourself. The issue is not really about not drinking with the crowd, it is more about being “one” of them. For the purpose of developing relationships in the work environment you can do other things rather than lower your standards and drinking at parties. I agree with one of the comments to just grab a cup and put water or soda in it if you are that worried about it. Most people will leave you alone and not even know if you are or aren’t drinking.Yes, I agree it can be difficult when you have high standards, although you may be working for a company that is not a fit for you.

November 29, 2011 at 10:07 am
(5) Rita says:

I drink NA beer. I have it put in a glass and I can toast with the others and feel like I am “in” with the drinkers. I can drive, no outbursts and best of all: No hangover. Rarely does anyone notice that it is NA.

November 29, 2011 at 10:30 am
(6) Cheelone says:

Since I rarely imbibe at a party, if I get pressure from anyone who doesn’t know me well, I just say I’m the designated driver.

November 29, 2011 at 11:16 pm
(7) AP Singh says:

I believe that the people who drink in corporate and other parties do have a regard for those who do not drink. However they may not choose to express it for the reason of justification of their own choice.

November 30, 2011 at 4:18 am
(8) Edmund says:

some times in groups especially at office functions, folks will be much more confortable having fun with ppl who behave in the same way as they do. Forinstance if its drinking all are expected to drink, drinking does not mean getting drunk u can simply take a sip just as u try to relate with the group. besides there are a variety of beverage drinks with less alchoholic content so for those who dont want to get drunk can chose those.

November 30, 2011 at 11:32 am
(9) Naa Atwei Victoria Wilson says:

I am a teetotaler and love it. Just as you said, a teetotaller will never mess up at a party, and usually is a person with a significant amount of self esteem. Normally, we do not follow the crowd, because we know who we are, what we want, and accept ourselves. why should you imbibe just to feel accepted?
take the advice from this column. Don’t allow the crowd influence you to do what you do not want to.

December 11, 2012 at 5:00 pm
(10) John says:

I have been a long-time member of a management team in which the drinking of alcohol at company sponsored dinners and events is perfectly acceptable. The one member of the team who does not drink has never been looked down upon because he chooses not to drink, and he is a well liked and highly regarded member of the team. The reason is that in all other respects he fits in with the other members of the team. More important to whether a person is accepted or not is how they behave with and treat their colleagues. Our non-drinker never had to travel alone, there were always plenty of us glad to have a volunteer designated driver.

December 17, 2013 at 11:02 am
(11) KIAWU says:

I strongly recommend that she stands for what is right to her, not what the crowd thinks is right for her. Cause after it all, she is the one that will be feeling the impact when she is uncomfortable with stuff at the party. My Company will be having a year end party very soon. The will be a lot of liquors and wines served at the party. It is up to me to drink or not. So, do what is right for you, not the crowd.

December 17, 2013 at 1:50 pm
(12) Dick says:

The question of judgement from others around whether you have a drink at a function reflects not just on the specifics around imbibing or not but also points to the culture of the group and the acceptance of diversity and tolerance of opposing values.
In my experience it is good to have a non drinker in the group as then you do have someone looking out for those who have partaken more than they should and there is always a sober driver

December 17, 2013 at 7:22 pm
(13) Joan says:

As a member of Senior Management with a heavy drinking organization, I didn’t drink because of interaction with meds I took. When I did go out for drinks, I would order a soda and be sociable but one of the VP’s would always be on me to have a drink. I don’t think I should need to explain why I choose not to drink, just as I didn’t ask why they did drink.
Several employees did have alcohol problems but using an EAP was voted down, and denial was high.
Some people drink, some don’t. No one should feel obligated to be “one of the group”. We should feel comfortable around those who make different choices.

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