do I have to drink to fit in at work?

A reader writes:

I’m an intern doing a semester at a company with a prominent drinking culture among employees. Most of my coworkers go out to the local bar multiple times a week on work nights, and some have even come to work very hungover two or three times in a week. I once overheard two of my coworkers bragging to one another over lunch about working hungover that morning. I’m sure our boss is aware of this because a couple of coworkers were visibly hungover in a meeting with him, and also because he recently bought everyone a round of shots on a work night. I’ve heard that at these bar nights, there’s a lot of social pressure on interns to drink more.

I like to go to bed early, and I go out of town to visit friends when I have a day off. I haven’t been to any of these bar nights because frankly, I think I’d be miserable. However, I’m worried that not participating will affect how I’m perceived. I’m anxious that skipping out on bar nights — especially when our boss goes — will make me look like I’m not a team player, not invested in my job, or aloof and uptight.

I want my boss to be a good reference when I’m looking for jobs after undergrad, and I’d like to be invited back to this program next summer. Do I need to go to the bar more often? Is this a normal work environment? How do I navigate this?

I’m launching a new column with Vice called “Amateur Hour,” where I’ll answer questions from people new to the work world. Head over there to read my answer to this question.

{ 171 comments… read them below }

    1. A Poster Has No Name*

      This, absolutely.

      I loves me a good work happy hour, but this is extreme and not a healthy place to work, from any perspective.

      1. Clisby*

        Yeah, back when I was still working on-site, I really liked going out for drinks with co-workers. But several times a week on work nights? Don’t these people have lives outside of work and the bar?

    2. Do I need a hard hat for this?*

      This is all just sounds expensive and uncomfortable. Working when you’re hungover is the worst.

    3. BasicWitch*

      Eh, I would go to at least one. Who knows, you might make friends with another person who only goes to keep up appearances! And like Alison says, you don’t have to drink or stay late. If it turns out to really suck, you never have to go again and can just keep doing your thing until the internship ends. But people who say “I’ve never been because I assume I won’t enjoy it”, remind me of little kids who say they HATE a particular food item but have never actually tried it. Maybe it really *is* yucky, but there’s only one way to find out!

  1. PhyllisB*

    This intern didn’t mention her age, but if she’s under 21 then she doesn’t have to make excuses, just mention that she’s underage.

    1. chocolate lover*

      I had the same thought. Whenever some of my employer partners mention events that my college students can participate in at the company, and happy hours comes up, I remind them that some of the students aren’t legal age yet.

      I love the idea of this column. I am so making my students read it.

      1. Yvette*

        You aren’t by any chance the LW for earlier today’s “what do you wish new grads learned in college?” by any chance? :) (If asking that violates anything my apologies.)

    2. Less Bread More Taxes*

      She may be in a country where the legal age is 18.

      I worked in such a country, and we had interns around 19/20 as well. The drinking culture was insane, and from what I’ve heard, it was the same at competitor companies in that country. So much so that interns were given their own night out budgets – the bosses would hand someone a company card, tell them a table has been booked at X bar, and to spend at least €250 – on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights. This was in addition to the team nights out, which happened every couple of weeks or so. In these companies, if you didn’t drink, or even if you didn’t drink “enough” (I limit myself to two drinks with coworkers), you were labelled as the uptight weirdo and it definitely affected your work.

      I’m just adding this to explain that these toxic work cultures aren’t super uncommon in certain countries where alcohol is a bigger part of the culture in general.

        1. PollyQ*

          General rule on AAM is to assume that all parties are female unless otherwise specified, so you’re fine!

      1. corporate engineering layoff woo*

        Wow, that’d be a solid amount of food (as someone who buys alcohol like 3 times a year, at grocery stores) to budget going out. Probably wouldn’t fit in there, tho.

  2. sfigato*

    Definitely do social stuff, at least for an hour. Don’t feel pressured to drink, but don’t make a big deal about not drinking (unless your colleagues are jerks and won’t let it be). Just have your soda and lime or whatever and don’t make a huge thing of it. And getting wasted with work colleagues is, in general, a bad idea. Being hungover at work is the worst, and is not professional. good luck!

    1. Sally Forth*

      I agree. Order a non-alcoholic drink at the bar before proceeding to where everyone is sitting and enjoy yourself.

      1. Antilles*

        +1
        One of the best things you can do as a non-drinker when everyone else is drinking is to always always have a glass in your hand. Even if that glass is just a soda or seltzer water or whatever.
        If you’re standing around empty-handed, many people will automatically go “hey you need a drink?” or “oh, I’m going to refill myself, let’s go grab you one” or “oh, let me show you where the bar is” or etc. Not to be pushy, but out of pure politeness/good host instincts.

        1. Kendra*

          This is pretty much why the Shirley Temple/Roy Rogers and other mocktails were invented: to make it look like you’re drinking booze when you’re not.

        2. Bee*

          Honestly, I need a drink in my hand at these things for something to do! Awkward pause in conversation? Take a sip. A bit nervous? Give it a stir. Need to get out of a conversation? Head for a refill. Even when I’m not drinking alcohol, not having ANYTHING would be unbearable.

        3. Scarlet2*

          Exactly. People won’t generally look into your glass unless they’re amazingly nosy, so as long as you have a glass in your hand, you should be fine. Just order a “virgin” pina colada/bloody mary/whatever.

    2. Bubbleon*

      +1, go once a week, order a coke with a lime and no one will look twice. Jump up for a bathroom break when shots get counted out, or just shiver at whatever the shot of choice is and go “ooh bad memories no thanks!”

      At the very least you’ll get to justifiably roll your eyes at the stupidity for a little while.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        My go to for shots is “lol nope” and pouring it in someone else’s glass. But know the person before you do this. Know them. I know which bros have a hallow leg and won’t flinch if I sneak mine to them.

      2. Witchy Human*

        You’ve hit on something with your last suggestion: if you do choose to go to happy hours it’s totally possible to seem like you’re with your coworkers in spirit, even if you’re not ever going to drink.

        “Haha, I learned my lesson about drinking with coworkers a while back, and I learned it hard! So it’s soda for me and my dignity from now on. I do love bar food though.”

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Yes. This helps if you have drinking stories to go along with it. It doesn’t work when you have never drank though or if you have an actual moral objection to the drink!

          My go to story is “One time I drank the jungle juice and I woke up in a pile of glass, miraculously I had no cuts. I only get one miracle a lifetime so I used it up. So no thanks to shots.”

          If you’re up to just lie about it, feel free to steal this story. Most bro’s will just salute you and pass the mozz sticks.

          1. Quill*

            “Last time I drank vodka people got locked in a pasture with a bull”

            Technically, the two events were 100% unrelated except for the timing: I hated the vodka enough that I opted out of further drinking, the people who went on to drink elsewhere tried to take a shortcut across a nice grassy pasture where an entire bull was asleep.

            I woke up in the morning to the most epic story about how it is entirely possible to pee your pants and hop a fence at the same time, and was the only person even moderately functional for fieldwork the next morning.

            1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

              LMAO, I’m crying right now. My hillbilly ass has only a very short and unsatisfying “cow tipping” story to fall back on. I wonder if my uncles have any bulls…

              I can see this being challenged only by “But there are no bulls in this city…”

              But you never know when you’re going to run into a bull, I say.

              Example. My dad won’t drink MD2020 with me because “he tipped a canoe” once. “Dad, there is no canoe.” “There is no canoe. At this very moment. But you don’t know if there will be one after a bottle of MadDog.”

              1. Quill*

                See, I already knew not to pet foreign cows, because my first trip abroad included a very good lecture on “I know we all go to school in wisconsin but for the love of god these are not petting zoo guernseys, you CANNOT approach a cow and her calf.”

                I think it might be easier to run into a canoe or watercraft most places than a bull, though…

              2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

                I grew up next to a cow ranch, so I don’t know whatchu talking about over there about not finding random bulls LOL ;)

              1. Jerusha*

                I had that reaction at first as well, but I wonder now if it’s a slightly different usage – I have heard “entire” used as a synonym for “intact” to refer to animals that haven’t been castrated. So this may be intended to specify that the denizen of the pasture was an uncastrated bull (with all the territoriality that implies), not a (castrated) steer.

      3. BottleBlonde*

        I use the “bad memories” line for shots all the time. The truth is that I just don’t like shots. The only time I tried one in college it triggered a panic attack and I never cared enough to try to get used to them. A handful of people must have heard me use this line for multiple types of liquor and must think I was a major binge drinker back in the day, oh well.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          I wouldn’t worry too much about that since these are grown ass people who are taking shots, LMAO.

          I will give anyone who needs stories stories. One time, I had beers thrown at me from on top of fraternity house. Ice House to be exact. So you know what happens when someone offers me a beer [ew, no thanks]…

          “You don’t like beer?”

          “Have you ever had to dodge tall boys of Ice House?”

          “This is a craft beer!”

          “So it’s even heavier than a domestic? Why don’t you just load it up in a bazooka and aim it right here? Nah, I’m good but thank you!”

          1. BottleBlonde*

            Oh yes, I don’t worry about it, I just think it’s funny because it’s so far from the truth :) Oh dear, your story makes me glad I lived across campus from the frat houses on my college campus!

            1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

              I didn’t even go there. And people were like “Y u hefta be mad about living in a college town.”

              #TownieLife LOL

      4. Facepalm*

        Yes, a lot of people will assume the coke is a mixer and you’re drinking something like a jack and coke

        1. Artemesia*

          I always go for plain tonic with lime on the second round as one drink is my limit — but if you aren’t drinking at all, then going by the bar and asking the barman to give you the soda with a twist or tonic with a twist means you don’t have to negotiate it in front of -co-workers — and you can be ‘one’s my limit’ after that. Shots? Cheap drunk that I am, one or two of those and I’d be asleep under the table.

    3. Third or Nothing!*

      My pregnancy mocktail of choice: seltzer, agave, and lime juice. It tastes like a limeade and it is absolutely delicious. Add some grenadine for a cherry limeade. Bonus: looks like a fancy margarita.

      1. Smithy*

        I do have to say that of you are in a situation where it is a heavy happy hour culture – being enthusiastic about apps is a great way to joyfully participate.

    4. Yellow*

      Agree! If you’re invited, go occasionally and don’t feel the need to be one of the last ones there (aka leave whenever you want).

      I work in a drinking culture (aka Adult beverages), and there are several people here who don’t drink. At all. And it’s fine. They still come down to the bar from time to time with the rest of us and it’s no big deal.

      1. UKDancer*

        Agreed. I don’t drink very much (and not during the week). I don’t work somewhere with a strong drinking culture but when I’m invited to drinks I go along, I have a lime and lemonade. I go to dance classes most evenings and I usually say something like “I don’t drink and dance” which everyone accepts. I stay for an hour and then go on to my class.

        In my experience nobody minds what you’re drinking or how long you stay. Go a few times, have a soft drink and then move on.

        If the company has a lot of mandatory feeling drinks then you may want to think whether it’s a good fit.

    5. PlainJane*

      “Don’t make a big deal about not drinking,” has been my go-to my entire adult life. Just order your soda or whatever and drink it like that’s the most normal behavior in the world. If people ask, I’ll tell them why I don’t drink (child of an alcoholic), because that usually shuts down any further pushing, but most of the time just acting normal about it gets good results.

    6. Glitsy Gus*

      +100.
      A lot of unofficial networking and information swapping happens at these things, so you don’t want to swear them off completely. Swing by for an hour, don’t be afraid to just say that right at the get go. “I’m meeting someone later, so I can only stay an hour, but I wanted to at least pop in!” No one needs to know the person you’re meeting is the main character of your favorite show. Then stick to it, it’s also a goo out for shots or whatever, “Oh, man, not this time, I have to make it to another event (my jammie time at home) and shots go straight to my head!”

      I personally like soda water with a bit of cranberry juice as my mocktail, but yeah, there are a ton of non-alcoholic options.

  3. PhyllisB*

    Hit send too quickly. This is valid for straight up bars because you aren’t supposed to enter if you’re under 21. If it’s restaurants that serve alcohol, that might be a different issue. Just do what Alison advises.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I sometimes forget “bars” exist so often. So this is something to keep in mind for sure if that’s the establishments they’re going into.

      Around here that wouldn’t be an easy out, it’s easy to find somewhere with a full bar and accepts all ages until at least 10pm. Just about everywhere you’d normally end up only cards you at the bar itself, no door guards like the traditional setup. But that’s a brewery culture for you, infants and dogs spread out everywhere.

      So it depends on the places for sure!

      I really like the mocktail options, most people don’t care if you have a drink in your hand. Just drink those sparkling cranberry drinks all night long. They’re cheaper too. Oops.

      1. curly sue*

        I was in grad school during my second pregnancy and cranberry juice in a fancy glass got me through a lot of after-seminar bar hops until I was ready to announce. Orange juice with a garnish can sub in for amaretto with a mixer, as well.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Also a lot of bartenders are really cool and if you ask them to make you something non-alcoholic they can get creative if you’re into that! That will depend on the space you’re in of course…someone had to google a tequila sunrise awhile back, I don’t even know what my life has turned into. So you could also do an OJ with some grenadine in it for a virgin sunrise. You know, if you’re collectively 97 and drink tequila sunrises like me and my mother.

      2. Third or Nothing!*

        There’s a brewery a half mile from our house. We spend sooooooooooooooo many afternoons there with our toddler and dog when the weather is too bad to go to the park. They’ve got toys and games and books for the kids and water bowls for the dogs. Man I love that place.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          This is every brewery in the PNW basically. A friend moved away recently and her poor pup who was brewery trained from a tiny is getting used to not being able to go everywhere :(

          There are dog water bowls everywhere. Not really a lot of toys though…they also don’t have food except for food trucks that rotate so I feel bad for the kids usually. Some tend to look like they’re bored AF but others just nap or play with the dogs LOL.

          1. Third or Nothing!*

            My daughter loves it. She gets to run around and play with the other kids and basically be a toddler. It’s so nice that I can bring her there and not force her to be still and quiet and as unnoticeable as possible. Not too common in public spaces not dedicated to children any more.

    2. Antilles*

      This is a good idea if it works, but I’d note this would only work at most *once*, because most people would likely either switch to a new bar immediately or at least decide a new place for the next time.

  4. Nicki Name*

    I’m flashing back to the time at an ex-job when I heard my boss and a coworker discussing an upcoming bar crawl (not a work event, just something happening in town). By the time they were comparing tips on the logistics of finding a good place and time to vomit, I was thinking to myself, “How have you convinced yourselves that this is fun???”

    Truly, I am blessed as a non-drinker to have had coworkers like them…

    1. Sally Forth*

      I was once on a company golf trip where the party-hearty types were all in bed passed out by 8 after a day of heavy drinking in the sun. The rest of us had fun playing cards and chatting while nursing a couple of drinks each.

  5. CTT*

    I agree with Alison on all counts of this! The culture of this place seems problematic and you should definitely try to get more info from your supervisor. But in places without the multiple-times-a-week happy hours, it’s good to make an appearance, especially as an intern. My law firm does a happy hour once a week when we have summer associates; the drinking isn’t the point, it’s a chance to get to meet the interns if you don’t have the opportunity to give them work.

    1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

      I refute this utterly – I work in finance and we’re a pretty sensible lot! The Sales department on the other hand…

      1. Roy G. Biv*

        I work in sales. Can attest – drinking seems to be a competitive sport for some, until they go keto and cut out the carbs.

        OP – as a non-drinker I have developed a “getting face time at cocktail hour” method. Arrive earlyish, get your drink of choice, work the room. Make sure anyone who you want to see you there sees you while they are still sober enough to remember. This includes your boss, grandboss, directors of other departments. Retire to a quiet spot and bide your time. Work the room a little more, or at least be seen walking about; perhaps checking out the view or artwork. Chit chat (I detest cocktail hour chit chat, by the way) with coworkers, including those you have not met or worked with very much. Take a last tour of the room, and quietly, ever so quietly ghost. No waving at people or calling out goodbyes. Just go.

        This results in two things – One: The optics – you were seen at a team event. You chatted pleasantly with many people. You didn’t get drunk, and are not dragging your hungover self through the next day. and Two: You can network with people who may be important to your future career.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          This was essentially my strategy at company holiday parties, back when I had the misfortune to work at companies that inflicted such things upon me. The biding time in the corner is better nowadays. Sit in a corner with an electronic device and people will assume you are checking social media or sports scores. No one has to know if you are a weirdo reading a book on a Kindle.

      2. El*

        I worked for a trading firm for a few years and good god, I’ve never seen such raging alcoholics (even the OP’s bit about the boss buying rounds of shots rang true). I enjoy drinking, but watching coworkers get wasted on the regular (and feeling forced to stay out at bars until the wee hours of the morning when I had to be in at 7am) was truly awful. An experience I would not wish to repeat under any circumstances.

        Then again, most of them had problems with coke, too. Yikes.

      3. CMart*

        Well, there’s finance (F&A) and then there’s fuh-nonce.

        I’m an accountant who has done financial analyst roles in the finance department of a F500. The finance people here bear little resemblance to the bros who interned at Goldman Sachs and say “finance” like they have a mouth full of marbles.

      1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

        Yeah I worked at a tech startup for a few months, and this is what went on. Lots of CEO throwing his corporate card down on the bar and people partying it up.

        A lot of the software engineers were bigger guys who could hold a decent amount of alcohol before getting drunk, but you could sense the annoyance radiating off just about everyone at the command performance of “being cool.” Lots of 1-2 beers and excuses and cutting out after an hour or so.

        The ones that turned deadly were the happy hour meetings, where you could drink to forget how awful and boring this meeting is. Far more dangerous than a party.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Yeah…my partner has friends in tech and has gone to some of their events as a plus one [dorks]. It’s one of those “I’ll be taking a ride share, I’ll be fiiiiiiiiiiiiine.” setups.

          I get random texts about the obscenely expensive liquor that is available and I’m like “Drink it up because we will never have this any other time!”

      2. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

        Yup. During my last job search I interviewed at a company that had several kegs at the CEO’s office. The most “creative” one was a job listing that in small print said “there’s a bar nearby. Don’t go – it’s a trap”

    2. Sherm*

      Or if you’re at a place that “works hard and plays hard.”

      At a former job, a coworker said “I *do* have a problem with people who don’t drink. If they are in recovery or can’t drink because of a medical issue, then I understand. Otherwise, I am not okay with it.” So, yeah, those people exist and hopefully don’t form a critical mass where you work.

      1. Anon for this*

        Wow. So that former coworker was stuck in middle school peer pressure mode? “But you haaaaaave to do the same thing I’m doing, or you must haaaaate me.”

        1. Sherm*

          I think we were all a bit too afraid to ask. He definitely liked to drink, so I’m guessing he had the mindset of “Yay alcohol! If you don’t like it, what’s with your attitude?”

          1. tangerineRose*

            To me, alcohol tastes terrible. I wouldn’t ask someone who hates cilantro to have some anyway; why would anyone think it’s OK to push me into drinking something I don’t like?

      2. Alienor*

        That’s really interesting in an awful way. What exactly was their problem? If you didn’t drink, they thought you were an a-hole/there was something morally wrong with you/just plain didn’t like you? What did they think having a problem with it was going to accomplish?

        I’m just imagining someone saying to me at a work event, “I have a problem with you because you don’t drink,” and me saying “Wow, it sucks to have a problem you can’t do anything about, doesn’t it” before pointedly taking a sip of my Diet Coke. (Ftr, I do occasionally drink at home, but never at a work event or any time when I have to drive.)

      3. JohannaCabal*

        What about individuals who do not drink due to religious restrictions? Although, it sounds like this former coworker would have been biased against such individuals….

      4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        What a ridiculously unprofessional thing to say. Who was that guy that everyone around him was too afraid to ask? Really hope I have enough seniority and clout at this point to tell it to anyone who’d try to send this message to any of my teammates, present or future, that this is not cool.

        PS. A childhood friend’s hereditary drinking problem got rapidly worse during his 30s, because he thought he couldn’t say no to coworkers’ invitations to drink…

      5. Not So NewReader*

        Silently, in my own mind, “And their lives will continue on regardless of your opinion. Imagine that.”

    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Corporate IT here (plus a couple of startups in the late 90s). Not normal for any place I’ve worked or had friends/family work. Admittedly the drinking culture was more wild in the 90s-00s than it is now, but never to the point of going out and getting drunk several times a week and habitually coming into work hungover.

      In my entire US career, I only heard of one person who had a habit of coming in hungover almost every morning and that was, would I say, noticed. I’d met him through non-work-related channels and then met someone at my workplace who’d previously worked with him. This person had gone off the deep end after a tragic and sudden loss in the family. Drank himself into oblivion every evening until he got a DUI, then he apparently slowed down a bit. One thing I clearly remember is my coworker/his former coworker telling me “and Bob would come into work hungover!”, his tone of voice indicating that what Bob did was very much not normal. Bob was a software architect at a small company.

    4. Death By Procedure*

      Yup this, I have an extensive drink vocabulary from my time in various finance places. Presenting the next morning at 7am is also key as well as not being the person who went to the hospital and required a banana bag. I became an expert at making drinks disappear though I do feel very sorry for the indoor plants at our regular bars.

  6. Neon*

    Any time you join a group with a well-established existing culture built around a specific activity declining to participate in that activity will likely impact your relationships with that group, how you are perceived by them, and possibly the opportunities that they extend to you.

    You can argue that perhaps the world *shouldn’t* be this way, but it’s also valuable to acknowledge that the world very often *is* this way and we all make decisions within that reality.

    Humans are small-group social primates running millennia-old firmware that reflects this; we probably won’t stop favoring those who we have things in common with soon enough to help the letter writer with their question.

    It’s up to the letter writer to decide whether skipping an event they don’t enjoy is worth the potential implications as far as professional connections and references. Internships are pretty low-stakes, if that’s the case here I’d be inclined to skip the bar nights and just do good work. If that’s not enough to get a solid reference from the boss then the boss is a jackass and LW can do better.

  7. Whatever*

    Saw this yesterday and thought, “what a strange new outlet.” Also saw the topic and thought, “what a strange outlet for this particular topic.”

    At Vice, the overwhelming answer is YES.

  8. Mimi*

    As another non-drinker, yes, this can be tough. In a good work culture, you won’t feel pressure to attend, but even then you may be missing out on valuable time to connect with you colleagues.

    I recommend making an active effort to find other times to have these connections — do people go out for coffee together, go running over lunch, or chitchat at the water cooler first thing in the morning? Obviously you don’t want socializing to eat into your work too much, and you shouldn’t shove your way into somebody’s lunchtime if you aren’t really welcome, but if there’s casual hanging-out time that doesn’t happen in bars that you feel you would be welcome at, spending five or ten minutes away from work now and then can be a solid investment of time.

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      100% this. And if you happen to work with a bunch of people who only care about happy hour and getting wasted, then accept the fact that it’s not a good culture fit and move on once the internship is over. I would hope that if you do a good job, your boss would provide you with a great reference regardless of how many times you went to happy hour.

  9. Delta Delta*

    A favorite of mine has been to get a soda or similar. If someone asks why I’m not drinking, and if “eh, just don’t feel like it” doesn’t work, here’s my stock list of answers (sometimes true):
    – I’m off alcohol this week on a mini cleanse
    – I’m going to the gym after
    – I’m driving
    – I’m on antibiotics
    – I’m underage (I’m in my 40s and I still say this and it brings blank stares and internally I find it hilarious)

    If people are pressing too much, that’s a problem. If the whole office presses too much, just finish the internship and be done with them.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      I have told people “I’m not 21”. Which is technically true: I haven’t been 21 in decades.

    2. Alienor*

      I’ve tried “I’m driving” before, and the rejoinder to that has always been “So am I! You can have one or two and still be fine to drive!” Nope, I can’t, and they probably can’t either, or not as much as they think.

    3. Senor Montoya*

      “Oh, I’m such a lightweight, can’t do it!”
      or,
      “Haha, I learned my first year in college that I just can’t!”

      Say it cheerfully, sip your tonic and lime.

  10. KitKat*

    I don’t drink now, but even when I did I NEVER went to these things. I just said I have personal matters to take care of at home and cannot go out.

  11. Important Moi*

    I would focus on having “scripts” of what to say to various people who try to insist you drink. The philosophy of whether or not you should drink or should it be awkward if you don’t want to is not my focus.

    “No thank you” works on reasonable people.

    I’ve known people who admit if you don’t drink to get drunk (like they do), they don’t trust you. For me, I’ve said “My not drinking/drinking less than you has nothing to do with you.” Said with a smile, of course.

    1. PlainJane*

      Tone and general demeanor help too. Whatever you say, say it casually, like it’s a totally normal thing (because it is). If you sound hesitant or defensive, they’ll start badgering.

  12. Rockin Takin*

    Oh boy. This sounds like Madmen. And that show is a classic description of a toxic/dysfunctional work environment.

    I agree that asking the boss might be helpful to understand if this is seen as a requirement of the job.

    1. Zona the Great*

      Is that a corporate policy in your world? I was 30 as an intern and I drank during networking events.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Is this because they’re not invited…since they’re interns? I can see this happening in some setups. Along with not inviting contractors kind of thing.

    3. Tara R.*

      This wasn’t at all true in my experience, although drinking age is 19 in my area, so that might be why.

  13. animaniactoo*

    #1) Congrats on the new outlet, Alison!

    #2) Not much to add to this answer. The one thing I would like to see imparted is that if you do go to happy hour and do not drink yourself, be very very VERY careful not to show any judgment about others drinking (as much as they do). People who are also drinking can tease or be concerned about someone being more-drunk-than-usual or more-drunk-than-is-work-safe. Somebody who is sober is going to be looked at very differently if they try to walk that line. At the very least, not until they’ve known you for a good long while and can get the sense that there’s no particular weird judgement or animus behind it. And that good long while is going to be longer than you’re going to be there as a summer intern, so just stay away from that. This is not to say that you can’t be cheerful and joking around – just not about the fact that they ARE drinking or how MUCH they’re drinking (or did drink, when talking to them the next day).

    1. hbc*

      Yeah, I think attitude is everything. Go occasionally, drink lightly or not at all, and good naturedly self-label as all the silly names or caricatures that go with people who abstain and have early bed times. Making light fun of *yourself* for not fitting in with their standard is the easiest way to get them to accept it and move on. Any implied judgment the other direction will not go well, even if the lushes have earned it.

  14. Lissa*

    Years ago I had a job located downtown and I lived way out in the burbs. If there was a departmental happy hour (once or twice a year) or a going away party for someone I liked, I would go. Or if 2 or 3 of my work buddies said let’s get a drink, I’d go. And drink Diet Coke almost always because I don’t like beer and I hate the price of cocktails even though I love them. But mostly I liked to go home and be home by myself.
    One time a colleague mentioned to me that “tomorrow night some of us are going out for my birthday if you care to join. Really nice guy so I went. Our departmental VP was there. He was relatively new to the position and I had known him for several years in a much more junior position. He got a little tipsy. Agreed with another person on how bad a junior staff member (not present) was at his job. Essentially gave me a performance review. I was not pleased. A few weeks later, at my supervisor’s quarterly review, he told her that he was concerned that her team (me and 2 others) didn’t socialize enough and that it reflected on her management. A few months after that I got laid off (it was like a 10% reduction in force). At my HR exit interview I did say that I was concerned that my performance had been evaluated based on my willingness to drink with the SVP. He was reprimanded.
    I was lucky. I left that job on a Friday and started my new job on Monday (I basically had 8 weeks’ notice because my supervisor was so pissed that he waited until she was on an overseas business trip that a) she got HR to give me more than the 30 days’ notice everyone else got and b) she quit (there were other reasons, but the decision to lay me off over other people in our department made a lot of people mad). The 2nd day I was at new job, I was invited for drinks with some coworkers and I went and I had sangria!!! (cuz I’m petty like that).

    1. KayDeeAye (Kathleen_A)*

      Pale, sure, and often a bit sweaty and nearly always a bit bleary-eyed. Also they tend to hold their heads and moan a lot (so I guess it’s “audibly” hungover, too).

      These symptoms can of course indicate something else, but if you drink heavily one night and have all those symptoms the next day, people can be forgiven for thinking you’re hung over.

      In my 40s I suddenly started having “hangovers” – really, really bad ones – sometimes even when I hadn’t had that much to drink. Those hangovers turned out to be migraines – because it seems that alcohol (particularly red wine, which I used to love) is for me a frequent migraine trigger. So while I do drink a bit these days, it’s never more than “a bit” any more. It’s just not worth it.

      1. Quill*

        If they’re so hungover they’re still drunk, sometimes people will be wandering around with untreated, dislocated knuckles. Like the party bro I got one semester for a lab partner in micro. Fortunately a micro lab tends to have a bunch of ice, so I made him stick his whole hand in the ice bucket and take dictation.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Wine has so much going on in there, they don’t know exactly what does it [some will point out the sulfites or whatever else but there’s no research on it to confirm], it’s a really common migraine trigger.

        1. animaniactoo*

          Anecdata, but I can confirm tyramines, which red wine is generally higher in than white, and tends to affect silent migraine sufferers more than regular migraine sufferers. The more tyramines I can avoid, the better my life is. Obviously, there are only so many things I can give up having and still enjoy living, but in general – cutting out the highest tyramine content foods has been necessary.

    2. Mid*

      Visibly sick looking, red eye, dark circles, leaving frequently to vomit, sweaty, smells like alcohol, same clothes as yesterday, sunglasses indoors, headphones on but no music…

      There are lots of ways to look visibly hungover and none are good.

    3. Jean*

      Flop sweat on a greenish face is a dead giveaway. Aside from that, I can usually smell a hungover person before I could spot it visually.

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I liken it to the look of people with motion sickness/sea sickness.

      Sometimes still reeking of the night before.

  15. ANON for This*

    I’m always struck by how cultures that include alcohol as a big part of socialization (off the clock or not). My SO works for a brewery, so there are plenty of opportunities of the clock (tap takeovers, brewfests, beer releases, etc) for employees to get drunk and embarass themselves. I’ll consent to the occasional cocktail with my colleagues but the idea of getting drunk in front of them is appalling (I also am not a big drinker). There are also a lot of young, fresh graduates who start working at this brewery since it’s in a college town with a brewing program (I’m giving a lot away here). I always feel bad for these new professionals who are still learning that even if they’re attending an industry event off the clock- if they’re still representing the business. I prefer to keep alcohol out of the work equation as much as possible and I’m grateful my work culture allows for it.

  16. PNW Jenn*

    I’ve worked in a place with a strong emphasis on drinking. It took me months to realize that the 3:00 appearance of red SOLO cups was more than a mid-afternoon caffeine infusion. At the holiday lunch, one staff member drank 5 screwdrivers and then drove home. I avoided social interactions, which included a private suite at a major sports arena, because I didn’t want to see my co-workers that drunk. It ultimately did cost me my job, which was fine by me.

    As for internships, the wonderful thing about them is that they’re temporary. Think of it as the short-term experience that it is. It is as much a way to show you what you do want in a workplace as what you don’t.

  17. EPLawyer*

    An excuse that is good every 8 weeks “I just gave blood.” I had to go a charity fundraiser one night and I happened to give blood that day. So no alcohol for me (I only have one drink anyway and nurse it all night). I told the bartender I was only having orange juice and why. Drank free allllllllll night. All the oj I could want.

  18. RandomPoster*

    My only advice would be to use a broad and generic statement rather than something specific if you don’t drink/are never going to drink. Rather than constantly coming up with a new excuse a simple “I don’t really drink” or “it’s just not my thing, I’m fine with soda” can be easier to manage and could eventually stop the questions.

  19. BottleBlonde*

    Very much agree with Alison’s advice. In my experience, the less of a big deal you make not drinking, the less others will notice or care. That being said, I’ve never worked in as alcohol-focused of an environment as the letter describes.

    My only comment is that I might refrain from using the excuse “I’m driving” if most of the others at the happy hour are also driving home after. It could easily come across like you’re judging others for not being safe, especially since the implication is that you wouldn’t be able to drive safely home after even a single drink spaced out over an hour. (Not commenting on whether that would or wouldn’t be safe, or whether or not the safety depends on the drinker. Just that it could come across as judgmental when there are other excuses you could use that do not.)

    1. soon 2be former fed*

      The “I’m driving” excuse is excellent, you might save a life, yours or some one elses, if you inadvertentlyremind others that they are also driving. Drunk driving is a serious thing, fluck how drinkers may react.

      1. tangerineRose*

        I agree with soon 2be former fed – it’s OK to remind people that they shouldn’t drive drunk.

        Sometimes I wish that bars, etc. had breathalizers so that people who thought they were OK to drive could double-check.

    2. Database Developer Dude*

      Don’t ever refrain from offering “I’m driving” as an excuse for not drinking. It’s a perfect excuse, and anyone who would be offended isn’t worth your time.

  20. Former Retail Lifer*

    I love a good happy hour, but I work with people who are close to 20 years younger than me (who don’t find being hungover the next day to be unprofessional) and who love stereotypical sports bars. Neither are my thing and I’ve declined numerous invites out with them because of it. There’s some really good advice for the OP in here that I may take to heart for myself.

  21. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    Agreed with Alison on this, although if you do go and someone asks why you’re not drinking, I’d just go with “I don’t want one” or “I’m not a big drinker.” I’m big on being honest and not making excuses, because for those who are boundary challenged it just invites more questions.

    Since you’ve never gone to one of these drinking nights, I’d go to one and see how it goes. I’m not a big drinker myself, but at my last company my department went to happy hour about once a month (but mostly on a Friday). It was fun to socialize and there was no pressure to drink. And if I was tired or just didn’t feel like going, I didn’t go. But if it was an all out booze fest, and everyone was falling down drunk, I would have been miserable and opted to not go anymore.

  22. Retail not Retail*

    I had an internship in the middle of nowhere in the West and didn’t get invited to the opening of a brewery bc they assumed I was under 21 and when I did go I ran into no problems with just having a soda.

    I have NO poker face and cannot stand the taste of most alcohol. (That said I did try my supervisor’s homemade mead at the end of the summer.)

    It will be fine.

  23. Colorado*

    “In fact, this is a really important professional skill to develop: the ability to recognize when a culture isn’t a good fit for you, and to be OK with moving on rather than making yourself miserable trying to survive a bad match.” – this is one of the best pieces of advice I’ve read on this site and I am an avid and very long time reader, and Alison has TONS of excellent advice.
    As a seasoned work veteran, and one who has had too many embarrassing drinking too much at work functions moments, don’t get engaged in that culture. You’ll be glad in the long run. I’m sober now and shudder thinking back. It’s just not worth it.

  24. Quickbeam*

    I work in a alcohol soaked industry and I am a complete non-drinker. I won’t do attend alcohol related during work hours. However if there is a social event that seems to be worth my time, I go and drink club soda. I have challenged the drinking culture up the chain of command and have seen some changes as a result. They no longer exclusively give out booze as award and prizes.

    As an intern you may not have agency to make change but you will advance in your career; don’t be afraid to speak up, it can really help.

  25. Bertha*

    I would typically agree with “ask your boss what’s acceptable,” but.. does this apply when the boss is buying a round of shots, on a work night?!

  26. Alton*

    I think it’s good to be prepared for situations like this since they can come up occasionally (though, I don’t think this level of drinking culture is the norm for most US workplaces), but I also think that there’s usually an expectation that interns will be a little more reserved and not get as involved in “team building” activities like these. And since a lot of college students are under 21, drinking isn’t even going to be a legal option for some interns. This might be industry-dependent, but I’m not sure that you need to worry about being judged the same as other employees who are permanent members of the team. You’re there for a short time to learn and get experience.

  27. Lee*

    I don’t drink at work parties and so far haven’t had any problems. I just say “I’ve tried to drink, but I just can’t stand the taste of the stuff” and people respect that. Some even like it as, for example at one party, there were drink tickets so I gave mine to one of my coworkers.

  28. anon4this*

    Ugh…alcohol is a carcinogen. Enough said. What a weird corporate culture to be apart of.
    Why not go one-time and just drink virgin drinks? See if anything’s accomplished. It’s easier to tell when people are all drunk somewhere than noticing one person is still sober in the group. If nothing happens that would impact your work or career, then don’t go in the future.

  29. Happy Pineapple*

    You absolutely do not need to drink at work events or attend them frequently. BUT you should make the effort to socialize now and then. You will alienate yourself if your coworkers all hang out several times a week and you never once make the effort to join them even for half an hour. Think of it this way: if you had lunch with your colleagues several times a week (100+ times a year) and only one colleague never joined, you’d assume her to be standoffish or that she doesn’t like you.

    1. VeryAnon*

      Also – if people are going to be unpleasant, get a soda water with lime and ice and pretend you’re drinking vodka.

  30. VeryAnon*

    Even if you’re overage, stay out of it. I lost a lot of self respect and sleep trying to ‘keep up with the boys’ (that’s a colloquialism not a gender thing). If you want to, just use your age as an excuse – go for one beer and pretend you’re meeting your mates. And on the flip side, and one thing I really wish ‘fun’ bosses would understand – it’s actually pretty hard to respect a manager you’ve seen sloppy drunk.

    1. PlainJane*

      Your last point is exactly right. I lost a lot of respect for a former boss and mentor, not because she got visibly drunk at a work party, but because she drove home afterward.

      1. VeryAnon*

        Yep. I have zero problem with people getting drunk or even looking drunk. Getting wasted? Making sexual comments to the juniors? Boasting about buying stacks of fast food you were too drunk to eat? No.

        I’ve heard of the managerial policy of buying a round of drinks, being attentive then leaving, and tbh I think it’s a good one. Even if you’re a drinker in your personal life. More power to you! Go do shots / wine tastings / beer pong with your buds. Don’t get wasted in front of your employees. I’ve seen that in a previous job and it led to a very junior member of staff (who had already resigned) calling out a very senior member of staff because it was common knowledge he got in late due to his exploits.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Yuck, being sloppy and making bad decisions no matter what state of mind they’re in is never a good look.

        I’m here for hilarious drunk antics all day long but if it involves you puking on me or you driving drunk, I have a long memory and don’t black out. Don’t touch me, no I didn’t just misunderstand, etc.

        In the end, really if you cannot hold your liquor or if you are prone to questionable behavior, do not participate in the drinking. Opt out and being “a fuddy duddy” is better than being viewed as trash or assaulting someone, etc. Fuddy duddy’s may not fit in some places but sloppy/wasted people have much bigger consequences and limitations put on them in the end.

  31. Taura*

    If I’ve missed it, I’m sorry – what would be the advice for someone who was invited along to one of these, but wouldn’t actually be allowed in the venue? My sister was under 21 for a good chunk of her internships, and her work group would insist on going to bars, which would be fine… except their favorite place was 21+ only. She told them multiple times that she was under 21, but she’d be happy to come along to a 18+ place instead. In the end she came out of that specific internship with a ding on her review saying she wasn’t sociable enough. For the record, I don’t blame her for the way it came out. But I’m curious if there was anything she could have done about it?

    1. Database Developer Dude*

      So she had to break the law (presumably with a fake ID) to get a good review?? That internship is shit.

      1. Taura*

        Yeah, she just didn’t go obviously – but that was pretty much what I remember hearing from her at the time “You want me to go just to get kicked out at the door or what?” Thankfully her next one went way better.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      In the end she came out of that specific internship with a ding on her review saying she wasn’t sociable enough.

      Sounds like a lovely place to work. /s
      I am way over 21 and, if I heard that a company I’m considering for work did that to an intern, that’d be a dealbreaker.

  32. Do I need a hard hat for this?*

    I used to work in an industrial area and there was literally a brewery in the same building as my company. They would come over often and ask to borrow our forklift (theirs was typically on the fritz and they couldn’t afford a new one yet). As a thank you gift they got our owner a customized beer stein. They said if their door was open then the taps were open, so come over and help yourself any time! Every once in a while my boss (the owner) would pop into my office with his full stein of beer and pint glass for me, which was really nice! He said he couldn’t drink alone and he figured I could use one, too. That was all good and well, but the beer they brewed was like 9% ABV! At 4:00 in the afternoon when it had been several hours since lunch, that beer went straight to my head! I told him he needed to stop bringing me a full glass if he wanted me to be productive until closing time, but I would accept half pints.

    I know I can’t focus on my work very well if I’m tipsy (from one really strong glass of the neighbor’s beer) or if I’m hungover on a Friday from the concert on Thursday night. I can’t imagine working in an atmosphere where this was the norm. How does this team accomplish anything when all they want is a dark room and nap?!?

  33. Database Developer Dude*

    I’m a drinker. I like beer. Nevertheless, the idea that someone could be pressured or forced into drinking to fit in AT WORK enrages me. I’d be fired from a job where I saw something like that happening, just for telling someone off who tried to enforce something like that.

    *fumes*

  34. Bopper*

    If you are of age/are allowed in the bar, I would go once in a while (weekly? every two weeks?)
    Have one drink and then tell them you have to get to your work out class or whatever.

  35. Choux*

    My company just hired a lot of new entry-level people. In my department, we do tend to do happy hours. Not every week, but at least once a month. We’ve invited the new people out several times and NONE of them have shown up, and is it starting to look a little weird. Of course we don’t expect anyone to drink (I’ve gone out just for a soda), but for them to not come at all is bizarre. They didn’t even come to the company-sponsored happy hour to welcome the new people.

    So while I absolutely think you shouldn’t have to drink to fit in, you probably do need to socialize more.

    1. Observer*

      If ONE person keeps on not showing up, then maybe they are the odd one. If NONE of a “Lot” of people are showing up, them maybe the problem is the invitations / company.

      It’s telling that your first response here is that this proves hat the OP is not socializing enough.

  36. Behindbj*

    I have no issue with drinking, but I don’t drink to excess in a work setting (Or ever). Sometimes I don’t drink at all. When asked why, I answer “Someone has to take the pictures!” Hilarity ensues. People laugh. And then the night rolls on. Also used “ One of us needs to be sober when the cops come.” Works well. I agree with prior posters: grin and bear this internship and move on.

  37. Jennifer C*

    If you go to the social events and you’re pestered for an explanation of why you’re not drinking, tell people you’re doing a cleanse. “My cousin did this great cleanse and she lost 15 pounds in one month. You can’t have any alcohol, artificial sweeteners, or tomatoes, because of the acid in the tomatoes. And you have to drink 2 glasses of pomegranate juice every day because pomegranates have so many antioxidants. But you have to drink it on an empty stomach.” And just go on and on about the cleanse until someone changes the subject to get you to stop. And then your coworkers will warn each other “don’t ask Dale why she’s not drinking, she’s doing some crazy cleanse and she’ll insist on telling you all about it.” And when they mention to someone that you don’t drink they’ll say “Dale doesn’t drink alcohol or eat olives and she chews eat bite of food 20 times. It’s one of those crazy cleanses.” You’ll fit right in with all the other people in the office doing crazy diets, and people won’t see you as “the non-drinker,” they’ll see you as just another employee doing a weird “cleanse.”

  38. Seeking Second Childhood*

    Another script for leaving early… I can’t sleep past 5 a.m. anymore, so I turn into a pumpkin already. If they ask why, maybe you were on the swim team and went swimming at 5:30, maybe you hit the gym, and if worse comes to worse, blame the dog. Or the neighbor’s dog!

  39. Sleepless*

    I’ve never been a drinker when I’m out, not even when I was younger. I love having a drink or two (or three) sitting at home with my husband, but drinking when I’m out among other people just isn’t something I do. I’ve hardly ever had anybody comment on it! I don’t know why. Maybe I’ve just been doing it for so long I don’t act like there’s anything strange about it.

  40. Pikachu*

    Maybe it’s just me, but I really wish we as a society could normalize not drinking. Nobody ever has to explain why they don’t feel like dropping acid or shooting heroin. Alcohol isn’t a safe drug by any stretch of the imagination. Let’s stop pretending not drinking is something to hide.

    I quit drinking this year. I’ve found that the people that take issue with it tend to also be uncomfortable with their own substance use. In situations like this, the best Alison-inspired line I’ve used is, “It’s really weird that you’re so invested in getting me intoxicated. What’s up with that?”

    You not drinking is about you. Don’t let anyone make it about them. I wish someone would have told me that when I was first starting in my career.

  41. Alexandra Lynch*

    I do not drink at all (because apparently my body doesn’t make enough of the enzyme to handle it, and I get a violent hangover with the first sip) and my experience has been that it’s really hard to fit in in drinking subcultures when you don’t drink. Watching other people get sloppy and make fools of themselves loses its charm quickly. Since this is an internship, I’d get through it with mocktails and shortening my time there, but I’d definitely screen for that in later jobs because that’s not something I can click with at all. It’s definitely affected my friend groups off the job, because since I can’t drink AT ALL the people who view drinking as a sport or a hobby are people who just don’t click with me, and they know it as much as I do.

  42. Loves Libraries*

    Great idea for a column. My son started his first job this week. I can’t wait to share. How do we sign up for it?

  43. NotTheSameAaron*

    If you do choose to attend more frequently and not drink, be warned that you probably will be pegged as the designated driver. Invest in some seatcovers to save your upholstery.

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