How to tell your co-workers that you don’t drink

As the writer of a recent Time article about our research writes, it’s not always easy to explain why you’re turning down a drink at work-related social functions. Time4ab

My research conducted with Dr. Lynsey Romo and colleagues and published in the Journal of Applied Communication Research, involved talking to working professionals who abstain from drinking about how they communicate with co-workers about their abstinence. Some participants reported being concerned about the negative impact of their alcohol abstinence.

So, how do you “spill the beans” to colleagues that you’re a non-drinker? How do you address it the heat of the moment at a social function where your colleagues are drinking and asking why you aren’t?

Well, our research revealed several ways that participants dealt with this.

Passing

First, avoiding the confrontation by “passing” as a drinker. As one participant reported, “I’ve held a beer bottle for hours, to the point where it’s warm.”

Being Forthright

Some participants came straight out with it about their non-drinking status, finding that it quickly settled the issue and prevented future conversations about the topic.

Using Excuses

Another option is to use vague excuses or explanations to diffuse the situation. First, choosing to emphasize abstinence from alcohol as a personal choice that applies only to you, not your judgement of others. Additionally, humor can be helpful here. One participant said she sometimes joked that she was allergic to alcohol when people questioned why she did not drink. Finally, as profiled in the Time article, health excuses are also an option:

  • “Not drinking is my secret to weight loss.” – Not drinking is the way you keep fit.
  • “It’s that pesky toe fungus again.” – Use of antibiotics prevents you from drinking.
  • “Sorry, I’ve got a marathon.” – Early mornings, training and physical prevent you from being able to drink.
  • “Ugh, migraines.” – Migraine medicine requires that you don’t drink.

Read more about our study, An Examination of How Professionals Who Abstain from Alcohol Communicatively Negotiate Their Non-drinking Identity, here.

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