is it okay to drink before a presentation?

A reader writes:

Presentations are a small but regular part of my role, but I often get nervous and end up hurting my message by criticizing my slides, adding excess caveats to my points, and just general blunders from lacking confidence.

Last time I presented, I discreetly took a few swigs of vodka a few minutes before, and everything went better! I didn’t weaken my message, and I was smoother answering questions on my feet. At the same time, I realize I’m taking a risk and how this sounds.

I’ve gotten empty positive feedback on all of my presentations; I don’t trust my boss or peers to give honest criticism. I don’t need to give excellent presentations, but I want to do better for my own sake. I’ll probably try this again, but I wanted to get a second opinion.

Hmmmm.

My initial reaction is, “No, don’t do that.” But some people get prescription pharmaceuticals for exactly this type of thing, and I’m not a big fan of the idea that only officially sanctioned drugs are effective. So I think we need to parse out exactly why Ativan is fine but alcohol isn’t in order for that to be a logically sound stance.

And honestly, if you said you had a glass of wine beforehand and found it smoothed away your nerves, I wouldn’t think that sounded totally unreasonable. But “a few swigs of vodka” is more extreme, given its higher alcohol content.

That said, if you could be positive it worked and had no ill effects, I wouldn’t be the one to tell you it’s unacceptable under any circumstances. But I worry about your ability to self-assess that! You felt the presentation went better, but can you know for sure that other people felt that way? Maybe they did! But alcohol can mess with your ability to accurately assess that.

Normally you could test that by seeking feedback from your boss on how it went, but you don’t trust her to give honest feedback. If you’re going to try it again regardless, it might be wise to record it to listen to later with sober ears.

There are more caveats too. If anyone sees you swigging from a vodka bottle ahead of time or smells alcohol on your breath, those are bad things. Or if drinking made the presentation go fine but then you were sluggish through the rest of the meeting or way too friendly with people afterwards, those are problems too.

Plus, I imagine this worked by relaxing you and slightly lowering your inhibitions (as alcohol does), but there are a lot of inhibitions that need to remain in place when you’re at work. And you can’t really tell vodka to lower your public-speaking inhibitions while preserving your “don’t make bad jokes about the CEO/flirt with the hot bookkeeper/divulge how annoying the client is/overshare about your divorce” inhibitions.

So — is it okay? It depends on all the factors above, and we’d need an independent observer (not slightly intoxicated you) to weigh in on those for us. And, crucially, it could go fine once and then not fine the next time. So I’d say it’s a fairly significant risk.

{ 626 comments… read them below }

  1. Oh No She Di'int*

    I don’t have a problem per se with the idea of alcohol in this situation, Alison’s caveats notwithstanding. But “a few swigs of vodka”? Jeez Louise, that sounds like a lot of alcohol all at once. Am I naive?

    1. Donkey Hotey*

      Noted below but a shot of vodka has the same total alcohol as a regular bar-pour of wine. Is your reaction to “a couple glasses of wine” different?

      1. remizidae*

        A couple glasses would be a lot more than a couple sips! A couple sips of liquor is not much to an experienced drinker.

        1. Hills to Die on*

          Experienced drinker with 28 years sober here. The difference is this: Doctor. Prescribed.

          Tell the doc why you want it, what you’ve been doing, etc. If they endorse a few swigs, do it. if they give you a prescription for something else, take as prescribed. A few swigs periodically turns into a habit quickly if you are like me, so keep it under doctor’s orders and stay on that path.

          1. Hills to Die on*

            And also – you can’t smell a mild anti-anxiety medication on someone’s breath. Many people can smell vodka on your breath. Trust me on that.

            1. Annony*

              Yeah. I think that even if it works exactly like an anxiety medication, the optics are bad and it isn’t worth it. If someone sees you taking nips from a flask at work or you smell like alcohol, they are going to think you are an alcoholic and most likely it will affect their view of you and your professional judgement. It can be far more damaging than being nervous during a presentation would be.

              1. Roseclef*

                I think the optics of drinking to calm nerves before a presentation are so bad that seeing someone choosing to do so would be a legitimate reason to question their judgment. It is not, perhaps, 100% fair or rational, but the way things look are important, and knowing how actions are likely to be perceived is important.

                That’s separate from the issue of how slippery is the slope between drinking to calm nerves once in one situation, drinking to calm nerves often in many situations, and becoming actually chemically dependent on alcohol. That’s also a consideration that I think deserves a lot of attention. But even barring that, the issue of how the whole thing looks is enough for me to give a hard no to the question of whether this is okay.

                1. Collywood*

                  Also, if you don’t learn to deal with the anxiety now in a different way, you will most likely build up a tolerance and need more alcohol to continue to get the same calming effect. At some point, the volume of alcohol will have a deleterious impact on your ability to perform. And like lots of people noted, the optics and impact on your job can be bad just because it is alcohol and not a prescribed medication.

                  Annie Grace talks a bit about how she used alcohol like this in her book The Naked Mind in one of the chapters, if I’m remembering correctly. I read her book as part of my effort to become/stay sober. So, maybe the idea of. actively using alcohol to deal with anxiety is ringing more bells for me than it would have before I decided to quit drinking, since that is definitely how I used it, but That aside, I don’t think this is a sustainable way to manage pre-speaking anxiety.

                2. Diamond*

                  Sidenote re: optics, my old boss liked to reuse glass bottles as water bottles and one day she was using a vodka bottle for that purpose. Someone reported her to the CEO because they thought she was openly swigging straight vodka at her desk!

                3. Texan In Exile*

                  Diamond, my mom embroidered my name on a Crown Royal bag when I was in second grade so I would have a place for my pencils and crayons at school. Neither of my parents are big drinkers – it was probably more of, “Oh this is a nice bag and I don’t want to throw it away how I can I re-use it?” (my people – the Tribe of We Who Do Not Waste) than, “What on earth do I do with all these booze bags?”

                  But now I am wondering what my teacher might have thought!

                4. Jessica Fletcher*

                  On optics: You can’t just put the vodka in a different container to drink it at work, because if/when someone finds out, it’s going to look like an alcoholic concealing their vodka in order to drink at work.

                  Peanut butter takes care of the alcohol breath, although I’m advocating not drinking at work.

                  I take a prescription anxiety pill in order to not have a panic attack when public speaking. I think it is different, both for optics and for how it affects you. I have to take my pill an hour before a presentation to not have panic. Alcohol enters the blood stream pretty quickly; it doesn’t have to reach the stomach. Alcohol lowers your inhibitions and makes you feel looser overall. It lowers your reaction time. It’s really not the same as an anxiety med. My prescription just prevents anxiety or panic symptoms. If my presentation is cancelled, I feel normal and go back to work. If your presentation is cancelled and you’ve had a few shots of vodka… Well, I hope you don’t have to drive anywhere.

                5. Jessica Fletcher*

                  Also! If LW had phrased this as, “is it ok to treat my anxiety by day drinking?” nobody would say it’s fine.

                6. scribblingTiresias*

                  @ TexanInExile- one of my Dungeons and Dragons buddies uses Crown Royal bags to hold all his dice! Apparently they’re the exact right size for it. XD

          2. Dragoning*

            The doctor’s prescription, I think, is the “outside observer” here–and at least, if someone notices you’re “off” during a presentation, you can say “my doctor has my trying a new medication” and the issue will likely be excused.

            Not so much “Oh, I’m kinda buzzed”

          3. StayWoke*

            Doctors are paid off by pharmaceutical companies to push drugs. I am not sure if they are really the moral experts. I mean look at the opioid crisis.

            1. A. S.*

              This is so untrue and a popular myth! In 15 years practicing medicine I’ve never gotten a red cent from a pharmaceutical company. Google the Sunshine Act and educate yourself.

              1. Anonapots*

                No, but pharmaceutical companies have lobbied lawmakers to make it acceptable to advertise medications directly to people, which is just as worrisome.

                1. BeckySuz*

                  My husband used to work for Pfizer, and he thinks it’s egregious that they can advertise to consumers. He once sat in a meeting where leadership discussed their goal to have every adult in America on something they made by 2025 ish

                2. Tidewater 4-1009*

                  I’m old enough to remember when advertising meds to consumers was not permitted, and I was shocked when they began to allow it.
                  I was still pretty young then. Now I’ve gotten used to Big Pharma’s greedy ways.

              2. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

                Actually, studies have shown doctors are swayed by as little as a free pen. Pharma reps know what they are doing. You may not have gotten cash but if the office got some much as a pen or two, yep, you were influenced. And yes, doctors helped make the opioid crisis and are not not helping many chronic pain people, leaving them to suffer.

                1. Perbie*

                  So… is there an opiate crisis or an under treating chronic pain crisis? Dr’s aren’t infallible but we aren’t the cause of these woes, either.

                2. New Jack Karyn*

                  Perbie, there’s both an opioid crisis AND an under-treating chronic pain crisis. They are separate but related issues. There’s also a racial component, as black patients are prescribed pain meds less frequently, and of lower power, than are white patients with similar symptoms.
                  Doctors aren’t wholly responsible for either problem, but no one can reasonably say that doctors are entirely blameless, either.

                3. JustaTech*

                  This is getting off topic, but there are so many regulations now about what drug company reps are allowed to give to doctors/nurses/clinicians. No pads of paper. No pens. Bagels are OK, but no cream cheese.

                  If you spend a single penny with any clinician while in your professional role representing pharma or biotech it has to be reported to the company so it can be reported to the feds. All these rules are in place because it’s too easy to sway people, so now the rule are different.

                  Also, where the heck is everyone else going to the doctor that just hands out prescriptions? Every doc I’ve ever had, shrinks included, has had “prescription drugs” like 8th down on the list of “things to do about your condition/complaint”.

                4. Jaydee*

                  There are also multiple distinct opioid crises because people become addicted to them for different reasons and in different ways. Like most things, it’s a pretty complex problem with multiple contributing factors.

                5. Perpal*

                  Yeah I’m aware of all this; I treat cancer patients so pain and pain meds, and sometimes addiction (addicts do get cancer too, and it is a hot mess; in my book addiction is more about the maladaptive behaviors than about wanting certain meds a lot and those behaviors will generally wreak havoc with any cancer treatment plan). I’m just pushing back on this statement that seems to insinuate doctors are actually pharmaceutical pushers/street soldiers.

            2. yala*

              That aside, it’s still probably a better call to get an acute anxiety medication from an actual medical professional than it is to self-medicate with vodka before a work event.

        2. TootsNYC*

          but how big is a “swig”? A large swallow or a deep drink. It’s not really measurable.

          if it’s from a flask, the top is small, and maybe you wouldn’t get as large a mouthful.
          So “a couple of swigs” could be a shot. So it could be less alcohol than a single glass of wine.

          It’s just that “swig” and “vodka” have the connotation of being “uncontrolled,” casual, and “alcohol only for alcohol’s sake”

        3. Atalanta0jess*

          A shot could well be a hefty swig thought, it kind of depends what the OP means by “swigs” It’s a good idea to think about the number of “standard drinks” it might be though, and self-evaluate based on that, OP.

      2. KayEss*

        Over the course of an hour or two, no… but I think someone rapidly downing 2-3 glasses of wine immediately before presenting would also be pretty dang questionable.

        But “2-3 swigs” could mean just about anything from 2-3 shots to the equivalent of one shot or less.

        1. Jack Be Nimble*

          That’s my thought as well — how big are these swigs? I also think the visuals of how you’re drinking matter, as well. I wouldn’t think twice if I saw a coworker preparing a mixed drink before a presentation, but I’d raise an eyebrow if I saw them taking a pull directly from the bottle.

          A personal tangent: I had a rocky relationship with alcohol for a long time, so I think it’s always worth interrogating yourself about how liquor makes you feel. I don’t think it’s a huge deal to have an occasional drink to calm your nerves, but I slipped from “a drink to relax after work” to “two or three drinks to relax after work” to getting plastered at least once a week and going to work hungover (or still drunk)! I don’t want to derail, but here’s a resource for checking in on your relationship with alcohol: https://www.rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov/How-much-is-too-much/whats-the-harm/what-Are-Symptoms-Of-alcohol-Use-Disorder.aspx

        2. Not Me*

          I agree. I was thinking it could be a couple sips. I don’t really think “swig” is as common a synonym for “shot” as much as it is for “sip”

          1. Ace in the Hole*

            Agreed. If I take a swig of coffee, I’m not chugging the whole mug. For me, the word means something along the lines of “a larger than average sip, taken quickly.” So a few swigs would be one or two shots.

            Now, personally, I still think this is very questionable even if it’s only one shot’s worth of liquor. The reason being that I think using alcohol to get through difficult life tasks is edging in the direction of dependency and thus is inherently dangerous. But that’s not my choice to make, it’s the Letter Writer’s.

      3. Oh No She Di'int*

        Perhaps I’m splitting hairs between “a few” and “a couple”, but yeah if someone said they had “a few glasses of wine” all at once, I’d think that was a lot of alcohol.

        This isn’t a moral judgment. As I said, I personally don’t have a problem with the alcohol as such. (Although people have raised quite valid objections downstream.) I just wonder if the same thing couldn’t be accomplished with a less risky amount. Like a glass of wine.

        1. Donkey Hotey*

          Oh, the misunderstandings I’ve had over that hair split. For some people, “a couple” means more than one and less than five. For others, it means two and only two. Now imagine if I said I was going out for a couple of hours and it’s now 2.5 hours later.

          Yes, there’s a lot of wiggle room in the OPs definitions. It’s just interesting to note the different reactions.

          1. Oh No She Di'int*

            You’re right, it does depend. If someone said they were going out for a couple of hours, I wouldn’t even begin to look for them before 3 hours. But by the same token, I would assume that if OP had 2 swigs of vodka, she wouldn’t have used the phrase “a few”. That’s gotta be at least 3, right?

            1. Princess Orange*

              Tangent: I never realized some people rigidly understand “a couple” as two and ONLY two until recently. I’ve always used “can you grab a couple napkins” to mean … just grab some!, but my husband will bring two and no more. His family all agree with his definition—is this a southern thing?

              1. Roy G. Biv*

                My Yankee partner also says “couple” meaning two, and no more. I, of course, use it to mean some, as opposed to none, and the number is probably greater than two, but not as much as “a bunch.” Oh, the discussions we have had.

              2. Mill Miker*

                I tend to generalize it as “Probably 2” or “As close as you can get to 2 without counting” which in most cases is exactly 2, but with things like time or predictions or “quickly grabbing” there’s still wiggle rooms.

              3. SweetFancyPancakes*

                My mom (who is not Southern) taught me the same thing, so in my mind, “a couple” does just mean two.

              4. ASW*

                I was born and raised in western Pennsylvania and “a couple” has always meant two to me. I might grab more than two napkins just to have extra, but I would assume you weren’t expecting more than two.

              5. noahwynn*

                In my mind (and I have no idea where this came from), a couple is two and a few is three or more.

                1. merp*

                  Yes, followed by several and a handful in that order! I have no idea when these rules got stuck in my head either.

              6. Dust Bunny*

                My dad, who is definitely not Southern, does this. I think he mostly does it to be annoying because he thinks he’s funny (and also thinks he’s smarter than everyone, but he won’t admit that).

                I would interpret “a couple” to mean “some, but a small number”. It would presume that we only needed enough napkins for the people involved in the immediate exchange, and that we’re not trying to mop up a 32-ounce drink or something.

                It would not require actually counting out two, though. If I want a specific number of something, I’ll say a number. Life is too short.

              7. Budgie Buddy*

                I think it’s because “couple” borrows associations from its other uses like “a married couple” or “couple the two cables together.” In those cases it always refers to two.

                1. Miso*

                  So, we have the exact same word in German – paar. You can either use it in the sense of two people in a relationship or in the sense of a few.
                  But interestingly, it absolutely never means “two, not more, not less”. I wonder if it used to, but it definitely does not now.

                2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

                  Miso, I was taught that “ein parr” is a few and “ein Parr” is a couple – in speech they’re obviously indistinguishable apart from maybe stress patterns, but would that feel right to you in writing?

              8. Donkey Hotey*

                I feel your pain, Princess. But it’s not just a southern thing. (thang?)
                Where I’m from (Utah), we use “couple” or specifically “couple of” to mean 2-5.
                Moving to Seattle, couple = only two. (Which is richly ironic, given the prevalence of polyamory around here.)

              9. Synonymous*

                In southern Maryland, specifically, they have solved this problem by asking for “a couple three”.

              10. Ellen N.*

                This is not a Southern thing. I was born and raised in Los Angeles, CA. To me “a couple” means two; no more and no less. To me “a few” means more that two, usually three or four.

                1. International Holding, Unlimited*

                  Which is funny, because I grew up in the Bay Area and a “couple” means more than 1 and less than 5.

                  I’ve never figured out the regionality to it – I used to work in a store that sold ribbons by the yard, and I always, always had to ask when someone wanted “a couple of yards” cut, because to me, it’s not a precise measurement.

      4. Asa*

        Someone downing two glasses of wine to cope with presenting – yeah, that’s a problem! It’s not just the amount but the rate of consumption – a couple of vodkas over an hour or two is different to downing two shots in a row then standing up to present.

      5. Sternoblaze*

        I do wonder if a “swig” equals a “shot”. It wouldn’t for me. I can nurse a shot of whiskey for 20 minutes. A “swig” to me would be like half a shot at most.

      6. Socrates Johnson*

        A couple of glasses of wine is a lot for any work event, let alone before a presentation. I guess it depends how much is in a “swig”.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          I was going to say–a couple of glasses is more than I typically drink in an entire event, never mind in short succession.

          I think of a swig as a mouthful, more or less. More than a sip, but not multiple swallows. I would guess that’s not as much as an ounce/shot but could add up quickly if it were hard liquor.

      7. Emily S*

        There’s obviously a gender factor that plays into this, but for me as a woman, I could handle 1 glass no problem, but 2 glasses of wine consumed immediately before a presentation would be too much. If I exceed one drink in an hour’s time I become noticeably tipsy and my speech is subtly affected.

      8. JSPA*

        My response to “a few glasses of wine” would also be “that’s a lot.” How a swig compares to a shot, that’s individual, I suppose, but there’s a chance of it being a heck of a lot.

        Using alcohol to soothe nerves is already one of the really common routes into an alcohol problem. Making it your crutch at work, without doctor’s approval and boss’s OK, is extra dicy, because you’re already hiding it. Add that it will be out-and-out illegal in some workplaces or conference spaces (e.g. governmentally-run or certain Educational institutions, as well as a random but growing subset of other workplaces).

        It’s just so much safer to put in the time on CBT and/or Toastmasters.

        There are literally no negatives to that; “greater self awareness, ability to harness and redirect nervous energy, gaining detachment tools, desensitizing oneself to self-criticism, learning to manage self-sabotage, meeting more people and growing self confidence” are all intrinsically healthy things, long-term.

        Or if you must relax chemically, and have a reason not to do the doctor thing…
        if it’s decriminalized in your state, cannabis (inhaled, not edible) is going to hit faster and more smoothly, so you can titrate your dose more carefully). You still have all the issues about “getting used to a crutch” and psychological dependence and non-acceptability in the workplace (more severe, in fact) but at least you don’t have to calculate in the risk of physical dependence to the same degree as you do with alcohol. Plus if you decide you need to avoid it, later on, it’s probably always going to be rather easier to avoid cannabis in social and work situations than it is, to avoid alcohol. That’s actually a good thing.

        That said, if the swigs add up to “a” shot, and presenting is something that you have to do once every few months, ASK YOUR BOSS if they mind if you have a glass of wine before, for your nerves. If that’s not a problem for the boss, and if you have no reason to think that substance dependence runs in your family, and if you’re OK doing so ONLY for the rare circumstance of a presentation, you’re…not worse off than you would be, relying on liquid courage for dating. Which is to say, people end up alcohol dependent from all sorts of paths, while other people end up OK despite alcohol use.

        1. ForkMath*

          I’ve found CBDs with a small amount of THC to be incredibly effective. You have to plan ahead with edibles but it has literally changed my life–not even exaggerating. I don’t know about the non THC versions (there is supposedly better effectiveness for CBD when used with THC and in my state the versions containing THC are more regulated for purity) but definitely worth looking in to. A 20:1 or 30:1 seems to work best for me. Good luck!

          1. JSPA*

            Interesting! I was assuming that the process of getting the dosage right / work appropriate (including either taping yourself, or running it by others…and which others, exactly) would be tougher with edibles, just because of the long lag time / long duration. But I cede completely to your first hand experience.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Tolerance levels vary drastically person to person, due to metabolisms and other factors.

      Just like someone is done after Xmg of prescribed medication and others need 2x the amount to help.

      Some people have to cut their meds in half, others have to double up. Try to think of it that way instead of “Vodka, omg that’s intense.” what if she needed 2 of the regular dose of what you need, you know?

      1. sunny-dee*

        But a doctor monitors your dosages and side effects (and refills). You can’t just decide that you need double the dose of Vicodin as someone else. Yet the OP is essentially saying that they can just decide they “need” a fair amount of vodka to do a routine part of their job. That’s risky both professionally and personally in a way that taking a prescription medicine *as prescribed* isn’t.

      2. Ethyl*

        But a doctor prescribed and monitored medication is completely different from “a few swigs of vodka” to settle one’s nerves at work. It’s not really reasonable to equate the two.

      1. Not Today Satan*

        lol yeah, I don’t drink from flasks but my interpretation of “a few swigs” would be a shot or less.

        1. PeanutButter*

          I have never felt so folksy as I do trying to figure out what different colloquialisms for taking a drink mean to me. I’d think of a “swig” of alcohol as a full-on swallow (so maybe a shot + a little extra for two-three swigs), while a “nip” of alcohol would be a sip, so two-three nips would be less than a shot.

        2. TootsNYC*

          not that it matters for the answer, but the flasks I’ve seen have narrow openings, and I think you wouldn’t get that much out of them in a single “tip it up and then back down” kind of “swig.” It would take about three to make a shot. I’m totally guessing.

          We should all go home tonight and get out whatever flask or shotglass we’ve got and experiment. (You can use water!!)

    3. some dude*

      I also think it depends who you are presenting to. Is it to potential clients or bosses or in some really official capacity? Then heck no. Is it to peers in a slightly informal setting? Then maybe. The issue is smelling like booze (or weed, if you live in a legal state) is just not a great look, even if it helps and you are not impaired. The perception matters, and especially with a substance like alcohol, using it as a crutch in professional situations is a potential slippery slope. Or not, depending on your brain chemistry/family history. The fact you are writing in means that you probably know this isn’t a great idea, right?

    4. uncivil servant*

      It could be that the person is not a huge drinker and can only take a tiny sip of straight vodka. It didn’t sound extreme at all to me until I realized that a swig could be the equivalent of a shot.

      1. Donkey Hotey*

        I didn’t mean to suggest they were. I was only pointing out the difference in perception between two different forms of alcohol.

    5. PMB*

      I feel compelled to say that self medicating against anxiety by alcohol use is a bad and highly dangerous idea irrespective of quantity.

      1. Veronica Mars*

        I think, from a broader look at things, I think the general advice of “you should not work at a place where the fundamental requirements are so stressful to you that you need mind altering medications/non-medications just to get through it” probably applies here. It’s one thing to drink a little extra eggnog before the once-a-year mandatory Office Holiday Party public toast that you loathe. But as a regular day-to-day job activity???

        If you hate public speaking, finding a job that doesn’t require it frequently, or learning to like public speaking, is a root cause solution. Taking shots of vodka is… the riskiest possible solution. Not just in terms of “maybe you’d get fired if your boss found out” but also from a “maybe you’ll start using this as a solution to all your problems” standpoint.

        And while we’re on that, if you know that your boss would probably fire you if they found out, its probably not an acceptable solution *to your company* and your company really makes the rules here, not this internet forum debating ideal moral rules of the universe. And I tend to think they will find out, because vodka leaves a really strong smell on your breath that lasts hours.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Bingo.
          Growing up in CT they had a PSA on the radio that said, “If you THINK you have a drinking problem, then you very well may have one.” Unfortunately, there were big drinkers who thought they had no problem. Their families disagreed.

          So many times the answer is found in the simple fact that we had to ask the question.

          OP, try to figure out what it would take for you to do the presentation without the swigs. The swigs are not a long term plan. How is this going to work for you for say the next 10 years? Consider where you want to be 20 years from now and how will this help you get there?

          I hope you find a way to be a in job where you are using your natural talents and abilities and you are recognized in your group/company. It could eventually be this job or it might be something else.

          For the moment, work on public speaking. Join a Toastmasters. If you don’t have time/inclination, practice in front of the mirror in the bathroom. If you do a Q and A section, write down their questions and practice answering in front of the mirror.

          You can also look around and see if there is tangent work you could do for your job or your arena that would involve less or no public speaking.
          There’ nothing wrong with not liking public speaking or being uncomfortable. Many people are, I am. You’ve already gotten farther with this job than I probably would have. If it’s not for you, so what, something else will be.

        2. JSPA*

          Yup. The question could unfortunately be re-framed as, “I just found out that I’m pre-disposed to alcohol misuse situationally, psychologically and physically. I plan to plow ahead with on-the-job usage because it feels right. Please tell me that’s a good thing.”

          Those of us who’ve been around awhile, if we have not lived it first hand, we have seen it second hand. Saying so feels like screaming into the void, but…doing it all the same. We’ve ALSO seen the “don’t worry, WORKS FINE BRO” crowd bifurcate into those who got it under control (and found another path) and those who self-destructed, sooner or later, around (if not directly from) the alcohol.

          OP, that feeling of secure, serene command is inside you. Alcohol doesn’t create it. Alcohol is not a safe (nor efficient, nor even ongoingly reliable) way to bring it forth.

        1. theguvnah*

          yes, technically true. But alcohol as a social lubricant is well-established, and as someone with mild enough anxiety that I am self-diagnosed and not being treated but who finds that one drink (no more!) in a situation often helps me relax, I read this question as falling into that category.

          That said I agree that “swigs of vodka” is too much for what I’m talking about. But a half a glass of wine before I speak at a reception (this is a common thing in my line of work) is actually pretty perfect.

          1. JSPA*

            If it’s socially approved and situation-limited, there’s not much risk of a slippery slope, though. A toast at a reception (a place where wine is normal, and having a glass is normal) isn’t going to morph into a swig before a hard work conversation, the same way that a swig before a normal work presentation, could. OP is already crossing all sorts of lines just by drinking at work. That’s part of the “Danger, Will Robinson” response. He’s drinking the way that people did lines in the bathroom in the 80’s. I saw too many families and companies go down in flames then, to feel good about this.

      2. Blerpborp*

        To say this is “bad” across the board is unfair. The OP didn’t say they replaced Ativan with alcohol or that they have diagnosed anxiety. This sounds like how I feel in a social situation where I’m slightly uncomfortable an dhow I’m already much more relaxed by the middle of my first drink. I’m certainly not drunk or endangering myself or others or behaving in a way that would be considered inappropriate, I have just lightly turned down the part of my brain that makes me self conscious which I think is what the OP is describing.

        1. JSPA*

          If you would therefore sneak booze into the office, hiding it from everyone around you, the social drinking might be a problem for you. If you draw a clear distinction between “convenient in my private life” and “about-to-be the default in my workplace when stressed,” then you’re not actually on the same pathway as the OP.

          Few people here are taking the position that alcohol is evil, or that nobody can ever use it to take the edge off of any sort of stress. We’re pointing out that OP is sailing past some major barriers that generally stop people from turning “anxiety + alcohol” into an “everywhere / all the time / why not at work” level problem.

          This reads like Augusten Burroughs, at the beginning of Dry. In fact, I recommend Dry to OP, and also to anyone else who feels “normalized” by alcohol consumption.

        2. nodramalama*

          It’s one thing to use alcohol as a social lubricant in a bar. it’s another to do it at work.

      3. Ra94*

        But a lot of prescription anxiety medications are extremely addictive and can have harmful side effects. I think that’s why Alison made that comparison- it’s hard to say that one mind-altering substance is okay and another isn’t. The doctor-monitored aspect is important, of course (if you have an attentive doctor). But just saying alcohol = bad, xanax = okay isn’t logical.

        1. JSPA*

          If OP has a trained third party oversee the dosing and dispensing of all OP’s alcohol, this would be a fair comparison. Not to minimize the pain of getting off benzodiazepines (which have the longest lasting, and some of the most dangerous withdrawal known). But at least, unlike alcohol, you’re not faced with the offer of more at every happy event, sad event, corner store, or even (in some states) every grocery, drugstore, supermarket, greeting card store, home store, hardware store (etc). Alcohol is not the worst addiction (well, except by numbers, because it’s so prevalent). But staying dry is, moment-by-moment, more challenging, if you do develop a problem.

      4. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Recovering alcoholic here (6 months sober, I was unemployed while drunk) to say that’s how I started. Of course, though, it does not mean anyone who drinks to manage stress will go down that route.

        What I found better was approaching my doctor, honestly telling him I was drinking to cope with severe stress, and asking him for a more work appropriate solution. I knew I couldn’t go to a job where I’d be sneaking drinks before anything I found stressful.

        Don’t get me wrong, I’m not demonising alcohol. Or nicotine, or whatever substances are legal in your area.

      5. Courageous cat*

        This is fearmongering and not necessarily true across the board. Xanax can be just as problematic – would you also call that a bad and highly dangerous idea?

        Alcohol is not a demon *just because* of its perception. It’s a drug literally like any other.

    6. Turquoisecow*

      I think it greatly depends on the person. Someone who drinks regularly might not be bothered by a swig of vodka and it might help them chill out. Someone who doesn’t drink it often might be really drunk.

      Alcohol just makes me sleepy so I’d be really calm and chill but also not in my best mental state.

    7. Roscoe*

      It depends on what they consider a “swig”. A shot of liquor has roughly the same alcohol content as a glass of wine. Some people can do a shot in one gulp, some need a few swigs. But again, I wouldn’t consider it THAT much more than a beer or wine glass

      1. Decima Dewey*

        It also depends on your workplace’s drug and alcohol policy. If I went out for lunch and had a beer, I’d be in violation of the City’s policy the moment I set foot in the branch after lunch.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Same with one of my former employers. If you even had half a pint of lager at lunch you’d be in trouble.

      2. TootsNYC*

        and tossing back* a shot of vodka and swigging it out of a flask are going to have different flow rates and different amounts in a “swallow”

        (look! “tossing back”)

    8. CanCan*

      It also depends on the person’s capacity to process alcohol (their body weight and presence of food in digestive system being factors).

      Being a 115-lb person, I felt too intoxicated to drive (a short distance, during daylight, in a small town without traffic) after one glass of wine after work (and no food). I’m sure a 300-lb person who also has a snack would have a very different subjective experience and objective level of impairment.

    9. OP*

      OP here, I’m not the best at guessing liquids, but I’d say it’s maybe 0.75-1.5 shots? This doesn’t sound as irresponsible as I thought it did, but I think there are definitely better alternatives. These were taken on an empty stomach (I try not to eat before presentations on presentation days) so they felt a lot stronger.

      It sounds like I definitely need to get a second opinion. I’m dying at the thought of being visibly drunk and everyone knowing it but me. I don’t trust anyone to say my presentation sucks, but there are definitely coworkers who would tell me if I was visibly drunk. I’ll try to think about how I’ll hint at that.

      1. Tiffany Hashish*

        Hey, OP, I know you aren’t asking, but (so sorry for the but!) investing in a speaking coach or even and improv class could help curb the anxiety of public speaking. Your biz may cover it as part of professional development since it’s a core part of your job. I’m in the middle of a program now and my progress has been phenomenal.

        I have no moral or other objection to a swig or swallow of booze almost anytime, but the underlying issue is sooooo fixable. Then booze on afterwards in confident, celebratory bliss!

        1. Hats Are Great*

          Yes, do improv! It’s great fun! In my intro class, about half of the people were there to deal with either social anxiety or work presentation anxiety, and about half of THOSE had their works paying for it as professional development!

        2. kt*

          I’m going to second the speaking coach. Amazing. For me, as good as therapy ever was in dealing with some of my issues. And it is helping me become a better speaker, better networker, better communicator!

          I will say I feel I’m working with a really good speaking coach. She’s super nice and also incredibly observant about body language and psychology. Her focus is on making your audience feel welcomed and at home: you are the good host welcoming them to a meal or a fun evening, full of hospitality, in essence.

      2. A. S.*

        Hey OP, can I recommend you talk to your doctor about propranolol. It’s not a sedative like Ativan, its actually a blood pressure medicine that can calm a racing heart and is excellent and safe to be used as needed for stage fright . It’s commonly used for this.

        1. KP*

          This really should be higher up in this thread!! As long as you have no contraindicated health conditions, beta-blockers (Propranolol in particular) are EXCELLENT options for situation-specific anxiety. There is no potential for addiction and you do not build a tolerance to this type of drug. They’ve been used off label by professional performers for years without adverse effects. (https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/08/in-defense-of-the-beta-blocker/306961/)

          I’ve used Propranolol for years for public speaking/teaching and to generally cope with situation-specific panic attacks, and it’s incredible. No racing heart, no tunnel vision, no dry mouth and difficulty getting words out; you just feel … normal.

          Unsurprisingly, NOT feeling like I’m about to pass out or die from a heart attack every time I actually give a presentation has reduced my anxiety/panic response the next time around. It’s obviously something to consult with a health care professional about, but it’s been such a game changer in my academic/professional career and I’d really recommend exploring this option.

        2. Keymaster of Gozer*

          On propanolol for migraine prevention and can confirm this. I’m also on a low dose antipsychotic to manage stress and insomnia and that’s made such a difference.

        3. Consultant Catie*

          Hi OP, just wanted to chime in here in favor of beta blockers as well. I grew up performing from the age of 3 through my senior thesis in college, and never got over my stage fright/discomfort being on stage in front of people. Beta blockers are such an amazing solution to this issue. I take Alison’s point of, “why are prescription drugs ok but legal drugs aka alcohol are not?” but in my opinion, there are a few reasons why alcohol is not the best option in this case:

          – Prescription medicines and your reaction to them are more controlled. Prescription drugs usually come with a specific dosage and set of instructions, like – “take with a meal,” “take with a full glass of water,” “take 30 minutes before needed.” Alcohol only comes with your common sense and your sense of measurement. What if you forgot to eat earlier? What if you’re at a different altitude? What if they don’t have vodka but they do have wine, how much do you have? Who poured your drink, is it the same amount of alcohol as the last time? It’s easy to over- (or under-) do it with alcohol.
          – Beta blockers specifically do not affect other parts of your judgment, motor skills, or other things that alcohol does affect.
          – If someone accidentally sees you at a work function taking a pill, it is both easier to play off (“Oh it’s just Advil”) and more generally acceptable. If someone sees you taking swigs of vodka or chugging wine, that is not a good look for you.

          I completely sympathize with your stage fright, and I think it’s important that you’re noticing that at some point, you need something to help you more than just “try to get over it.” Especially when your job includes presenting to people regularly. I just want to strongly note that even if you’re an experienced drinker, alcohol just comes with so many risks that don’t accompany a prescription for beta blockers.

        4. SarahTheEntwife*

          Just one quick caveat — if you’re prone to depression or fatigue, beta blockers can make it worse. The effect usually wears off after a few months as your body acclimates to it, but I was on it for heart palpitations and after a while just went “nah, the depression is more annoying than the (harmless but super distracting) jazzy heartbeat”.

        5. feministbookworm*

          Yes, I was expecting beta blockers to show up here. They are widely used by professional musicians (several surveys suggest about a third of professional orchestral musicians). I’ve never used them, but I have friends who swear by them. As others mention, this is potentially a great short-term solution while learning additional coping mechanisms.

      3. Collywood*

        As I noted above, I don’t think this is sustainable long term (tolerance) even if it does provide a short term fix for you. I think you’d be better served finding another way to deal with public speaking anxiety.

      4. Avasarala*

        OP, what I think you need is the Secret Stuff from Space Jam.

        Your success isn’t due to the alcohol, it’s that you’ve drunken something to calm your nerves. What if you could achieve that confidence without the risk?

      5. Willis*

        Oy – This sounds harsh, but I think you might be underplaying how irresponsible this is if there is even a possibility that someone would’ve perceived you as drunk. If it’s even something you are questioning or have to hint around at to coworkers. If the line is between people thinking you’re nervous or them thinking you’re drunk…nervous is the much better option. I’d really encourage you to consider less risky and more sustainable alternatives to becoming more comfortable with presenting.

      6. smoke tree*

        Not to be nosy, but I do wonder if the presentations are causing a lot of anxiety for you if you’ve tried drinking as a way to get through them. I can’t say I’ve never tried drinking as a way of cutting anxiety, but not at work, so it does seem like it might be more stressful than you are aware of, possibly. Just something that occurred to me.

      7. Jaydee*

        Here’s my thought as someone who is good-but-not-great at public speaking but also genuinely enjoys it and doesn’t find it stressful anymore.

        1) You know things you need to improve on. You listed them in your letter. Focus on improving those. Make a more detailed outline of your presentation or script yourself out more and PRACTICE so you won’t add in all the caveats and little criticizing statements.

        2) Have a trusted coworker or your boss take a look at your slides and give feedback. They may be hesitant to critique your presentation but might be more likely to help in a way that feels less like a commentary on you and more like just the regular process of making suggestions about a coworker’s work.

        3) Ask for very specific feedback from coworkers or your boss about your presentation. Not a general “good/bad” but something like “I’ve been trying to sound more confident in what I’m saying. How do you think I did today compared to the presentation I gave back in October?“ or “I don’t want to clutter slides with too much information, but then once I get talking I always think of caveats and nuances and find myself getting off track in the presentation. Any ideas on how to stop doing that?”

        4) Confidence doesn’t come from a bottle or a pill or from good feedback from your boss. Confidence comes from your thoughts and feelings. And you can work on changing those. For example, you’ll feel many of the same physical sensations (sweaty palms, fast heart rate, jittery stomach) when you’re nervous as when you’re excited. So two people can feel the exact same sensations before giving a presentation, but the one who interprets those sensations as excitement is going to feel more confident than the one who interprets them as nervousness. Because as soon as you identify the sensations as nervousness, you’ll start thinking of all the reasons you *should* be nervous. But if you identify the sensations as excitement (or even the more neutral “anticipation”), you’ll start thinking of reasons to be excited or even just reasons why yeah, it makes sense I’d be anticipating this more than I would something that’s a small and routine part of my day.

  2. TallTeapot*

    As someone with lots of anxiety, I feel you, LW. I have been cursed with a low tolerance for alcohol, so it’s not an effective strategy for me. That being said, I do know some people who have spoken to their dr and received anti-anxiety medication prescriptions just for this sort of situation–high-stress public speaking events. You might want to talk to your gp. Good luck!

      1. LMNOP*

        Deeply amused that vodka is a no-no but a pot derivative is more acceptable.
        (Yes, yes, I’m well aware that there’s no THC in OTC CBD.)

        1. NotMyRealName*

          You can’t say that actually. There’s not supposed to be THC in OTC CBD, but there is not regulatory authority at all. There might not even be any active ingredient in it at all.

            1. Toads, Beetles, Bats*

              Was thinking that what this person needs is a great placebo. Like Ron and the “lucky juice” before the big Quiddith game in Harry Potter. OP needs some to [pretend to] pour them a slug of Felix Felicis.

            2. brighid*

              I don’t know if it works for anxiety but if I take it before I go to bed, my sleep is much better. No other placebo has been able to do that for me.

          1. Relentlessly Socratic*

            Yeah, at least I reasonably know what’s in my vodka–a bunch of ethanol. I have no reassurance that there’s anything in my CBD oil, or (potentially worse), that there isn’t a whole bunch of other stuff in my CBD oil.

            1. JSPA*

              FWIW, Ethanol actually isn’t the only thing that makes it through the cut, no matter how finely done (or how many times distilled).

              But really, that’s beside the point. The, “my alcohol is pure / I know what’s in it” argument is akin to the ads from the “natural tobacco” people: “The only carcinogens, mutagens and neurotoxins in my tobacco are the ones naturally found in tobacco or produced by burning tobacco.” (Uh…all right, then.)

              Alcohol is fascinating, and can be a fine hobby for those who can take or leave it (and occasionally check that it’s so by leaving it, for a month). But it’s really not a safe tool for people predisposed to solving (of all things) work problems (!) with a shot.

              I’d say the same thing for someone repurposing their prescribed pain pills or muscle relaxants from a sprain (at least, if they had a likely endless supply of same). The idea has probably occurred to many people, right? But most of us didn’t decide to actually go with “nips at work” as a reasonable solution.

              1. Relentlessly Socratic*

                I wasn’t implying that ethanol is pure, somehow ethereal and “good” or any other attribute–I was stating I had a reasonable expectation of how much of the substance is in there. I’m also not advocating using ethanol to mitigate anxiety. CBD is less well-regulated and you have no idea what you’re getting. I’m not against cannabis etc. either, but claiming that CBD is a great solution is incorrect, too.

              2. kt*

                I’m with the relentless socratic here: it’s not that vodka is “pure and good”, it’s that it’s relatively standardized. CBD oils at this point have widely varying constituents with no industry-wide quality controls. THC has certainly been found in CBD oils that are not supposed to contain it, and percentages vary.

                I love my herbal teas etc., but I know that they are not standardized dosages. At this point CBD oil is the same.

            1. Has Never Had Weed*

              I’ve been told it contains traces of THC – just like decaf coffee still contains caffeine, and the ingredients list of a food says ‘may contain traces of peanuts’ more often than not. I thought that was also the reason taking CBD can still have you turn up as ‘weed-positive’ on a drugtest – but, as NotMyRealName tells me, if there’s no regulation, who knows whether they even took any out.

              1. Yikes*

                Full spectrum CBD products contain THC, but not enough to get you high unless you consumed an enormous quantity, and then it still wouldn’t be particularly pleasant because it’s derived from industrial hemp, not marijuana that has been bred for this purpose. CBD isolate products shouldn’t have THC. While it’s true the industry is the wild west, reputable companies provide independent lab results for each batch, so that you can see precisely what is in the product you purchased. There was a detailed article in the New York Times several months back that made drew a solid parallel between CBD oil and aspirin as both being plant-derived folk remedies.

                1. KoiFeeder*

                  Yeah, part of my problem is that ANY amount of THC corresponds to production of the protein that marijuana shares with nightshades, just like ANY amount of green on a potato would cause that protein to be produced. And then I’m also allergic to a secondary protein which is some sort of cupin that is bafflingly present in both marijuana and tree nuts, and it all goes downhill from there.

                  And, honestly, I don’t know if that accessory protein gets filtered out of CBD products like THC does. I do know that I react, and that I would like to avoid reacting.

                2. KoiFeeder*

                  I made a comment here about that and how it works with my allergies, but it’s either in moderation or the internet ate it.

              2. EH*

                From what I understand, it depends on the plant it’s derived from. CBD oil from hemp has no THC in it because hemp is almost completely THC-free. CBD from pot usually has at least a little THC, as well as other terpines/compounds (unless it’s a super-processed, CBD-only item).

                I’ve found that edibles with CBD from help don’t work nearly as well for my chronic health issues as the 20:1 CBD:THC edibles – and I get both from the same company. (I’m in Oregon, for the record. Obviously, don’t break the law in states where this stuff’s illegal.)

                1. ForkMath*

                  In our state the CBD with a small amount of THC (30:1 ratio for me) is vastly more regulated and tested than hemp CBD. I take a low dose every day (no drug testing) and I have no CBDs but have been able to ween off a good amount of pharmaceuticals.

        2. Another Millenial*

          IS vodka a no-no? Or are we just listing alternatives in case OP decides not to take a shot before every presentation? I like options.

          1. LMNOP*

            Didn’t mean to suggest you said that it was a no-no.
            Only going off of others’ reactions.
            apologies.

          2. Quill*

            If you can placebo yourself, I recommend some chamomille tea. The ritual itself may be soothing more than the actual tea contents, and unlike pot or alcohol it is much less likely to interact with any medications you may be on.

            1. Relentlessly Socratic*

              Ooh, I have a cross-sensitivity to something and chamomile makes my throat itch–like get me a benedryl throat itch.

              1. Quill*

                Oooooh no, drink literally any other beverage then!

                The ritual and the temperature and tasting good seem to be the primary placebo effect inducing properties of tea. I just suggested chamomille because there’s already so much ancedata about it being calming that it may have a minute effect or your subconscious may find it easier to make it into a placebo because you hear about it so much.

                1. Relentlessly Socratic*

                  No one was more surprised than I to discover that this soothing beverage felt like swallowing an angry wolverine.
                  +1 for calming tea-of-any-other-sort, or even hot broth (mmm. Bovril). Something about a nice warm liquid can be very soothing! If I were to guess, it’s because you can’t just slam it down and rush off. You have to take your time sipping, and waiting for it to cool.

              2. Yarrow*

                Some people are allergic to chamomile. I found this out about 2 minutes after trying one of those herbal anti-anxiety remedies that had a TON of chamomile extract in it.

                1. JSPA*

                  And per your name, Yarrow is also not something to mess with lightly (including if pregnant, and wanting to remain so). Herbs were the living pharmacopeia of our predecessors; that’s why they carried and seeded them around the world. Take their bioactivity seriously, everyone…

              3. Jaid*

                “You are more likely to experience an allergic reaction to chamomile if you are allergic to ragweed, daisies, asters, marigolds or chrysanthemums. If you have a known sensitivity to any of these flowers, use chamomile tea with caution. You should also be cautious if you are asthmatic.”

                Livestrong.com

                Go figure.

            2. Third or Nothing!*

              A nice warm cup of tisane is perfect for calming down. In fact I think I’ll go make a cup of orange rooibos right now!

              Also I find that exercise helps with nerves as well. When I get anxious or angry a quick run helps reset the emotions. Sweet, sweet endorphins.

              1. Quill*

                It’s a crapshoot for me whether excercise will make my body decide that if my heart rate increases I must be in danger, or wear out the adrenaline maker, but it’s worth testing for most.

                1. Stay-at-homesteader*

                  Ahhh I’m not the only one! I’ve had full-on physical panic attack symptoms while climbing mountains, but I was completely calm emotionally. My body panicked without my mind, which was enjoying the scenery.

          3. Ra94*

            Not an alcohol-free option, but I wondered if OP might try coffee with a shot of Bailey’s or whisky in it. Lower-alcohol, won’t leave boozy breath, and may counteract the sluggishness.

        3. Blerpborp*

          Whether or not there is trace THC in a CBD product is beside the point. I’ve tried a few CBD products and none of them made feel high like THC and I could feel a relaxing effect. That’s why this would make sense in a situation like the OP’s since it’s not supposed to make you dopey like THC or alcohol but is supposed to relax your mind and make you less anxious. I know people think CBD isn’t real or something and sure, I wish it was better regulated but I’ve only had positive experiences with it. Placebo or no, if it calms you it calms you.

        1. GrumpyGnome*

          CBD is legal in the majority of states. Now, it is not legal in all of those states for recreational use, some allow it only when medically necessary, but it is still legal. It would depend on what state (if in the U.S.) the OP is in to determine the legality of CBD.

          1. Socrates Johnson*

            Hemp was de-scheduled by the 2018 farm bill. So you are clear with the DEA as long as it is hemp derived CBD. The FDA says you can’t sell it as a supplement or food.
            You are NOT going to federal prison for hemp.

        2. littlelizard*

          Not everywhere. I can buy CBD anywhere from CVS to the health food store near my house to Sephora…

          1. many bells down*

            Yeah my grocery store has a big display of CBD products. Washington has legal weed anyway but that surprised me.

        3. So long and thanks for all the fish*

          I think CBD is legal everywhere, since hemp was legalized a few years ago.

        4. JSPA*

          unlike THC, which is locally decriminalized, but still federally scheduled / illegal, CBD is bona fide LEGAL at the federal level.

          (Both Hemp whose cannabinoids are no more than 0.3% THC and CBD oils containing no more than 0.3 percent THC are legal to possess under the new federal law.)

          Not all state laws have caught up with this, but most states are now retiring and retraining their pot sniffing dogs.

    1. MsMaryMary*

      OP, I have a good friend who moved into a role that required frequent public speaking. She’s always hated speaking in front of people, to the point where she’s physically ill beforehand. She did self medicate in social situations (i.e. giving a wedding toast) but couldn’t do that at work. She went to a doctor who prescribed an anti-anxiety med to take as-needed before she needs to speak. It’s worked wonders and now she really enjoys her job. A doctor might be able to suggest CBT or other techniques as well. I’d suggest looking into your options!

      1. Kuododi*

        I’d say as well the first order of business is a chat with the GP. Personally, the idea of alcohol or benzodiazapene (SP?) leaves me a bit squirrelly. (That however, is my issue.) A GP would be able to make recommendations for effective but less … “potentially risky” options. (ie Beta blockers prn). Best regards.

        1. Alexander Graham Yell*

          Yes – it wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized that my stage fright had gone away for years and reappeared for seemingly no reason. Except that it turns out that the years that I didn’t have stage fright were also the years I was on beta blockers. Magical!

          OP, I definitely suggest talking to your doctor. If this is a regular part of your life it’d be a great idea to have a back up plan that – even if not any more effective than vodka – will be more palatable to anybody that finds out about it. Perception matters, and if your coworkers know you get stage fright but have an anti-anxiety med your dr prescribed they will treat it very differently than knowing you get stage fright so there’s always a bottle of Absolut in your bottom drawer.

    2. many bells down*

      I actually enjoy public speaking, but if I didn’t alcohol would be a bad choice. I’m loud and voluble without booze, and I know for a fact I’m waaaaay worse after a couple drinks!

    1. Mystery Bookworm*

      This is also a much better long term solution. I don’t necessarily have an issue with drugs or alcohol used occasionally as aids, but ideally we would also explore options that didn’t rely on them.

      1. CC*

        Toastmasters was AMAZING. I joined for a year when there was one near my office, and it was life-changing.

        Seriously, OP, this is what you need. They’ll get you over ALL these issues, and quickly.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          Toastmasters is great but please do not insist it will *cure* everyone’s fear of speaking. It did not cure mine.

        2. Veronica Mars*

          Agreed! To be fair, I never actually did all that much Toast-mastering.
          But I very much had the confidence issues LW described. As in, I wasn’t “Afraid of public speaking” I was “afraid I looked like a fool while speaking publicly.” The more speeches I did, the more confident I got, the less I did silly self criticizing. So I started seeking out all of the excuses to do all of the speeches, and just inoculated myself to it. Toastmasters I assume is an even better path, because you get real, trustworthy, feedback on your presenting skills. But it wasn’t available near me, so I went for town council meetings and the like.

          1. Sparrow*

            In addition to sheer repetition, I wondered if it would also help her to record herself during the presentation? She doesn’t trust coworkers to give her feedback, so maybe watching it back herself and identifying which parts she’s happy with and which parts she wants to work on will help create more of an illusion of control (as opposed to stressing that everything is terrible, when it’s almost certainly not).

      1. tangerineRose*

        Me too! You get plenty of practice speaking in public and listening to others speaking in public and learning about what does and doesn’t work.

    2. alacrity*

      Came here to suggest this! OP, you say that “I’ve gotten empty positive feedback on all of my presentations; I don’t trust my boss or peers to give honest criticism. I don’t need to give excellent presentations, but I want to do better for my own sake.” Toastmasters can help with this! It’s a low-to-no pressure environment where everyone is there to improve their public speaking skills and provide honest critical (but not cruel) feedback to you. It can help immensely with confidence, which you seem to identify as the root cause of your anxieties. I strongly suggest looking them up.

      1. hmbalison*

        I echo the comment to try Toastmasters. You know you’re nervous about presentations. Vodka/wine/CBD oil are in-the-moment solutions. Since presentations are a regular part of your job, why not work on your skills in a constructive and healthier way and improve so you can do better for your own sake, as you said you wanted?

    3. Data Nerd*

      Yep, I came here to recommend this as well! You can find a chapter near you on their website, and often the meetings are geared toward working professionals, so no meetings Tuesday mornings at 10. Great way to gain confidence and experience with public speaking.

    4. Important Moi*

      While Toastmasters is an option, it may not be for everyone.I tried and it did not work for me because the it was too time consuming given everything else going on in my life so I stopped going. Those extra hours of work were too much for me. And it wasn’t low-to-no pressure environment as I see mentioned in the comments.

      I did ask the particular chapter I was working with “is this how Toastmasters was done in all all chapters?” They assured me it was. So YMMV

      1. AnnaBananna*

        I think the point though is to practice, practice, practice so that delivery is about as difficult as putting on your socks.

        I would instead have the LW look into non-alcohol related options, if she’s insisting on sticking with a substance. 1) a Kava kava tincture will provide the anti-anxiety substance, but it also has a bit of a shelf in which the side effects go haywire. This is actually preferred because it’ll allow the LW to know where her perfect dose is (it changes according to your body), but she won’t appear drunk. 2) I would also highly suggest taking a magnesium supplement a few hours before presenting. I have found that a lot of my social anxiety is curbed (not all, it’s not a panacea) through increasing my magnesium. It’s also significantly reduced my general anxiety.

        I’m a huge fan of alternative medicine. Right now I’m currently testing out psilocyben mushrooms for ADHD and it’s been very successful. My point is to not disount things that don’t come in conveneint packaging, eg a bottle.

        1. Tina*

          Noooooooo do not take kava before a presentation especially if you’ve never had it before! It can make your entire face feel really weird and kinda numb and does affect your speech.
          Source: my grandmother’s Fijian. I’ve had kava. I’m in no great rush to do so again.

      2. tangerineRose*

        The people who said this was how Toastmasters was in all chapters were wrong. Different groups have different atmospheres and expectations.

        1. CanCan*

          Absolutely! They may have the same general structure, but different people make for different groups. They also pick different topics for presentations.

          I’ve only been to Toastmasters twice. First time was a small group in a low-income neighbourhood, composed mainly of recent immigrants and retirees/unemployed people, who were very friendly and low-pressure, but neither the topics nor the feedback were sufficiently challenging for me. The other time, it was a group of business people meeting in a high rise on Bay Street (that’s the Canadian version of Wall Street), who didn’t “ah and ooh” at hearing I was a law student, and the quality of presentations I heard were way above what I could have done – so there were people to learn from.

      3. Pilcrow*

        I took the low pressure comment to be more that it gives one practice and feedback without endangering the job. Better to try new techniques at Toastmasters than in a work presentation; it if flops, oh well, try something different next time.

    5. Hey Karma, Over Here*

      Yes. OP, your reaction to public speaking is more than just jitters. I am nervous speaking in front of people. I will forget to look up, I will speak too quickly, too low. I hate it and keep it to a minimum.
      But I’m never concerned about my content. I am usually quite confident in what I’m presenting. I think my slides, handouts, analogies, the points I’m making are appropriate and valuable. (I just wish everyone could read it and get back to me.)
      So I want to suggest you look at what is really stressing you. Is it that everyone is staring or is that you don’t know what you are talking about. If it’s the latter, and you know it’s not true (as you seem to be stating) then work on that.

      1. TootsNYC*

        analysis like this is SO valuable.
        Try to listen to yourself, and feel yourself.

        I did this with procrastinating, and it was amazing.
        I didn’t so much cure it as “unlock” it–I have figured out that EVERY time I am procrastinating, it is because I am unsure of what the right move is.

        So now I go after the missing info or solve the uncertainty instead of beating myself up about the actual task. Once I’ve erased the uncertainty, the procrastination goes right away. Or, I give myself permission to make the wrong choice, which also works.

      2. Sparrow*

        I did wonder how much time OP has to prepare for these presentations. I’m the same as you – I’m not naturally comfortable speaking in front of people, but I can do quite well and feel confident *if* I’ve had enough time to prepare. If I’m winging it, my experience sounds more like OP’s (though I do keep the criticisms of my slides and word choice in my head!) But with enough time to figure out what I want to say and mess around with my slides until I’m satisfied, I can actually go in with fairly minimal nervousness because I feel in control of the situation. I think your suggestion of thinking about what aspects of this stress her out the most is a good one, because she might be able to adapt her preparation strategy/technique to address that specific thing and see if it helps.

      3. OP*

        Definitely…I’ve never had an issue inherently speaking in public, and I’ve done very well when I’ve used materials from other people, or during Q&A. It’s 90% anxiety over my slides and word choices…all the prep work.

        I’ll have to look into Toastmasters. Part of the issue is that it feels like any work I do on a presentation is in my free time or time I “steal” from work. I think 20-40 hours is not unreasonable amounts of presentation prep time, especially if it’s important, but I’d feel extremely guilty if I told my boss/team that’s all I worked on for a few days in a row.

        I know that’s not right…I definitely need to do a bit of an inventory on my views.

        1. Collywood*

          Definitely not. I used to feel the same, but now I take hours, if I need it. Polishing a presentation IS work for most of us.

          1. linger*

            A **lot** of work. Confession: even after 20 years spent lecturing, I hate public speaking with a vengeance; but I have a number of steps I go through that help.
            (a) OVERprepare the content. Have more detail available than you actually have time to deliver. Then cut anything that isn’t centrally relevant to your main point. This forces you to be selective for the script of the presentation itself. Keep a priority list of details that might be added in if and only if time permits. Convince yourself that you literally WILL NOT have time to add any other asides and qualifications. (N.B. Slide content has to be even more selective; handouts can have more supporting detail, but still shouldn’t contain more wording than the audience can comfortably read while listening to you.)
            (b) REHEARSE the delivery (actually speaking it out loud, while going through the slides). Check the timing.
            (c) DO collect your remaining questions, uncertainties and qualifications together, and take some time to consider, either, possible solutions you can suggest, or ways that you can ask the audience for solutions. These are things you might refer to in response to audience comments or questions (not during the body of the presentation itself). Think of the audience as a possible resource rather than an adversary; think of audience comments and questions as opportunities for seeking solutions.

        2. Scandinavian Vacationer*

          Is there someone else who could edit/critique your slides before the actual presentation? Like Communications staff, or another co-worker, or perhaps even hire (one time) a freelance editor? There is nothing like outsider/objective feedback, such a gift, especially in this situation.
          You could also build a “master presentation” that is very broad, from which you could excerpt sections based on your audience/topic for each presentation. Then you’ll always have something ready, pre-approved, which sounds like money in the bank for you.

        3. Oxford Comma*

          I’m just coming into say that taking a swig is a very short-term solution and one that could take you into places you don’t want to go. Also, the optics of it are not good. If I ever saw a coworker drinking on the job in that context, I would question it.

          Toastmasters, anti-anxiety techniques, improv are all much better long-term choices.

          Also, not sure if this is an option, but I sometimes do dry-runs of my presentations with either co-workers or friends. Even if they don’t know what I’m talking about, you’d be amazed at the things they twig to (e.g. slides with too much verbiage, verbal tics, etc.)

        4. Jaydee*

          I used to feel the same way, but boy has that changed! Now, presentations are a big part of my job and I realized that a) they *are* my work and b) better preparation leads to a more successful presentation. Note that I didn’t say more preparation because it’s not always about the hours (although 20-40 hours seems pretty reasonable if you’re basically starting from scratch). I’ve actually taken time to make some “standard” slide decks on certain topics I frequently present about so I don’t have to spend a lot of time creating something new for each talk. That also means I’ve practiced the same presentation many more times so I can give it much more fluently. And I make little tweaks here and there as I notice something that needs to be changed or something that should be added or taken out or emphasized for a certain audience.

    6. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

      +1 Toastmasters and maybe a therapist would likely go a long way. Liquid courage is only liquid courage because it lowers your inhibitions. You absolutely don’t want to get to a place where you believe you’re only capable of presenting well if you’ve had alcohol. If you can present well with alcohol, you can present well without alcohol. But presenting, like anything else, is a skill, and it takes practice as well as confidence-building. That takes work, but it’s absolutely worth doing instead of building a drinking habit around work presentations.

      A one-off like OP describes isn’t the end of the world, but it’s really not great, and it can’t become a habit. The question of why some substances are OK and some aren’t isn’t such a mystery to me. There is a difference between substances taken in controlled doses that might make you drowsy or give you other side effects but in general should leave you otherwise functional, and substances that are very liable to impair your judgment, perception, etc. Alcohol falls into the latter category. It’s not going to be easy for the drinker to know their limits when they’re surreptitiously knocking one back to manage anxiety. You definitely don’t want to be mid-presentation when you realize you’ve overshot your limit and are actually drunk.

    7. Kat2*

      Exactly. Presenting and public speaking are a skill – join Toastmasters or go to some classes and practice, practice, practice.

      The risks outlined by Alison are pretty significant and could realistically get you fired.

    8. Mary*

      It’s also possible that OP gets good feedback because … she’s good. And that the idea that she’s ruining her presentations with her nerves is the false perception. Toastmasters can help with this to: if you get mostly-good feedback there too, maybe it’s because you’re good!

    9. prismo*

      Agree! I have bad anxiety and small amounts of alcohol can help, but in the long run it’s really not an effective coping strategy. (Plus, alcohol can worsen anxiety over time, and it’s a depressant, which is bad for your mood in general.) It’s much better to find a way to address your anxiety head on.

      If Toastmasters doesn’t help, try therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy is particularly good for addressing specific fears (it’s “develop effective strategies” therapy, not “talk about your childhood” therapy).

    10. Jean*

      Yeah, this has the potential to go sideways. If you’re anything like me, alcohol is going to have a negative effect on your judgment, and in a work context, questionable judgment is never, ever a good thing. Of course, you may not be like me at all and maybe you just get less anxious with a bit of alcohol.

      Regardless, I would advise erring on the side of caution and not drinking alcohol while doing work stuff. A friend of mine who moonlights as a keynote speaker in her field sometimes takes a beta blocker before she gives a big talk. It helps reduce anxiety without giving her a buzz or making her think it would be really funny to tell an off-color joke to a conservative crowd.

    11. qvaken*

      This! Or just practice your presentations. There is such a thing as alcoholism, and it’s not so far-fetched to think someone can develop alcoholism from having a drink every time they need to ease public speaking nerves. I know some up-and-coming stand-up comedians who are in the process of trying to quit drinking because it became a real problem for them – in fact, I’d say it became a problem for me too when I was doing stand-up!

      Alternatively, if OP just isn’t comfortable with public speaking and believes they won’t become so, they could consider renegotiating their duties or looking at what other roles are available. That would be better than hangovers and depression!

    12. Kiki*

      Yeah, I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with having a beer or glass of wine before a speech– that’s usually a fine amount for a lot of people. Maybe I watch too many dramatic movies and television shows, but it seems like the issue is that one beer turns into two, then you’re adding shots, and then it’s a serious issue. Addressing the underlying nerves through Toastmasters or talking to a doctor and/or therapist seems like the more sustainable option

    13. Daisy-dog*

      Yes! I think OP really needs more concrete feedback on giving presentations. If it’s not going to come from anyone in the office, then Toastmasters (or something similar) could help.

    14. Junior Assistant Peon*

      In addition to the Toastmasters suggestion, try to seek out small / friendly audience speaking opportunities at work if you can. Presenting a 5-minute PowerPoint to a conference room with your project teammates is a good first step toward getting confident enough to attempt larger audiences and higher-stakes situations.

    15. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

      Yes- definitely consider Toastmasters. It helped my presentation skills immensely. It helped me feel more comfortable speaking in front of an audience and it also helped me be better prepared for my presentations.

  3. Case of the Mondays*

    I think time of day matters too as far as being socially acceptable. I often have to give evening presentations and there is a cocktail hour beforehand. I’ll absolutely have a drink even if I’m presenting. I would not, however, have a drink before an 8 am presentation.

    I do appreciate Allison’s point though re: why is a rx med okay but alcohol isn’t. One time I had terrible bronchitis and found that just a little whiskey in my tea treated my cough better than my cough medicine with codeine. I was less sleepy too! I work in a small office, was forthcoming with my boss and he green lit me having whiskey at my desk to use in moderation (like seriously, a teaspoon at a time) to keep my cough in check.

    Besides being at the airport though, there are few places I can think of where drinking to calm ones nerves is considered socially appropriate.

    1. Rock Prof*

      Many of my discipline’s professional conferences have an evening beer and wine “hour” (never actually an hour) that accompanies the poster sessions. It’s pretty acceptable to be presenting your poster with beer in hand. I would say that this can and does backfire (I’ve seen/heard about binge drinking, harassment, just general bad decision making) though most people have a beer or glass of wine and are fine (hopefully myself included). Whenever it comes up that maybe this isn’t the best idea for many valid reasons, there are quite a few people who defend the alcohol being present regardless of actual problems it might have contributed to, which can just be a bit disturbing.

    2. CupcakeCounter*

      Excellent point on the timing of the presentation. A presentation during a dinner meeting – sure, have ONE lighter cocktail (such as a glass of wine or a vodka soda). Anything other than that, you need to find an alternative option to help.

      Also its nice to see my grandfather wasn’t lying to us about whiskey as a cough remedy. Even when we were kids he was so mad at my mom for buying the expensive cold and cough meds. “Just give them a shot of whisky with some honey and lemon juice – works ten times better”. Granted he thought whiskey was a great cure for most childhood ailments. Rub it on a teething baby’s gums, a sleep aid, etc… I’m quite surprised my mom and aunt aren’t alcoholics!

      1. Whiskey is curative*

        I got the whiskey-and-honey cough treatment as a kid and it was SUPER EFFECTIVE. Mostly because the whiskey was so &^$#@^& disgusting to kid-me that I would do ANYTHIIIING to avoid having to have more of it. NOPE THAT WAS DEFINITELY NOT A COUGH THANKS DAD BUT I’M FEELING GREAT!

        Now of course I enjoy a medicinal hot toddy for the exact opposite reason :)

        1. KoiFeeder*

          Yeah, can confirm, the whiskey-honey-lemon juice treatment was effective… But in no small part because that treatment really did taste disgusting.

          1. Eeyore's Missing Tail*

            My straight-laced great-grandmother would buy a small bottle of whiskey every year to make her cough syrup.

            If you’re ever out of whiskey, gin is a good substitute.

      2. UKDancer*

        My grandfather swore by tea with sugar and whisky as the best treatment for a sore throat or a cold. He lived to be 97 so it didn’t appear to harm him. I find it quite soothing and pleasanter than the offerings at the chemist so I will use it for a bad sore throat or cough. I should say it’s never very much whisky, usually about 1-2 teaspoons of whisky and 1 teaspon sugar in a large mug of tea was Grandpa’s recommendation.

        1. cheapeats*

          Huh, my great-aunt swore by moonshine (speaking of illegal substances) and she also lived to be 97

    3. MistOrMister*

      Timing is a good point. I wouldn’t think twice if someone had a drink at a location that had a bar before a presentation in the evening. But something about the idea of drinking during the day before a presentation seems iffy to me. I would think talking to a doctor about a possible mild anti-anxiety (or whatever they would think best) medication might be a better idea. You can take a pill pretty much any time without generating comment, but that’s certainly not the same for drinking.

      Also, OP needs to take into account their workplace policies. All the offices I’ve worked in pretty much forbid alcohol except at work sanctioned events. You can knock back a few beers at the firm happy hour with no problem, but get caught drinking at your desk and you’re in trouble.

      It is interesting that the whisky helped better than prescription cough syrup. Although, cough suppressants often seem to not work well!!! But I think the big difference is getting employer consent. Allowing someone to have a teaspoon of whisky here and there to help with bronchitis seems reasonable. I don’t think there are many bosses that would agree to let someone have a drink or two before giving presentations….

        1. Case of the Mondays*

          Oh I had tried everything. The whiskey was an absolute last ditch effort after trying multiple prescriptions. I stopped the prescriptions before trying the whiskey and reported the effect of the whiskey to my doc. He shrugged and said “whatever works for you! Can’t be worse than codeine!”

          1. Relentlessly Socratic*

            Much cough-related empathy to you! Whenever I get something, it moves into my chest and lives there for a LONG time. Honey and whiskey hot toddys for the win! For many people, honey alone also does the trick. But sometime ya gotta bring out the big guns.

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      They use alcohol in many OTC cough medication. But it’s the combination of that and the antihistamines that put you to sleep.

      Many drug stores will card you for cold medication due to it’s addition.

    5. blackcat*

      I’ve been to a few academic conferences that have had wine + beer during evening poster sessions. A+, highly recommend.

  4. gunt*

    Anyone offering advice other than ‘drinking alcohol at work is a bad idea, period’ is not somebody who should be dispensing management advice.

    1. Not a Real Giraffe*

      This seems a pretty narrow view on such a broad statement. I thought Alison’s answer was thoughtful and responsible.

    2. Respectfully, Pumat Sol*

      Did you read her whole response? Or like, any of it? It’s quite nuanced and thoughtful. You have a bizarrely puritanical hard-line stance on this.
      Also want to add, lots of places of work offer alcohol to their employees while on the clock as a regular thing. I’ve worked at places where there is a literal keg built into the kitchen. Employers expect their employees to behave like adults and self-moderate.

      1. gunt*

        Ask your boss for a list of situations in which they’d approve you drinking at work, apart from at leaving parties. You’ll find they’ve got a very similar stance to mine and the list has nothing on it.

        1. Oh No She Di'int*

          You are aware that there are business establishments that have a bar for employees on the premises, right? Different businesses have different cultures and different standards.

          1. gunt*

            I’m sure there are, but someone necking vodka to deal with anxiety doesn’t sound like someone healthily self moderating to me.

            1. Respectfully, Pumat Sol*

              You’re leaping from “a few swigs” to “guzzling” which is, honestly, a huge assumption on your part. A few swigs could easily be less than a single shot. It could also easily be three shots. We have literally no way of knowing, and instead of taking the kinder approach, which we are asked to do on this site, you’re jumping to the most extreme option.

              My doctor actually did prescribe alcohol to me as a way to handle some of my anxiety once upon a time. I reacted badly to a medication, so she suggested a gin and tonic instead.

            2. Oh No She Di'int*

              You didn’t ask about healthy self-moderation. You asked about situations where drinking at work is approved of. And there are many such situations. Even situations where it’s openly supported.

            3. Not Me*

              I think if you did a little research you’d find that the number of people popping pills to deal with anxiety at work is incredibly high. Do you also shame those people?

          2. Donkey Hotey*

            Indeed. Previous employer had the rule of “you can’t drink at work… alone.”
            More than once, I was called into a co-worker’s office for a meeting for this very reason.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          That’s not actually true. Plenty of employers are fine with people having a drink during the work day and some even keep alcohol on the premises for that purpose, to say nothing of having a drink with clients, at a gala, at an event where you’ll need to speak, etc. It sounds like you have a pretty narrow perspective.

        3. Respectfully, Pumat Sol*

          As I said before – I worked at a place that literally had a keg built into the kitchen and it was completely normal to see people working at their desk with beers. We were expected to self moderate, but other than that, drinking on the job was a-ok!
          You may be surprised to find that not all jobs are as stuffy and straight-laced as you are/yours is.

        4. 50 Shades of Nope*

          My boss is ok with drinking at work at 5pm every single Friday. We have games available and its on the team calendar and everything it’s called “Vibes”. We also don’t care if someone has a drink at “Team Lunch” which is 3pm every Thursday. Several jobs I have worked at served alcohol and had no issue with the alcohol being consumed outside of goodbye parties. As long as your work is getting done and you don’t reek I’ve never had a boss who cared. I don’t drink alcohol at all if that matters.

        5. Passa*

          Oh dear. You are either incredibly young and naive or just really inexperienced and lacking in perspective. I hope it’s the former, for your sake.

          My boss’s list, requested right now:
          At a working lunch
          At a client dinner
          At an evening conference session
          At dinner on a late working night (boss: “I’ll provide the booze!”)
          At a work brunch (mimosas!)
          And… *boss waved hands expressively*

        6. Lily in NYC*

          I can list plenty. Not all workplaces are the same. Not all bosses are the same. Life is NOT as black and white as you seem to think.

          1. Arrogant Albie*

            My office has beer taps in the kitchen and a fairly well stocked bar, from which employees serve themselves at any time of their choosing. This isn’t an unusual thing in our field, in this region. It’s enjoyed responsibly, but I could imagine that if some incident(s) were to happen that seemed connected to that unlimited availability then maybe HR would start making policies more explicit than “use good judgement”.

            That said, if I were the OP I don’t think I’d try to solve my presentation anxiety this way. It depends on that person’s particular reaction, but it can be hard to know the subtleties of your own buzzed behavior. Recently I was at an awards event where the person handing out the awards was somebody I know fairly well, and he’d had just one too many beforehand, and it gave him a somewhat glib, dismissive, amused-with-himself air about him that just rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. I think it might even have been better if he’d been more definitively drunk, because everybody would have recognized that and been perhaps more forgiving, whereas his few-swigs personality isn’t identifiably inebriated but just unpleasant.

        7. MsMaryMary*

          My boss, the head of another department, and the director for our state joined in a champagne toast to celebrate landing a big account last week. Then we left early for happy hour.

          Obviously, we don’t work in manufacturing. But it’s not uncommon to occasionally drink at work in our profession.

        8. bunniferous*

          There is a comment on this very page that says a boss approved an employee having whisky at her desk for a cough. I myself work at a place where Friday afternoon occasionally had alcohol available provided by the boss (since we have grown I don’t think she does that anymore but I am not in the office a lot so couldn’t say for sure.)

          That said, it probably is not the greatest idea for most places, and you are allowed to have your own opinion on the matter, but it really is a case of “your mileage varies on the workplace.”

        9. Automated*

          Yeah, no cultures vary. Both within the US and internationally. Our company handbook even stipulates that drinking at lunch is fine. (US midwest).

        10. Kevin Sours*

          I’ve interviewed at companies that have an official beer fridge. In at least one instance the contents were company supplied and it was advertised as a perk.

        11. Hats Are Great*

          My boss used to buy us alcohol when I worked at a newspaper. The EIC would bring in a bottle for the people putting the paper to bed (so working after all the stories came in to get them edited and laid out for the press team, generally a 9 p.m. to about 3 a.m. shift, depending), and dole out shots around midnight. We took the shots from film canisters! (Which they kept around the office after switching to digital SPECIFICALLY FOR THE SHOTS.)

          This is how I discovered I can type 140 wpm sober but around 175 wpm after two shots, when my inner editor turns off and I can just FLY and let muscle memory spell the tricky words for me.

          I am way too old for that now but it was a fun place to work when I was younger.

        12. Pathfinder Ryder*

          The last quarter in a government job (non-US):
          – we just finished a big project
          – the team’s been having a rough time lately
          – our chief negotiator’s in town and has also noticed the team’s been having a rough time
          – Christmas is coming
          – we’re about to go on Christmas/New Year break

    3. Fikly*

      There are very very few things where there are no exceptions, ever. I mean, genocide is always bad, yeah, I don’t think there are exceptions, but really, you have to get pretty extreme to find them. Drinking alcohol at work is a bad idea, period, does not come close.

      1. gunt*

        I mean, yeah, if you work at a brewery or a pub, or a wine bar, or as a wine taster, or any number of other jobs the sender clearly doesn’t work at.

        1. 50 Shades of Nope*

          Or .. an ad agency, a start up, a tech company, or myriad other places that don’t require watching children or operating heavy machinery (to list the places I’ve worked with Kegs and where drinking was fine).

          1. Oh No She Di'int*

            My old company (publishing) used to have a margarita machine in the break room before it got too expensive to maintain. Margaritas were pretty much required on Fridays.

            1. 50 Shades of Nope*

              Im an admin. And I’m the one who put the keg in at the office where i work now. We needed the fridge space back. Tell me more about this margarita machine. Would be an Excellent addition to Vibes on Fri!

              1. Oh No She Di'int*

                Oh, I couldn’t tell you any of the details. It was some old, hulking, slurpee-type machine from like the ’80s. I’m sure there are way better, smaller, more efficient models on the market now. As I recall, the machine was always stocked up on Fridays, but irregularly at other times as well.

              2. Donkey Hotey*

                As ONSD mentioned – it’s a repurposed frozen drink machine (slurpee, icee, insert local regional term for blended iced drink). They are all the rage in Las Vegas including a few sizes that make my liver cry out in fear.

        2. AngryAngryAlice*

          When I worked on Capitol Hill in DC, I knew of many offices that supplied/allowed alcohol on Fridays. The fridges on multiple campaigns I’ve worked on were stocked with beer. Alcohol consumption at work is hardly limited to places that produce/sell alcoholic products.

          1. Kimberlee, No Longer Esq.*

            At the campaign I worked at, alcohol was completely fair game at 5:00 exactly. And because it was a campaign, everyone worked till like 9pm at least, every night, so we all had beers together while working *most* days.

        3. Malarkey01*

          I have been invited to drink at the following types of offices where I either worked or interned- corporate accounting, finance (investment bank), and law firms. These included catered lunches in the office, client meetings, working conferences, and in one of those offices we had a team meeting at 2 every Friday to recap the week’s projects and set plans and timelines for the next week all over company provided beers.

          I have also worked places where it would be unacceptable to have alcohol in the office, but the professional world is full of workplace alcohol.

        4. Kyrielle*

          I work in tech. I have worked in companies where *having* alcohol in your car in the parking lot was not okay (but of course, wouldn’t get you in trouble if it stayed there and no one knew about it), and companies where the *company* stocked beers in the fridge.

          And I avoid the more bro-y startup-y environments for unrelated reasons, but I know they exist.

          LOTS of workplaces where having even a sip of wine would be not okay, yes. Also lots where it would be just fine.

        5. TechWorker*

          I work in tech and whilst I don’t personally drink during the day when working as I am a lightweight, it’s pretty common/not particularly for people to go out for food and lunch and have a pint with it. Also when I’ve been working away the ‘leave work at 5 then work for a couple of hours at the bar with a beer’ is also totally fine/standard.

        6. Antilles*

          At my last engineering company, we literally had an entire closet filled with alcohol. If we had out of town clients who came in and wanted to work late, it wasn’t uncommon to offer them a drink once the clock rolled to 4 or 5 while continuing to review drawings for several more hours.
          Also, every couple months they’d do a social/party of some kind – wedding/baby showers, parties for various holidays, a paper airplane throwing competition, etc. These parties typically started mid-afternoon on a Friday, so it was fairly common for people to have a drink or two, then go back to their desk for another hour to tie up loose ends before the weekend.

      2. Sadie*

        My husband’s office (tech industry) has a company-stocked beer fridge with a variety of beers and hard ciders, all of which the employees are welcome to consume during the workday. They are expected not to get drunk. Anyone abusing the privilege (it’s happened once in many years) was dealt with individually. Just because you don’t understand or know something doesn’t mean it isn’t real.

    4. Coder von Frankenstein*

      Alison’s response was much more useful and in-depth than simply “always bad” (while still coming down on the side of “almost always bad”). Knee-jerk reactions make for poor advice.

    5. SometimesALurker*

      Honestly, I think Alison’s advice above is more likely to get someone to stop drinking alcohol at work than saying “it’s a bad idea, period” would be.

    6. Another Millenial*

      Anyone who looks at things in black and white is not somebody who should be criticizing an experienced manager.

      1. gunt*

        Ask your boss for a list of situations in which guzzling vodka at work is good and tell me how many they come up with.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Dude, stop leaving identical comments to everyone you disagree with. I removed two that were identical (you don’t need to post things word-for-word multiple times) and it’s been addressed above.

        2. Snoop*

          ahhh. I see you have changed the perimeters here! First it was ‘drinking in the office’ and now it’s “guzzling vodka”. FWIW, I’ve had conversations with my boss about this, because it used to be common practice at our office to have liquor available in the board rooms and president’s office. He has said that it’s ok to drink, as long as it was moderated.

          1. Fikly*

            Well, you know, if you don’t like that you’re wrong, the thing to do is pretend you were always talking about something else, right?

        3. Another Millenial*

          1) You are creating an issue in your own head by defining what the OP means. “Guzzling.” Really?
          2) My boss has a bottle of wine on her desk right now.

        4. George H*

          My boss gave me a bottle of whisky at lunch today and we cracked it open when we got back to the office and had a couple of fingers.

          You seem weirdly restricted and inexperienced in your thinking – I hope you learn to look beyond your blinkered perspective on the world one day.

        5. fhqwhgads*

          You’ve got at least 15 separate people giving you examples of workplaces where this was entirely acceptable and bosses who did not object and regularly supplied the booze during business hours (well minus the “guzzling” but guzzling is not part of the original premise in the letter, so it shouldn’t be the threshold).

    7. Ms.R-H*

      I was actually thrilled at the pragmatism of Allison’s response. She ultimately fell on the side of “probably a bad idea”, but really thought it through and provided room for nuance.

    8. Snoop*

      Too much grey area missed in this response. What about christmas parties? or offices that have beers on friday afternoons?

    9. Emma the Strange*

      Eh, it’s not unusual for tech companies and similar to have kegerators or some other form of free alcohol available to workers these days. That advice isn’t applicable everywhere.

    10. Sheffy4*

      I appreciate Alison’s thoughtful response, however as an HR person my reaction was similar to yours. Yes, some employers have a more relaxed stance on alcohol, but I would urge the employee to review their employee handbook to see if there is a drug and alcohol policy that explicitly states when alcohol use could get you in trouble. Maybe my experience is conservative, but all the workplaces I have been at prohibit alcohol during work, with the exception of work-sponsored parties and social events.

      1. O&G Engineer*

        This! Our employee handbook explicitly states that no alcohol is to be consumed before conducting any work activities.

    11. CupcakeCounter*

      As OP didn’t specify when these presentations occur, we do not know that these presentations are happening at work, during work hours, or at conferences that regularly have later presentations (such as after a cocktail hour or dinner).
      In general, drinking at work before giving a presentation to colleagues or clients isn’t something I would encourage. However, I have been to several workplace events where cocktails were provided. These were usually towards the end of the workday, onsite, and having a drink was absolutely fine. Most of the time they were meet and greets with offsite work teams (such as the international group) but sometimes it was before a larger meeting with presentations. Most of the presenters were eating and drinking before the meeting (although it was clear that this was a work event so most people only had one drink) so could technically be called “drinking at work”.
      Not to mention that a lot of companies have a culture that is more relaxed about having a drink at work. A coworker came from a place that had Friday team lunches with company provided pizza and beer.

    12. Link*

      I agree. There are plenty of ways of dealing with presentation jitters that don’t involve the risk of getting fired for intoxication and yet none of those are even mentioned in the post.

        1. Link*

          I’m not talking about medication. I’m talking about a whole bunch of practical exercises that a person can use before and during the presentation to calm their nerves and keep themselves focused. Presentation skills (including keeping your nerves to a minimum) are very important in a lot of careers and this post is a missed opportunity to discuss how to build those skills.

              1. Fikly*

                That your initial point was wrong, and that if you wish to convince people, rather than ignore that, you should acknowledge that.

          1. Jedi Squirrel*

            The OPs question was “is drinking before a presentation okay?” not “what are some techniques I can use to calm my nerves before making a presentation. Allison answered the question that was asked. If you want to offer some of those techniques yourself in a comment, feel free, but don’t be critical just because you disagree with the use of alcohol, or that Allison didn’t answer a question that wasn’t even asked.

            1. Link*

              Alison frequently answers questions by addressing the bigger picture issue and she could have done that here. I think it would have been useful to the OP to hear some additional suggestions for dealing presentation nervousness that are not so risky and I was expecting the answer to at least touch on that.

              1. JediSquirrel*

                Frequently, not always. She’s under no obligation to attempt to address every possible aspect of a situation. Doing so may, in fact, dilute the response the OP is looking for. (Which is one of the reasons she doesn’t want to get into language issues.) This was a very specific question.

                Like I said, you are free to add your input on those ways to calm presentation nerves, if you have some experience there. If, on the other hand, you are looking for information on those methods, just ask. Either email Allison, or ask in the Friday open thread. I’m sure you’ll get plenty of responses on the Friday thread.

    13. JKP*

      We had a blender contest for best mixed drinks a couple times a year where anyone who wanted to enter submitted the required ingredients, the company bought them, then each contestant made drinks. During lunch, everyone sampled whichever drinks they wanted and voted on which was the best mixed drink. And then went back to work after lunch. This was at a large insurance company.

      So many companies do not have such a hard line stance on alcohol as you seem to think.

    14. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      I’ve worked places where we were not allowed to have alcohol on the premises (so if you brought a bottle of wine in a gift bag to give to your friend at the birthday party you were heading to straight from work, you had to find a seriously good hiding spot for it during the work day.) I’ve also worked places that provided alcohol, from happy hour to kegs.

      There are a wide variety of workplaces.

      1. Relentlessly Socratic*

        My workplace extends that to include the parking lot/your car. So, technically I could be fired for running errands and grabbing wine at lunch for tonight’s dinner and leaving it in my trunk.

        1. littlelizard*

          What?! That’s a very intense way to treat your employees (unless you work at a rehab center or something?). What’s the logic given for that?

    15. Ceallach*

      I used to work at a large company (500+ staff) that had a staff member whose job it was to walk around the office with a drinks cart at 4pm every Friday so staff could enjoy a beverage at their desk while wrapping up their work for the week. They had snacks and non alcoholic beverages also, but most people had a glass of wine or a beer.

  5. Donkey Hotey*

    Pedantic ex-bartender note: a one-ounce shot of vodka has as much alcohol as a six-ounce glass of wine.
    But it’s amazing to see the social difference between “a couple swigs of vodka” and “a couple glasses of wine.”

        1. LizB*

          Where does a mansplainer get his water (that he drinks between guzzles of vodka)? From a well, actually…

          1. Hats Are Great*

            Did you hear about the mansplainer who drowned in a puddle? Oh, sorry, it was a well, actually

    1. NW Mossy*

      I think a big piece of the difference comes with the perception of the time involved. “Swigs” implies a few mouthfuls in a short duration of time (a couple of minutes at most), while a more diluted alcoholic beverage typically takes longer to consume (could be as long as an hour if you’re slowly paced with it). There’s also the connotation of swigs being furtive/hidden, while sipping is something people are used to seeing done publicly.

      1. Lilo*

        Exactly. Unless you’re chugging wine those shots will hit your bloodstream much faster and altogether, getting you drunker.

      2. Mystery Bookworm*

        I’m a native English speaker and I’m not sure I share your connotations, especially not the latter one.

        1. NW Mossy*

          I’m thinking of that movie/TV trope of someone pulling out a flask from an inside pocket, swigging the contents (sometimes combined with the yech face intended to cue that the character is normally a teetotaler), and passing it to their conversational companion. I’m sure there are plenty of people who don’t get that image, but it appears often enough in popular culture that it’ll trip that memory for some.

          Obviously, it’s fiction, so it’s not intended to be representative of the behavior of actual living humans re: alcohol consumption. However, as said humans, we’re not always good at distinguishing that difference, and it can create unintended biases.

    2. Another Millenial*

      I think personal definition becomes a factor here. For example, it takes me a few swigs to complete a shot.

      1. Anonymousaurus Rex*

        Me too. I read “a couple of swigs” as potentially less than a full shot of vodka.

    3. Delphine*

      I think, “I have a few swigs of vodka before a presentation, ” and, “I have a few glasses of wine before a presentation,” are equally strange. She’s not talking about a few drinks over the course of an evening.

    4. tangerineRose*

      The LW said “a few swigs of vodka”, so wouldn’t that be equivalent to a few glasses of wine right before a business speech? A few glasses of wine seems like too much.

  6. Remizidae*

    Try beta blockers or phenibut. As irrational as it is, our society approves of anxiolytic pills more than anxiolytic drinks.

    1. Junior Dev*

      Seconding this. My experience with beta blockers is they are really great at stopping anxiety before it starts without making me tired or intoxicated. The only reason I don’t take them regularly is it makes it hard to exercise.

      Talk to your doctor obviously, I can’t give you medical advice. But beta blockers are different from a lot of other anxiety meds in that they’re less likely to impair cognitive functioning.

      1. Sassy Spacek*

        Thirded they are a godsend and you don’t have to worry about anyone finding out you’ve been drinking as considered much more acceptable.

      1. hbc*

        Yep, my spouse started getting anxiety symptoms during performances, significantly interfering with his ability to perform (think violinist with shaking fingers.) A pill he needs once every 3 months was the perfect solution for him.

    2. KayEss*

      Yeah, there are a lot more low-risk, low-impact medical solutions to anxiety out there than people may be aware of—it’s not “scary, addictive benzos” or nothing. Your doctor should be able to help you out or give a referral to someone who can.

    3. Missy*

      Beta blockers are great. I was on xanax for flying for a long time but I hated taking it because it made me really out of it. I also come from a family with addiction issues and having it in my home meant needing to keep it locked up. The switch to a beta blocker was great. Especially because it stopped the response to the anxiety. I still have my normal thoughts (which xanax seemed to shut off, along with all other thoughts) but with the beta blockers I didn’t get into an anxiety feedback loop. Instead of having a negative thought and spiraling I could just move on.

    4. uncivil servant*

      I really love beta blockers. I wouldn’t want to take them to deal with chronic anxiety because they make it hard to run up a flight of stairs, etc., but they are very effective for me at dealing with that paralyzing fight or flight response that makes me feel like I would be better to run out of the room than to just give the presentation. I know the urge to critique my presentation in the moment rather than give it so very well.

      The good thing is that it’s very hard to abuse them. They are not “fun” drugs for most people so asking for them is not a red flag for most doctors. And there isn’t that temptation to feel just a bit better by taking just one more sip.

      1. Fish Microwaver*

        I am prescribed beta blockers (quite a high dose but not as high as my Dr would like) for migraines. I have normal blood pressure so can sometimes be a bit light headed. I also have lethargy and constipation as side effects. I have noticed absolutely no difference in my anxiety levels, which range from mild constant to infrequent severe . The migraines have decreased slightly in intensity and frequency but I don’t love beta blockers and they are not a magic bullet

        1. uncivil servant*

          I take them a few times a year. I think that’s an important distinction. (It’s also hard to use exposure therapy/practice to deal with something that happens so infrequently.) If you were using them to deal with daily meetings I think a doctor would suggest looking at different treatment methods, although I’m certainly not a medical professional.

    5. Joielle*

      Yep, I have beta blockers for occasional generalized/performance anxiety and I love them. For me, anyways, they give the calming sensation of a glass of wine, without the alcohol breath, sleepiness, etc.

    6. Shmoops*

      Yep I have a beta blocker prescription that I really only use probably 6 or 7 times a year, typically if I’m presenting to executives and need to seem calm and collected. It helps so much with the physical symptoms (shaking hands, wavery voice, sweating) but keeps me clear headed. Definitely think it’s worth talking to a doctor about before relying on alcohol (although I did take shots before my college public speaking class, because I was 19). Also, speaking as someone who bartended for ten years – if you think people can’t smell the vodka on you, you are mistaken.

    7. blackcat*

      I wish these were an option for me! I once asked about it, and apparently being hypotensive is contraindicated. My normal BP is around 90/60, often dipping to more like 85/50. So they’re a no-go for me :/

      1. call centre bee*

        Oh dang, I was reading these comments about beta blockers with great interest, but I suffer from hypotension too.

    8. Courageous cat*

      Whoa, one of those things is not like the other. My understanding is phenibut can get out of control pretty quickly. I’m not sure I’d casually recommend it since people likely don’t know much about it. Beta blockers are a great idea and quite safe, though.

  7. BusyBee*

    Not any constructive comment here, just wanted to say I always appreciate Alison’s thoughtful response to questions. Found this answer pretty thought-provoking.

  8. azvlr*

    Have you thought about joining Toastmasters? I’m terrible at presentations and am also interesting in improving my “stage presence”. It’s on my radar to join soon. I’d like to know how others have found it.

    1. Caramel & Cheddar*

      I was going to suggest this as well, not necessarily Toastmasters, just the idea that the way to get better at presenting is to do more presenting.

      LW, is there any way to get more presentation experience under your belt outside of these presentations? i.e. are their smaller ones you can be doing at work that will help you build up to these ones? Do you have a trusted coworker you can practice with? Even if you don’t trust your feedback, saying your presentation out loud to another actual human always feels a lot different than practicing it on your own, and doing that a few times before the presentation might help smooth out all the bumpy bits you’ve identified (i.e. criticize your slides in front of your colleague so you won’t do it in front of a whole group of people).

      1. Librarian of SHIELD*

        This suggestion is not for the faint of heart, but in school we always used to videotape ourselves giving presentations and review the tape afterward. We were required to hand in a one page review, including 2-3 things we felt we did well and 2-3 things we thought we could improve. I never learned to like watching or listening to recordings of myself, but I did learn some really valuable things from it. If OP doesn’t trust the feedback they’re getting from other people, making a video of one of their practice sessions and giving their own feedback may be an option.

    2. Sheffy4*

      I’m currently in a Toastmasters club and I have found it very helpful to get over a lot of my presentation anxiety, not because of anything special they teach really (although learning the basic structure of a speech with a beginning, middle, and end is helpful), but mostly just being “forced” to get up in front of an audience a lot more than I normally would. Clubs vary greatly in style and culture, so if you try one club and don’t like it, try another to see if it’s a better fit.

      1. Important Moi*

        Yes, I made a comment above, because the chapter I went to didn’t work for me and there was not another that would fit into my schedule logistically.

      2. Esme*

        I had the same experience with Toastmasters, in that it is not really some particular technique or piece of knowledge they’ll impart.
        It’s just that speaking so frequently (take a small part every week, if not a full speech) in a low-risk environment is the only way to *prove to your body* that it’s actually not in danger, so it can start to chill out on that high alert. Took a few months. And in my case, I managed to reinterpret any remaining jitters as “Wow I must be so excited to speak!” and eventually my body started to believe it.

    3. Librarygal30*

      I like my Toastmasters club. I used to be so nervous of forgetting something important, but now I get nervous at the thought of leavign something out when I do my research on my topic.
      The new Pathways system combines both speaking and leadership together, which is different than the old education system that they had.
      For help finding a club: http://www.toastmasters.org; then, click find a club, put in the area you want to search, and it will bring up results.

  9. Tata*

    Does your employer offer 1 day class on public speaking/giving presentations? If your employer doesn’t, another option is Toastmaster Club or your local community college may offer a day class as well. Toastmasters is a non-profit organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills.

  10. kittymommy*

    Lol, this could be me. When I was getting my graduate degree I had to have a couple of semesters of a class (essential to my degree) that was heavily focused on public speaking. The very thought of public speaking sends me into a panic attack. My therapist at the time ended up putting me on Xanax for the course of the classes but told me that doing a shot (or partial shot) of bourbon would have been just as effective and probably cheaper (and arguably less side-effects). Alas, I was under a no-alcohol ethics clause for the school so Xanax it was.

  11. Morning Glory*

    I’m a nervous public speaker, too. There are non-alcoholic, non-pharma things you can try to ease your nerves and improve your speaking skills.

    More than anything, finding a quiet space to run through your presentation out loud three to four times the day of your presentation will make you feel more confident and prepared.

    1. Hapless Bureaucrat*

      Yes to this, frankly. A lot of the mistakes noted sound like exactly the things run-throughs will catch and help you even out.
      I’ll also take five minutes prior to the presentation to review the set-up and mumble my lead-in remarks to myself. Having an outline or notes will also help if I get lost. It’s not a quick or glamorous fix, but knowing I have prepared calms me way down.
      I’ll also take five minutes ahead of time to do some grounded breathing to clear my mind. If you’re already doing everything else to prep, LW, look up some breathing exercises that are used to control anxiety. It could also help to have a subtle fidget like a bracelet or pen that you can play with to bleed off some of that nervous energy.
      I’m not against either alcohol or anxiety meds for use with presentations, but Allison’s concerns about doseage and side-effects do apply. It’s worth trying behavioral fixes, too.

    2. Willis*

      This. I get nervous before public speaking and, when I first started doing it, found myself stammering sometimes, particularly between slides. So, I practiced more and worked specifically on transitions. That, and doing it more often / getting more practice, has helped a lot. OP noted specific issues she saw during her presentation, so I think there are some places to work from and she could probably improve a lot and be more confident without the vodka.

    1. Morning Glory*

      Neither the smell nor the optics of taking a swig of alcohol would apply to a prescription medication.

      That said, I think anxiety meds should be an absolute last resort for something like public speaking.

      1. Threeve*

        The anxiety medication that my psychiatrist prescribed for my anxiety is usually my first resort for…my anxiety.

        I don’t have to get on stages or airplanes very often, I’m not going to feel ashamed for not trying out every meditation technique or breathing exercise or “natural” supplement under the sun before resorting to proven medication.

        1. Courageous cat*

          Yes! Would love to see this narrative of “taking anxiety medication rather than working through it = weakness” dissipate in our society.

        2. Morning Glory*

          A person without anxiety who gets anxious about public speaking is different from a person with anxiety.

      2. MicroManagered*

        Yes but those essentially come down to “others being aware you are doing it” which could just as easily be said about being viewed popping a prescription bottle of Xanax open and taking one.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          It’s easier to disguise Xanax than alcohol. If you happen to see me popping a pill before a presentation, it could be aspirin or an antacid or a million other “officially innocuous” meds.

          1. Avasarala*

            I disagree. As college students we got very creative about bringing in vodka in bottles of Poland Spring.

      3. Joielle*

        Why, though? Performance anxiety is… anxiety, a condition that can (for many people) be effectively treated with medication. Why not avail yourself of that option, aside from some vague moralistic objection to pharmaceuticals?

      4. Blueberry*

        How much of someone’s life do they have to waste on every other possibility before they’re allowed to try the last resort they knew all along would work for them?

    2. Quill*

      Disagree because perscribed meds have purity and clinical study standards that will tell you exactly what you’re putting in yourself and how it interacts with other meds, whereas alcohol is not as uniform. (Also because with prescribed meds, if they don’t work or have non-emergency side effects, you already have a second party, in the perscribing doctor, evalutating how you’re doing on them.)

      The primary difference between the two that isn’t based on society’s preconceptions is in the replicability of your method and the standards the manufacturers are held to.

      Alcohol may be effective for this but maybe not the most effective based on a side effects to effectiveness ratio, or even a reliable amounts taken regularly giving the same effects stance.

      (Full disclosure I have worked in a pharma-adjacent industry so while I’m well aware that in terms of anxiety and depression each medicine has a chance of not working for each person, I’m also well aware that determining the correct dosage should be supervised, not self directed, for the same reason you shouldn’t bench press alone.)

      1. Terrysg*

        The drugs are safe to take, but different bodies react differently, and even the same body can react differently at different times. My experience of anti-depressant is that there’s no way of predicting how people will

        react except to take them and see.

        1. Quill*

          Yeah, I lucked out on my first attempt at picking a drug working, but at least if it hadn’t I could get a second opinion and a second option.

          There’s a lot of grey area in psychiatric meds between “these work all the time!” and “these are less effective than a placebo” and in my non-doctor opinion it’s probably because there are too many factors involved in the creation of things like anxiety disorders for there to be a single, near-universal chemical lightswitch… not that there’s a discrete set of chemicals involved in the fist place.

          And when you get meds, they don’t work in a vaccum: removal or reduction of high stress situations, and often some sort of therapy, spiritual practice, or mindfulness practice, tend to go with having success even after you find something that will help you pharmaceutically.

    3. Tuckerman*

      An additional caveat is that a lot of doctors are reluctant to prescribe anti-anxiety meds for regular use. They might recommend therapy instead, which might be more effective long term but expensive and not necessarily helpful immediately.

  12. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    The issue I see here is that if you’re found to have alcohol in your system in some places, you will be terminated. Whereas if you’re UA’ed and you come up for Ativan, that’s a prescription that can be traced back.

    I live an world where it’s not office work all day long here, someone taking swigs of alcohol is an issue no matter how you slice it because after that presentation you’re going to be jumping on a chop saw or something. Please don’t do that!

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Oh goodness, lol. Totally unintentional.

        But I’ve seen a man get his finger tip amputated by reaching into a saw…I’m glad he wasn’t drunk because that’s more bleeding but also wish he had been drunk so it would have given him an actual excuse other than “IDK why I put my hand over the guard *Kanye Shrug*”

  13. mf*

    Why not see your go about an anxiety medication? That way if the pharmaceutical effect backfires, you can at least tell your boss that you’re on a new prescribed medication and you’re just discovering that it’s affecting your performance.

    1. Courageous cat*

      I mean, you could say this anyway – it’s not like they can call your doctor and ask for verification

  14. AvonLady Barksdale*

    This question cracks me up, because I have often joked that I would do the same thing. I have terrible stage fright in certain situations (thankfully not during work presentations), and in the past I have taken beta blockers before performances. So I’m not against chemical help. However, shots of vodka at work are not a great look– there are definitely some risks. In my case, I would turn red (in my face instead of just my chest, which I cover by wearing scarves), people might smell it, people might find the bottle and jump to conclusions, that kind of thing.

    I highly recommend the LW take the feeling and relaxation she gets from the vodka and explore ways to get there without the vodka. CBT* and/or meditation come to mind.

    *Cognitive behavioral therapy, not CBD.

    1. Respectfully, Pumat Sol*

      I mean CBD could also be something that works, if one lives in a state where it’s legal and has an employer that doesn’t ban it.

      1. Another Millenial*

        I never considered that an employer might ban it. I live in a state that will never EVER legalize weed (and does not sell wine or beer until 12 on Sundays), but we have CBD everywhere.

      2. ACDC*

        CBD is different from THC (the part that gets you high) – CBD only products are legal in all states and, as far as I know, isn’t detectable by a drug test so there isn’t really a way for an employer to ban CBD use.

        1. Mia 52*

          Sure there is. They can write in their handbook “No CBD use at work” in their handbook and then fire people who are caught. Not saying that’s the best course of action, but sure you can ban it. And I imagine some more conservative places might.

        2. Shramps*

          CBD can show up on a drug test! CBD is not regulated and if it’s made poorly, it can have trace THC. Also, some drug tests test for all cannabanoids and will treat CBD as THC, and you won’t get to argue your case.

  15. Amethystmoon*

    I would say it depends. If it’s on workplace premises and there’s a policy against it, this is something that could backfire eventually if someone finds out about it and tattles. There are herbs that can calm you down and are legal, like say, lemon balm. Maybe try having a cup of herbal tea first instead?

    I also agree with the Toastmasters advice, as I have done it for over 6 years and now don’t get stage fright in front of small to medium-size groups anymore. I still do in front of large groups, but it’s quite rare that I have to speak in front of a group more than say, 40-50 people.

  16. ThatGirl*

    Benzos (such as ativan) can make one seem as out of it as excess alcohol consumption, so in my opinion, both depend on dosage. But I don’t think either is a great long-term solution to this sort of work anxiety. (Or probably any work related anxiety.) I’d recommend more practice and perhaps some relaxing breathing exercises or meditation that you could do quietly before presenting. At worst you’d get a funny look if someone happened upon you meditating; if someone saw you swigging vodka that could cause a lot of problems.

  17. Antilles*

    I’ve gotten empty positive feedback on all of my presentations; I don’t trust my boss or peers to give honest criticism.
    As a note here, if this is the primary concern pushing you to drink before a presentation, I’d really re-examine their feedback on previous (sober) presentations. I’d even consider giving the presentation to a third party you know will be honest (friend, significant other, etc) and getting their take.
    Because while it’s certainly possible that you’re right and your boss/peers are just being polite…it’s also possible that they’re being sincere and you’re simply judging yourself far more harshly. Remember: Just like acting, the only person who knows the intended script of your presentation is you; for all the audience knows, the presentation went exactly as planned.

    1. Oh So Anon*

      People generally are just polite, though. The only way to really get better at things is assume that feedback is soft-pedaling things because honest feedback takes emotional labour that people need for other non-work parts of their lives.

      1. Mary*

        Yes, but also anxiety can hugely distort your perception of how successful you are st something, and using alcohol to manage anxiety has some pretty big risk factors. Toastmasters or seeking some coaching or giving or questionnaires or looking for some feedback you DO trust should be part of the answer.

      2. Elsajeni*

        Sure, but it’s also worth considering whether you really need to get better at something, especially when the tool you think will make you better at it has risk factors like “some jobs would fire you for this” or “this could cause major reputational damage.” The OP is consistently getting positive feedback on presentations; sure, people often give feedback that’s more complimentary than they really feel, but does that mean there are actual problems they’re avoiding mentioning, or just that they’re saying “great presentation!” when the truth is more like “perfectly adequate presentation!”?

        If the OP’s emphasis had been on “I felt much better and calmer while presenting,” I would still say that drinking is probably not the best way to handle that, but that’s a situation where it sounds like ABSOLUTELY getting some help to manage anxiety/stage fright would be beneficial. But given that their emphasis is mostly on “the presentation I gave was better,” I think it’s worth considering the possibility that they’d actually be better-served by targeting some anxiety-management efforts at what might be a bit of perfectionism than by going to great lengths to Make This Presentation Better.

        1. OP*

          This is a helpful take, thank you. Honestly, I could completely bomb a presentation and it would be fine for my job…but I’d feel bad. If I bomb a presentation, I’ll replay it in my head for years. It still hurts to think of some college presentations where I didn’t have time to prepare.

    2. MistOrMister*

      I didn’t think about this, but it’s a really good point. We are often our toughest critics!! Whenever I train someone, I always assume I bored them to death and rambled incoherently the entire time, while also managing to inply they were a moron, and mortally offending them. They can tell me afterwards that it was the best training they ever received and I just assume they’re being polite. Maybe OP can find someone they trust to give feedback. Or perhaps it could help to practice going over the presentation a few times before giving it so it’s easier to stay on topic.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      Yes, my first take reading this (which Alison covered) is that alcohol is changing OP’s interpretation of what she does more than it changes what she does.

      1. Toads, Beetles, Bats*

        Agree totally. Just like my jokes seem funnier (to me) when I’ve had a glass of wine. But they’re really just the same nerdy jokes as always.

    4. Smithy*

      I’ve often found a problem of feedback on presentations – be it internal or external facing – there’s a lot of motivation to put a positive spin usually because the final ‘performance’ has already been given. Very rarely at work will there truly be time to test run a presentation and have the time to listen to and incorporate feedback. In the few times I’ve seen colleagues actually have time to ‘rehearse’ and incorporate notes – that’s when I’ve seen more thoughtful and helpful comments.

      In some jobs perhaps you’re giving updates on data every month or quarter, so that might be an opportunity to ask your boss “this month, I used 3 slides instead of 5, was that more or less effective?”. But if the majority of presentation opportunities are on different topics and in front of different audiences, I’ve found feedback – even from people who give decent professional feedback overall – can be pretty weak.

    5. Koala dreams*

      That was the first thought that came to my mind too. Plenty of people are bad at judging their own presentations when they are 100 % sober! You judge it against the ideal presentation that’s in the back of your mind, while the listeners judge it compared to other presentations, or readings, or training videos, or doing boring chores. It seems more likely that the drinks make you feel better about the presentation, compared to actually making your presentation go smoother. Maybe it’s good enough to feel better? If the presentations need to be actually be better, I wouldn’t count on alcoholic drinks or medication.

  18. Jcarnall*

    A few years ago, at a long-past job, a friend made the mistake of admitting in public at a departmental meeting (at the social winding-down stages of the meeting, but everyone including our manager was still there) that he got very nervous at big public events where he had to schmooze people, so as free wine was usually available, he would have a glass of wine and then circulate, and he found this had really helped.

    I had seen him at large public events, and I can affirm that his manner and behaviour at them was fine. He was affable, polite, relaxed, and friendly. He didn’t say or do anything that was inappropriate.

    Our manager, however, after consulting with the board of directors, laid down a strict rule for all staff that none of us were to touch any alcoholic drink at any public event on pain of firing.

    I like wine. At large public events where wine was available, I used to ask for a glass of wine and circulate sipping from the wine. Generally, one glass would last me an entire evening – if I finished my one glass, I’d switch to water. I don’t like coke/fizzy drinks, I found I drank fruit juice too fast, and while I like coffee/tea, that wasn’t always available (more complicated prep work). After this rule was laid down, I couldn’t do that any more, and I found it intensely frustrating.

    My colleague switched to prescription anti-anxiety medication which gave him leg tremors. I noticed no difference in his behaviour at large public events.

    OP, I believe you when you say a shot of vodka fixed your anxiety problems and caused no negative issues. (Though if I were you I would want independent honest verification of that.)

    But I would absolutely, if I were you, either get managerial permission for this shot of vodka or never, ever, ever let anyone find out you do it – or think of another strategy.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      See, that strikes me as so backwards. It’s a dinner/cocktail event! A glass of wine is not inappropriate, and if I had been in the room with your co-worker during his confession, I would have nodded and agreed. One glass of wine should not be banned in that situation.

      Before a presentation, in-office, though, I can see how that would be a different story.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        There are plenty of managers/companies that go this way though.

        Even if it’s an evening event and they are offering wine to the folks there, you aren’t allowed to drink because it’s considered “company/work” time and they’re strictly “no drinks during anything deemed work”.

        These kinds of policies are often up for debate within someone’s own firm to change the policy but it’s always going to be up for debate. Some places it’s fine, some places it’s a “We will fire you, don’t test me.”

        1. Jcarnall*

          Most places I have worked have had a general rule of “no alcohol in the office” (sometimes relaxed as “except for very special occasions with managerial approval).

          Some places I have worked have had bans on drinking alcohol during the working day.

          Other places I have worked have left it up to individual employees if they want a glass of wine or beer with a team lunch off the premises, and presumed their employees could exercise responsible adult judgement.

          All of the above seem entirely reasonable to me, so long as the managerment are clear up front about what their expectations are.

          Only one place I have worked has had a 100% ban on employees drinking anything at all when at any event, no matter where or when, so long as they are in effect representing the company.

      2. Jcarnall*

        See, the problem was, it wasn’t that he was having a glass of wine before he started circulating – he had been doing that for years and everything had been fine. There was no ban on helping yourself to the free wine at a work-related event – we were all expected to be sensible and grown-up about it, but we always were. There had never been any issues.

        The problem was, in context, that he had mentioned it as a strategy for self-medication – and neither our manager nor the board of directors was fine with that. If he needed to self-medicate for anxiety, their feeling was, that he should be doing so with prescribed pharmaceuticals. Never mind that a single glass of wine worked for him.

    2. Important Moi*

      I often wonder why people feel the need to reveal so much. It’s a moot at this point, but what was the context in which someone felt the need to “admit” anything?

      Maybe the lesson was a social wind-down meeting is still a work event and someone with a different perspective on drinking may take action in the form of rules, discipline, termination, etc. I ALWAYS tell people you never what everybody is thinking all the time. Err on the of caution. This isn’t snark.

      1. Jcarnall*

        I agree!

        The context was, someone at the meeting had mentioned the stress and anxiety of large public events where you are the front-face of the organisation: and as near as I can tell, he was sympathising and offering his own “works for me” strategy.

  19. Viette*

    “I think we need to parse out exactly why Ativan is fine but alcohol isn’t in order for that to be a logically sound stance.” Yes!

    I think a large part of it is that taking “a few swigs of vodka” 1. isn’t a clear dose and 2. how much they drink is entirely up to the OP. With prescribed meds, the dose is discrete and it’s harder to accidentally consume too much. OP can decide to double their dose, but it’s not like they can do it by accident or in a long slow slide fashion. There’s also another person involved with Ativan dosing (the prescriber), so that while, yes, the OP can just take three Ativan instead of one, if they want to up their dose consistently they have to take it up with the prescriber, who is (supposed to be) keeping an eye out for overuse. If they want to up their dose of vodka there’s a near-infinite supply of vodka, and no one at the liquor store is going to say, “buddy, weren’t you just in here?”

    I *don’t* necessarily think these are reasons the OP shouldn’t stay with alcohol over prescription medications. But I do think they’re part of why this feels uncomfortable at first blush, and they’re definitely things OP should keep in mind if they want to drink safely.

    I also agree with others that smelling like alcohol in the middle of the day is decidedly not professional, so watch out there.

    1. Bye Academia*

      Yes, I totally agree with this. The issue with using alcohol for anxiety vs. Ativan or a beta blocker is not the alcohol itself. It’s the self-medication. With this kind of thing, it’s best to be supervised by a medical professional. There are a ton of ways that could play out: some kind of therapy, meds, repeated visits to Toastmasters, etc.

      OP, if you have access, it would be a great thing to bring up with your GP or see a specialist about. They can help you figure out the best course of action to get to the bottom of your performance anxiety.

    2. Quill*

      Yeah, if it impairs your judgement and you’re planning on regular use for management of a condition, you need a sober, ideally educated, person determining your safe dosage.

      Alcohol in particular has some practical concerns (greater liver damage than the prescription alternative, a well studied pattern of addictability that includes an escalating dose,) that another similarly unregulated and substance, such as CBD oil, may not.

      1. Relentlessly Socratic*

        The problem with CBD oil is that it hasn’t been well and reliably studied, and there is no guarantee that you’re getting anything in that bottle of oil. There are some reports that it may have some impact on the liver, but we just don’t know. I want to push back on the idea that CBD is 1. efficacious and 2. definitively safe. The research isn’t there.
        Ethanol, yes, has a host of known negative outcomes, but when I buy a bottle of 80 proof, I’m reasonably sure that it’s 40% ethanol. Not 20%, and not 90%. Now. Having said that, I’m also not using ethanol to moderate my anxiety before a talk. I am, however, looking forward to cocktails with a friend this evening.

        1. Quill*

          Yeah, that was the unregulated part and may not. More study is absolutely necessary at this point and I really hope that weed gets legalized so that this can be properly moved into the “definitely a drug, will study its effectiveness thoroughly” category instead of the “comes from a plant, sold unregulated as a remedy or supplement” category.

          May have skipped that due to having made so many variations on this explanation in the thread. :)

          1. Relentlessly Socratic*

            Weed, I think, has a lot of real potential for pain management etc. and so on. But, as you say, until legalized at the federal level, it’s prohibitively difficult to study in a rigorous manner–>both benefits AND harms so that the end user can make informed choices about using it. I have the dread fibromyalgia, and weed is legal in my state, and I would LOVE to know that using it would be a slam dunk. Heck, I can walk to the pot shop and get some recreational weed on. But I don’t because I’m also old enough to care about the potential negatives and don’t think I’m going to live forever regardless of what I put in my body. Um, yet, cocktails later. The cognitive dissonance is RIGHT THERE.

            1. Quill*

              I have a deep suspicion that I’d be one of the people with an anomalous reaction to weed, given how things like Nyquil, novocain, and regular old anasthesia affect my whole family weirdly, including me.

              Nonetheless there’s no scientific reason to throw out the option for patients, especially given it’s long history of effective use and the potential to help reduce use of alternatives (such as opiates) for pain control that we know can be very dangerous.

              Ultimately the dose makes the poison for pretty much everything and you can’t get a consistent dose if you don’t study it scientifically.

              1. blackcat*

                Are you a redhead? Do you have redheads in your family?

                One of the red-hair causing genes does this. You can have this gene without having the hair since the hair color is generally recessive while the other impacts of the gene are more complex. But generally you’ll have a redhead somewhere on the family tree. The gene is medically relevant since it has some pretty broad impacts, including impeding clotting (so bad bruises and even hemorrhaging is more likely).

                Benzos act like caffeine for me (which was a DEEPLY unpleasant discovery), and I’m nearly impossible to anesthetize. But weed…. is weed. So there’s that. YMMV, of course.

                1. Quill*

                  We’re brunettes and blondes all the way down on both sides, not even any real strawberry blondes. The carriers of the anasthesia resistance also don’t bruise easily at all – I got microfractures in a rib from falling down the stairs once and never showed a bruise on the surface.

                  We’re fairly certain it comes with whatever gene we have that also gives us insomnia, but literally every time I go to the dentist for a filling I have to remind him not to shoot in the novocain until he is literally ready to get in there the second it kicks in, because the countdown starts that second.

      2. Relentlessly Socratic*

        Also @Quill, I see from other comments that we are if not career adjacent, we’re at least in the same orbit on this.

      3. Smithy*

        I think the escalating dosage/addict-ability issues are a huge part of why prescription medication or self-medication for anxiety is hard to endorse without a medical professional being involved.

        If the LW had written that over their 20 year public speaking career – before every presentation they had .5 oz of vodka, and that was the secret to their success. I would be inclined to view that being as much of a ritual/placebo effect than alcohol chemically disrupting anxiety.

  20. HarvestKaleSlaw*

    Self medicating for anxiety with alcohol will work. Sort of. For a short while. Until it fairly quickly stops working, and you are drinking just to fend off withdrawal anxiety that’s 10x worse than what you had before. Oh, and the real-life consequences of drinking will spawn whole lot of new, very real reasons to be anxious.

    Trust me, as someone from a family that treats their un-diagnosed GAD this way – do not go down this road. When a few swigs of vodka gives you relief from painful feelings, when it makes you feel like you are a better, more confident, more intelligent person, it is a sign that you are predisposed to like alcohol a lot.

    There are other strategies you can use. Talk to someone. I am throwing myself in front of your car here, metaphorically, frantically waving my arms.

    1. Squeeble*

      This is where I come down, too. It will work until you need more, and more, and more…and then you’ll have a whole new problem.

    2. Fibchopkin*

      Was coming here to say a variation of this. For most of my post-military civilian career, I worked in addiction medicine, and I can’t even begin to tell you how many cases of advanced alcohol use disorder I saw that were linked to self medication for anxiety, trauma, or another mental health condition. There were just SO MANY. In fact, I saw some pretty major warning bells in this letter. OP, your wording veers very close to “I NEED this substance in order to successfully perform this typical, regular (maybe daily?) function of my job.” I would very strongly encourage you to discuss this with your primary mental health care provider, or, if you don’t have one, your physician. If you’re in the US or Canada, I can practically guarantee that saying to your provider “My anxiety at work has been such that I have been taking a few swigs of vodka before my presentations” will be something she wants to hear, and have a conversation with you about.
      Also- just in case you need to hear this, you are a good person. Your anxiety does not define you, it’s just another part of who you are, like freckles or that weird big toe. You and your work are good enough without the alcohol, and you absolutely, 100% are not bad or wrong for sneaking a drink every now and again, but you may ant to see if you need help with it, and that’s okay.

      1. MicroManagered*

        This is such a compassionate response. The last paragraph actually put a tear in my eye. :)

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Also- just in case you need to hear this, you are a good person. Your anxiety does not define you, it’s just another part of who you are, like freckles or that weird big toe.

        This is actually being said by some medical professionals now. I had a similar thing said to me when I was in the ED with a massive panic attack awhile back. I’m glad to see it being used in general. A huge part of the problem is the “hiding” factor and the shame that comes along with anxiety.

      3. tinybutfierce*

        Not the OP here, but thank you for the work you’ve done and your extremely compassionate response. The world, and medicine in particular, needs more people who think/speak like you. <3

    3. Rockin Takin*

      Totally agree.
      I used alcohol in social settings to tame my social anxiety, and it escalated to a dangerous point.
      My brother also has GAD and used smoking and alcohol for a LONG time as self medication, and it had serious long term effects on his health and well-being.

      Also the people here discussing meds vs alcohol are not addressing alcohol is a depressant over long term use and in general more dangerous to use as an anxiety reducer compared to regulated medications prescribed by a doctor.

      Therapy and/or medication to work on anxiety is probably the best route. Or at least some sort of club like Toastmasters to practice speaking in front of a crowd.

    4. Emmie*

      I agree wholeheartedly here. Be careful – Is alcohol used to relax yourself in other situations? I recommend you ask yourself if you use it in other situations to calm yourself down, or loosen up before a party, or as a relief that the end of the day. I do not see a difference in the type of alcohol – wine, or vodka. One may be more socially acceptable, but the IRL implications of drinking to loosen up are the same for both.
      FWIW, I am a nervous speaker too. Rehearsing my presentation multiple times throughout the days before and of the presentation helps me. The more comfortable I am with my presentation, the more confident I am. I rehearse when I’m in the shower, commuting, cooking, walking around my office, and even doing dishes. It really helps.
      Thanks for the question too. It’s really thought provoking.

    5. tinybutfierce*

      As someone who self-medicated their severe anxiety and depression with alcohol for years, and is now sober and will remain that way for the rest of my life: THIS. Needing to drink in order to do *anything* is a very, very slippery slope that it is FAR easier to slide down than many people would like to think, and climbing back up it is a hell of a lot harder.

  21. KayEss*

    I think there’s another factor here, which is… where did the vodka come from? Was this an event with provided alcohol and you had a stiff drink before presenting? That’s very different from bringing your own liquor in a flask, which I would call a hard-stop, do-not-pass bad idea.

    1. Antilles*

      +1 – the context matters here too.
      Having a drink at a large gathering with an open bar and half your colleagues have a beer or glass of wine likely wouldn’t raise too many eyebrows…but a 10 am presentation in the office where you sneak out to your car and chug from the flask is going to look really bad to anybody who finds out about it.

    2. fposte*

      Yes, I agree. “Swigs” always reads more “drinking from a bottle” to me, so I was wondering if this had been self-provided.

    3. OP*

      It was a flask–consumed discreetly, but still a flask. I think with all the circumstances, this was a bad idea and I need to find a better way to cope. Making a doctor appointment was suggested by multiple people, so beta blockers or whatever may be a better option.

      The alcohol culture here is really weird–it’s a startup that was acquired 5+ years ago, so at events there’s lots of beer, but otherwise it’s fairly conservative attitudes.

      1. KayEss*

        Oof, yeah… even in the most booze-positive workplaces, I feel like the optics of carrying your own private supply of liquor as a coping mechanism are unlikely to be taken completely in stride. There are offices and industries where it might not destroy your employment or entire reputation, but it’s still probably going to affect people’s perceptions of you in a negative way. Some highly successful people do get away with extremely questionable relationships with alcohol, but it’s not really viewed as a positive trait or behavior on their part.

        I think a lot of us here in the comments can relate, and I’m glad you’re going to seek out other solutions. We’re all rooting for you!

        1. OP*

          To clarify “discreet” means no one saw me, optics aren’t an issue but certainly could be if anyone saw.

  22. Sandman*

    This seems like a bad idea as far as an overall coping strategy goes. I’m sympathetic! I’ve used alcohol to treat anxiety, too, both generalized and when I have to do something that makes me really nervous. For me, once I used it effectively for one thing, it seemed like a good idea to use it for something else, and something else… so I stopped drinking. Completely for a while, and now just much less than in the past.

    This is a tool that has a lot of potential downsides: being perceived poorly because of smelling like alcohol, actually performing poorly or acting inappropriately, endangering others because you’ve increased your felt tolerance to alcohol but your reflexes haven’t changed so you don’t feel too drunk to drive but really are. In my opinion it’s worth exploring other options.

  23. Box of Kittens*

    I’m not a big fan of the idea that only officially sanctioned drugs are effective.

    I don’t disagree with this, but one difference with officially sanctioned drugs is they are tested and prescribed with an doctor’s assessment of how the drug will affect you, so you’re typically only taking as much as you need and only as often as you need it. I think alcohol would be way too easy to overdo in a work environment. I’m here to second the Toastmasters suggestions, and also here are some tricks I have used successfully to calm my own nerves for stuff like this:
    -Eat a banana and/or turkey sandwich beforehand, or something else with tryptophan
    -Run up and down the stairs to burn off jitters beforehand
    -Talking the presentation through out loud, standing, at least once
    But yes, huge +1 to Toastmasters and to Mystery Bookworm for pointing out it will be a more effective log term solution.

    1. M. from P.*

      “one difference with officially sanctioned drugs is they are tested and prescribed with an doctor’s assessment of how the drug will affect you”
      + 1.

      1. Quill*

        Yup! I know that especially in america we are way behind on actually scientifically determining the viability of certain substances (example: cannabis) for medical use, but the substances that do make it through FDA approval are overall very well tested in terms of what doses are safe for the average consumer, and each dose has the same chemical composition. (though not necessarily if you switch brands)

        The sober supervision of someone educated about interactions and side effects is also a huge benefit.

        That said, I’d be less wary for OP if they were attempting a home remedy with fewer well known side effects and a lower incidence of addiction in our society. assuming of course that the remedy was generally regarded as safe, rather than, say, supplements or homeopathic items that are sold commercially without regulation and not a regular part of people’s diets or routines.

        1. KoiFeeder*

          The Poisoner’s Handbook and The Poison Squad are both great books to remind us that the FDA exists for a reason and is very, very important. Brr.

          1. Quill*

            I was going to put the poisoner’s handbook on my christmas list but I’m already on some sort of watchlist because I occasionally attempt to write mystery…

              1. Quill*

                My brother is probably on the same list because he studies evolutionary biology via skeletal structure, or I’d ask him… XD

          2. Annony*

            Those are both great books. I also recommend Bottle of Lies to see how the FDA still falls short.

  24. M. from P.*

    I think it’s a really bad idea.
    Even assuming the vodka does not impair your judgement, the optics are just bad. Also, if you do end up a bit sluggish, “my anti-anxiety medication made me drowsy” is much easier to live down than “I drank some vodka before a presentation and it showed”.

  25. Kate*

    If you rely on alcohol for this problem, you will quickly build up a tolerance and need more and more.

    If you rely on “practicing, getting feedback from where it can be trusted” (e.g., everyone mentioning Toastmasters), you will ALSO build up a tolerance – to public speaking!

    Alcohol is a shortcut that it’s easy to trust because it worked well this one time. It won’t in the long run. Putting in the time and effort to solve the underlying problem will serve you for years to come.

    I don’t want to imagine the conversations you’ll have the first time someone catches you drinking before a presentation. Because, they will catch you.

    1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

      Yes. Exactly what you said.

      It is hard to be experiencing the agony of severe anxiety (and it is very, very, very painful – don’t think I don’t know) and to be told by some moralizing teetotaler that you shouldn’t do this simple thing that will provide you relief. But it’s still true. Anxiety is painful, but if you feel it, you know that you can survive it, and if you confront it, you can learn how to manage it.

    2. Not Today Satan*

      “If you rely on alcohol for this problem, you will quickly build up a tolerance and need more and more.” If you’re doing it daily, sure. If it’s every couple weeks or less, you’re not going to be building a tolerance.

      1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

        Well, a couple of things with that.

        First – you are right that you won’t develop a physical addiction by drinking before a couple of presentations a month. Your tolerance won’t go up that much; you won’t get the DTs when you stop… but physical addiction is not the main issue with using alcohol as a coping strategy. Using alcohol this way can also teach you that those are feelings that you can’t tolerate. That this is a situation you can’t handle. That you need the alcohol to perform. That you need it to be okay. That you need it for people to like you.

        It’s not going to make your anxiety better. It will make it much worse.

        Second – some people can keep drinking to that level – a couple of belts every two weeks. Some people are never going to have problems with alcohol. But if you are turning to vodka to get through a regular part of your job, you are less likely to be those people.

        1. J*

          Yes. The vast, vast, overwhelmingly vast majority of people who abuse alcohol have no physical addiction. The danger isn’t developing a chemical dependence. It’s developing a psychological one.

  26. Alli525*

    I have always been a drinker and enjoyed drinking culture. Mostly in moderation, but not always. I don’t have any family history of alcohol dependency or disordered drinking, but I’ve temporarily quit drinking in the past just to make sure I wasn’t developing a drinking problem.

    All this to say: I’m no teetotaler, but I firmly believe that learning to RELY on a couple drinks in order to perform in any scenario (especially business) is so risky. Humans are creatures of habit, and this COULD be the beginning of a drinking problem. Once in a while, maybe it’s okay, but this should absolutely not become your primary strategy for dealing with nerves.

    There’s a lot of science behind how to perform under pressure – check out the book “Choke” by psychologist Sian Beilock. Lots of strategies in there.

  27. irritable vowel*

    I am one who takes a medication before public speaking – in situations where alcohol is not being served, this medication is in the form of a beta blocker that I take an hour before speaking. If it’s at an event where I can have a glass of wine beforehand, that will often do the trick. I think the distinction here is whether it’s an appropriate environment to be drinking alcohol – if it’s in the middle of a workday or at a professional conference during the daytime, then it would not feel right to me to bring a flask and take a swig or two in the bathroom beforehand. And if someone found out I had done that, I would be embarrassed. But at a reception where there’s a bar, no problem, IMO.

    1. Threeve*

      The only difference for me between a drink and an anti-anxiety pill is the context. They feel pretty much the same. In moderation, one is not more dangerous, addictive, or indicative of than the other; I just need to think about how it will look, how annoyed I will be at some mild insomnia, and how easy it will be to take a bathroom break.

  28. Erin*

    I drank a little before having to go on camera a couple years ago (I’m usually behind the scenes). Since we’re getting specific it was about a shot and a half of whisky. Things DEFINITELY went better because of that.

    I think it’s fine as long as you only do it once in awhile, and acknowledge that sometimes you can’t. Like give it a try without sometimes too just to make sure you can. I admittedly use alcohol to calm nerves at work events but have been pregnant twice and so you know, couldn’t.

  29. Librarian of SHIELD*

    OP, the vodka may have helped this time, but it feels like a bandaid solution rather than a long term one.

    My degree required a LOT of public speaking, and one thing that really helped me was creating a ritual. I would practice out loud at least a couple of times a day in the week leading up, to the point that my speech was pretty much memorized and I could go on autopilot. On Speech Day, I would wear something in a color I think I look great in and listen to what became my Speech Day theme song (one of those “yes, I am so super awesome” style songs) while I drove to the place where I was speaking. And while I was giving the speech, I would choose a focal point in the room just above the heads of the audience members. This makes it look like you’re looking out across the crowd and coming close to making eye contact with your listeners, but you’re really not focusing on them, you’re focusing on the spot in the wallpaper or the air conditioning vent or the exit sign.

  30. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

    I was incredibly nervous about making a speech at my sister’s wedding. I’m not a confident public speaker and I wasn’t well prepared. I had notes outlining what I wanted to say, but when I ran through them, each time I fumbled and stumbled. I had a large glass of wine before the speeches, and to my surprise and delight the words just flowed. All my disparate ideas came together in an eloquent way and I spoke with confidence and emotion. At least, that’s how it seemed to me. Possibly it wasn’t as eloquent as it felt. But it was certainly better than were my practice runs pre vino. I got positive feedback from my (tipsy) family and the guests. But I do think they’re less critical than my (sober) manager would be of a work presentation. I don’t think I’d try this at the office.

    What I have done though, on a stressful workday, is take Biral tablets. They’re an OTC plant based tranquilliser. After taking 1, I’m still focused and aware, my necessary inhibitions firmly in place. But the tension slips away or at least reduces to a manageable level.

    1. englyn*

      Either anxiety or calmness trains the body to feel that again in the same situation. It’s true, taking something to take off the edge of anxiety is a bandaid – yes! That’s a good thing! Bandaids are meant to support your body while you get better. You aren’t weak if you need a bandaid, you don’t need to tough it out and keep knocking the scab off because some people think you shouldn’t need a bandaid, and it doesn’t necessarily follow that you need to look into more serious bandaging. It’s OK to use bandaids to make life slightly easier.

      So, feel positive about getting a little pharmacutical support, and as you make more presentations that you deliver well because you’re less nervous, you’ll develop that confidence on your own and likely not need it any more.

  31. C*

    Using alcohol as a means of relaxation for a normal part of work seems like a bad idea. So does medication like Ativan. I have seen the suggestion of beta blockers, which seems like a better alternative, because their effect is mild and they are not addictive, if you need some sort of medication. But relaxation exercises or practicing somewhere you can become more comfortable and receive honest feedback seems lik a better idea.
    But I find it concerning that you would want to medicate for something like this, since it sounds lik a normal nervousness. Using alcohol as a way to cope with anxiety is not healthy, especially if it is something that happens more regularly. I’m curious why the LW even tried it once, why would you even have a bottle of vodka at work?

  32. Lily in NYC*

    I was asked to play piano at a large birthday party for our Dean (college). I wasn’t expecting it and had already had two drinks when asked. I learned the hard way that I am not a better piano player when I drink. I think I’d be fine if I had a few sips before a presentation, though.

    1. Pipe Organ Guy*

      Same thing has happened to me as an organist. Two glasses of wine, and my dexterity and coordination fly out the window.

      1. Lily in NYC*

        Oh man, and I think one needs even more dexterity when playing an organ! To me, it also shows that people who say they drive better after a drink are full of crap.

  33. Mia 52*

    Honestly you might want to check your employee handbook? Many places have it written down that it is not okay to consume alcohol during work hours or that it is not ok to intentionally intoxicate oneself while at work. Its been in every employee handbook I’ve ever had. Some version of this. We do happy hours at my work now, and it would fall under the “do not intoxicate oneself” at work or on the premise. Meaning, yes, you can have 1-a couple but not more and it doesn’t start until the day is wrapping up. I know there are all these “cool” places that apparently serve alcohol a lot more than that, but unless youre sure you’re at one of those places, I’d strongly recommend avoiding this. Or perhaps ask yourself if you would still do this if everyone you gave the presentation to knew about it?

  34. Ginger*

    OP what is your process before a presentation? Do you practice many times? Rehearse potential questions and what your answers will be? Test the presentation on someone, maybe a colleague, to check for sound logic and clarity?

  35. CA in CA*

    I don’t have a lot to add but it’s worth noting that this is how many comedians end up with substance abuse issues. I don’t know how many presentations you’re doing OP but I’d keep that in the back of my mind if I were going to start having a drink to calm my nerves for work. Good luck!

  36. DeeEm*

    I think it all depends on how much your behavior is affected (hence, Alison’s great advise to record it and watch it later), whether it makes your breath smell of alcohol, and whether anyone would see you do take a swig. If it’s a sip or two and it calms your nerves (assuming these presentations don’t happen every day, of course), then to me it’s no big deal. And, frankly, I think a couple of sips of Vodka every other week is much less of a biological impact than anti anxiety medications (just estimating on the frequency, of course).

  37. Granny K*

    The problem with alcohol (and some medication) is that your body will get used to it, so you’ll need more to get the same effect. Do you really want to go down that road? Please sign yourself up for some speaker training. A trainer can be expensive but can give you some great tips and tricks to help with your anxiety and really understand what works in front of an audience. Keep in mind all ‘great’ speakers practice and train on a regular basis. (I used to work at Cisco Systems managing a speaker training program while John Chambers was the CEO. He scheduled a 4-hour speaker training appointment quarterly with this trainer, who also worked at least quarterly with Tom Brokaw. Yes really.)

    Also, please re-read your letter. “I’ve gotten empty positive feedback on all of my presentations; I don’t trust my boss or peers to give honest criticism.” Why do you think it’s empty? In my experience, if they didn’t like your presentations, you wouldn’t have received ANY feedback (except later at your review). Why don’t you trust them? I hope you seriously examine this observation.

    1. SomebodyElse*

      I think your last paragraph is spot on… I highly suspect OP is trying to self-medicate for something and using the presentations as a convenient cover.

    2. Iris Eyes*

      This is a great observation. You are probably giving presentations that are perfectly adequate for the business need they fill. Sometimes (often) the voice in your head that tells you you suck is a liar. The facts are that no one is complaining about your presentations in fact they are saying positive things about it.

      I bet at least one coworker tends more toward “straight shooter” or someone has experience giving or listening to public speaking and if you go to them and ask specifically for them to help you get better, give them permission to be constructively critical I bet they would.

  38. Facepalm*

    There are better suggestions (like Toastmasters) for the long term, but for the short term, do an internet search on Rescue Remedy. It works super well for fear/anxiety–I take it when I fly or have to drive over a bridge and it truly works for me. You can get it for under 10 dollars a bottle.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      If I’m having to do a stressful meeting or similar I like to have some Rescue Remedy in my cup of earl grey tea. It tastes really nice too!

  39. Pipe Organ Guy*

    More than one person has mentioned fairly low-dose beta blockers, and a number of classical musicians have found them beneficial. I haven’t tried them myself, but I rarely give recitals these days. I do remember, though, once when I was tripped up by wine. I was to be part of the musical entertainment at a dinner celebrating J. S. Bach’s three-hundred-something birthday, but first there was a wine-and-cheese-or-appetizer course. I made the mistake of having a couple glasses of wine on a nearly empty stomach. My playing did not go well. I was with friends, so we all just had fun with it, but after dinner, when the wine had worn off, I repeated my piece, and it went far better. So my rule now is never to imbibe before playing!

  40. Falling Diphthong*

    Like whether cilantro tastes green or soapy, whether vodka is detectable by scent seems to vary by person. So don’t count on it as the safe drink no one is going to be able to smell on you.

      1. Uldi*

        To me cilantro tastes like a soap bubble just popped in my mouth. It ruins every other flavor that might be there.

  41. The Ginger Ginger*

    I think the first step here should be to take some public speaking courses or join toastmasters where you could get some experience and practice in a lower risk environment. Once you get more comfortable you may not need the alcohol.

  42. BurnBurnBurn*

    I did gigs as a singer in my early 20s, but I used to get major stage fright. I started taking a shot or two before going up onstage to help with nerves. It worked. Until one day I drank just a bit too much and couldn’t remember the lyrics of a song I’ve sang hundreds of times. Alcohol works until it doesn’t, and it’s really hard to judge where to draw the line.

    My suggestion is to go see your doctor, OP. I eventually went to mine and was prescribed beta blockers, which I took before performances and it helped. Admittedly not as much as alcohol, but enough to make things manageable. And over time with practice and exposure, the stage fright and anxiety do decrease. I work in a corporate environment now, and I am known to be the best presenter on my team and often get called to present in front of big clients. No pharmaceutical help needed :)

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      This story reminds me of all the singers out there who have had to check themselves into rehab after their drinking ended up with a really awful stage antics =(

      It happens in other all sorts of entertainment. Lots of pro wrestlers used to end up wrestling completely wasted because they were drinking backstage not for stage fright as much as pain management =( It’s cost some really big names in that game their contracts at times.

  43. Juniantara*

    I’m really really worried about the OP here. OP, is this presentation-related anxiety only? Are you sure about that? Something about the way you rejected the positive feedback you have gotten from others and the way you describe what happened makes me concerned that this is just the pointy end of the anxiety spear, and self-medicating anxiety with alcohol can be a really dangerous game if the anxiety touches more parts of your life than occasional presentations.
    The advantages to going with something a medical provider gives you as opposed to self-medicating include looking out for side effects, controlling dosage, watching for dependency (physical or psychological) and the social cover if something were to go wrong (an explanation for slurring or sleepiness or some other effect)

    1. OP*

      Food for thought, thank you. I’ve always considered myself to be an anxious person, but never thought about the potential for it being pathological.

    2. Humble Schoolmarm*

      Yeah, I was a little surprised at the OP’s attitude towards the folks who could give feedback. I often find it really hard to give really specific, useful feedback on presentations because they mostly fall into the broad category of “fine”. I mean, If I’m pressed I can suggest speaking a little more clearly and a little slower or aiming for a more conversational tone, but that’s because giving constructive feedback is my job. OP, unless your boss is telling you your presentations are fine and then tearing you to shreds after, it might be worth considering that your presentations really are just fine and this worry and self-medication isn’t really worth it.

      1. pamplemousse*

        Yeah, this jumped out to me too. OP, do you have evidence that suggests that your boss is nonconfrontational or otherwise unwilling to give good feedback? (Do they say different things to your colleagues’ faces than they do behind your back? Have you been told your work was fine in the moment, only to learn later from a higher-up or formal evaluation that it wasn’t?) Because otherwise this idea that they say it’s good but they’re obviously not telling the truth seems like it could also be a symptom of anxiety, and it’s worth looking into some things that might help with that. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is relatively brief and can help a lot with situations like this.

        Also to echo what Humble Schoolmarm said: most people are just fine at presentations. (Think back to high school or college — the really memorable and really terrible lecturers stand out, but I’d bet the vast majority of lecture-based classes you sat through were… fine.) There are some roles where being a dynamic, super-engaging public speaker is really really important. But unless you have a job like that, odds are that your boss is content with competency. It’s OK to be only OK at a part of your job you don’t particularly like or want to do more of, as long as your boss is OK with it too, and it sounds like they are.

  44. SomebodyElse*

    I am not a teetotaler by any stretch of the imagination. But putting on my manager hat for a minute… I have to say this is a bad idea.

    1. What are your work policies on drinking while at work.
    2. What is the context around these presentations. Agree with the others, if you are giving a presentation in the evening that is totally different than 10 am at a client site.
    3. Would you do this in front of your boss? To me this is the biggest question to gauge the appropriateness of the action.
    4. Have you tried other things? Honestly this seems like a drastic first step in improving your presentations. Like how did this come about… “Hmm I need to do better during my presentations… maybe I should drink!”
    5. Are your non-vodka presentations really that different than your vodka aided presentations, or are you just not as fixated on your performance?

    As a manager, at my company, this would be a very bad thing for an employee to do. My company very much has a drinking culture, but even at those events that drinking is going on, if you are presenting to customers, you need to be sober to do it. If I found out that I had an employee drinking before client presentations then I would for sure be chatting with HR about my options with this employee.

  45. AthenaC*

    My one contribution to this is that the smell of vodka is easily confused with the smell of plain hand sanitizer. So if you find this works for you:

    1) Stick with vodka
    2) Make sure you put on some hand sanitizer before you begin

    That way, if anyone smells the vodka, they will chalk it up to the hand sanitizer. Or the smell of hand sanitizer will overwhelm whatever vodka smell might be there.

    Good luck!

  46. Not Today Satan*

    I’m a medical marijuana patient for an anxiety disorder. I’ve found that microdosing–taking too little to get “high”–is very effective at mitigating my anxiety and social anxiety in particular. If it’s legal in your state it might be worth looking into. I take it in tincture form so it’s not like I’d be vaping in the bathroom if I ever took it at work (and there’s no smell).

    I’d be too afraid of having booze on my breath to ever drink liquor before a meeting. Beer could potentially work but you’d basically have to go offsite to drink it at that point.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Even in some legalized states, if you’re subjected to UAs that won’t save you. So if you’re found with it in your system, they don’t care that it’s prescribed or not.

      1. I AM a Lawyer*

        Yes, here in California where we have legal recreational and medical marijuana, employers still have the right to discipline employees for using either at work (the same way they do if an employee is under the influence of alcohol at work). Part of this is because it’s still illegal under federal law.

  47. Falling Diphthong*

    Two past letters re others’ perceptions:

    Letter 1: I am completely burned out. I haven’t talked to my manager explicitly, but it’s coming off me in waves and affecting everything I do and they must know…
    Update: I talked to my manager. Turns out they hadn’t noticed any change in my work, and immediately moved to take things off my plate.

    Letter 2: I have a drug addiction. While I have completely concealed this at work, I want to ask for time off to go for treatment.
    Update: So I was wrong about how totally invisible the drug addiction was to my employer, and got fired for it.

    LW, I would be chary of how well you are able to judge both the reality and reception of your sober vs buzzed presentations, and how well you judge the invisibility of your vodka boost beforehand. I think Toastmasters is a much safer route for improving your public speaking without getting a reputation for day-drinking to get through work.

  48. Not a Blossom*

    Noooooooooooooo. There are just way too many ways this can go wrong, most of which were noted: someone could see you, someone could smell it on you, etc. You could miscalculate and drink too much and things could fall apart. I get that the distinction between Ativan and alcohol seems arbitrary, but it is still one that very much exists, especially at work. Also, importantly, the Ativan would be a specific dose every time, which a few swigs of vodka is not (see previous point). I’d suggest going to a therapist to work on coping strategies or a psychiatrist to get a prescription. It’s worth noting that if you took the drinks really close to when you began presenting, the effects at the beginning of the presentation would likely be psychosomatic, so again, therapy might be a better bet.

    Basically, we can debate the difference between types of relaxants, but at the end of the day, this is a crazy big risk that could affect your current job and your reputation in the field.

  49. Not Me*

    I think it’s hilarious and sad how many people are suggesting the LW switch from alcohol to prescription medication. Especially considering the current opioid epidemic in our country. As Alison pointed out in her response, why is one better than the other? We’ve been well trained to give our money to the “proper” drug dealer…

    1. Saraphina*

      I take a medication daily to help with my anxiety. It’s not an opioid, it’s not addictive. Not all medications are part of the opioid epidemic, some are just helping people to live.

      1. a1*

        Yeah, but it doesn’t sound like she has an anxiety disorder, just general nervousness at presentations.

      2. Not Me*

        I didn’t say they were all part of the epidemic. But not all drugs are just patently better than alcohol simply because a doctor wrote a prescription. Based on the number of comments here saying “take a drug instead of alcohol” it seems most people think drugs aren’t just as dangerous as alcohol. Not all doctors are good doctors, not all patients use their drugs as prescribed, but it’s been pretty well drilled into us that a pill is better than a drink. Which isn’t necessarily true.

    2. Quill*

      The problem with the opiod epidemic (which does nothing for anxiety, it’s a painkiller) is the areas where it’s overperscribed and resold, and also that many people for whom it is actually medically necessary are being treated with it because it’s cheaper than, say, necessary physical therapy, surgery, or a specialist they can’t afford.

      In terms of pharmaceuticals with no history of being widely addictive, an anti anxiety med is pretty high up there, and the dosage being supervised and adjusted by someone with medical training, along with the fact that synthetically produced medications are extensively tested for effectiveness and having the same chemical composition every time are also major benefits.

      TLDR: there are a lot of ducked things about our medical industry but the idea that medical and psychiatric problems shouldn’t be addressed by the laypeople on their own without assistance isn’t one of them. Without the FDA you don’t get “everyone took weed for free for their anxiety and lived heavily ever after” you get “some quack on the street sold me sugar and cyanide and called it medicine, also he skipped town when people found out.”

      1. Not Me*

        I realize anxiety medication isn’t an opioid, I was alluding to the fact that legally prescribed drugs are killing people at an alarming rate, they aren’t as “safe” as people are made to believe.

        1. Dragoning*

          Well, another thing about the opioid crisis is that’s it’s often not the ones who are legally prescribed those pills dying from them, either.

          1. Not Me*

            Right, and plenty of people know how to get illegal pills that they offer to a friend to “take the edge off”. That’s why I find it funny so many people think a pill is just hands down a better option than alcohol. They are the same thing for a lot of people. Thinking otherwise is pretty naive.

            1. Dragoning*

              I don’t think a “pill” is a “hands-down better option than alcohol.”

              What we here in the comments are saying is that something approved and prescribed and evaluated and regulated by a medical professional is better than chugging back some alcohol at work, for a number of reasons.

        2. Quill*

          The problem is usually malpractice, resale, and a lack of alternatives, also a lot of people misunderstanding that the long term and cumulative effects of some drugs are far, far worse than others.

          People have known that opioids are addictive and can kill you since the 1800s, their lack of universal safety is well studied, as is the lack of safety of habitual alcohol use. Opioids continue to be used both in cases where there is no available alternative, or where it’s not worth worrying about long term health problems, such as terminal patients.

          By contrast, antianxiety drugs such as ssri’s don’t depress your respiratory function, generally are not being sold to a secondary market for self medication or recreational use, and are overall considered safer for daily use than alcohol.

          If you can distinguish that safety isn’t guaranteed because something is perscribed, you can distinguish that some perscribed medicines are MUCH higher risk than others, and the risks of equating anxiety and depression medication with the opioid epidemic, and therefore pushing more people towards alcohol or a lack of any medication, far outweigh the risk of taking an SSRI.

          At the very least, OP should be getting more information about risks and side effects from a doctor, not from an internet thread that equates the idea of trained and licensed medical professionals as a group to people selling substances with absolutely no purity or effectiveness or consumer protections, such as drug dealers. We do in fact need the accountability and traceability when we try to medicate, and ideally we need it at a low cost, not-beholden-to-making-profits system that puts people being able to live with as much comfort and dignity as possible ahead of anything else.

        3. Joielle*

          I’m sorry, you can not possibly think that the entire category of “legally prescribed drugs” is a problem. That’s absurd. I hope you never get high blood pressure.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      As someone taking opioids because I am recovering from major surgery and trying to manage the pain, I really don’t appreciate these “but the opioid epidemic” slights of hand. People have given sound reasons that beta blockers might be a better option for OP, both medically/functionally and in terms of perception at work.

      Most Americans have tried alcohol at some point and are somewhat familiar with its effects on them (personally, it’s like taking strong cold medicine with zero buzz effect), while most of us have not tried whole classes of prescription drugs. OP could easily be unaware of beta blockers as an option, or of the plusses (not ‘fun’) and minuses (not before exercising).

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        I do wish this ‘opioids are bad and should never be used’ thing would go away. I’m tired of people treating me like an addict because I’m on morphine.

        If people wouldn’t demonise someone for taking an inhaler for asthma they shouldn’t do it to someone taking prescribed medications for a different problem.

        The difference above is that I can’t think of any condition that a doctor would regularly prescribe alcohol for (outside of treating addicts that is)

        1. Happily Self Employed*

          People will complain about me taking Imitrex for migraines, and lecture me about ginger capsules and meditation instead. People will tell me to use homeopathy instead of an asthma inhaler. People are judgemental and have a severe case of “naturalistic fallacy.”

    4. Joielle*

      Nobody’s using opioids for anxiety…? “The opioid epidemic” actually means something, it’s not just a stand-in for “prescription medication is bad.”

      I don’t understand this vague moralizing about how you should just, idk, pull yourself up by the bootstraps and stop having anxiety. I assume you wouldn’t say the same thing about someone with a thyroid disorder, or cancer, or whatever medical issue you find legitimate. Why would you not use modern medicine when it would help you with a medical problem?

    5. tinybutfierce*

      Well, alcohol is a legal drug and is related to roughly 88,000 deaths a year in the U.S., as of 2018; it’s just a drug that society considers more acceptable to use/abuse, so if we want to talk about being “trained to pay the proper dealer”…

  50. Alex*

    “I’ve gotten empty positive feedback on all of my presentations; I don’t trust my boss or peers to give honest criticism.”

    This caught my attention. I think it’s totally possible that all of OP’s presentations have been fine but the alcohol made it easier to ignore the voice that dismisses their boss or peers’ feedback as “empty”. I would spend some time with the idea that perhaps you’ve been too critical in your self-assessments, as well as how you’re receiving the feedback you’ve been getting.

  51. OrigCassandra*

    So, let me try to take a slightly broader view of your question, OP.

    Public-speaking nerves are a thing for you. You have discovered something that deals with them. That’s good! Now you know they CAN be dealt with — the nerves are evitable/escapable! Hold onto that.

    What you can do now is embark on finding more somethings that handle the nerves effectively. This thread has many suggestions you can try; I won’t repeat them. I will suggest that even if you decide your current coping method is okay, having a workable alternative or two is still super-handy.

    I didn’t learn public speaking (and related handling-the-nerves skills) from Toastmasters. I actually learned it from teaching and training. If that feels more doable to you than Toastmasters, maybe look for opportunities to teach something you know to a group that would like to learn it? I don’t know enough about you to know what that something might be — but I bet there is something!

    (Local adult-literacy organizations often need volunteer teachers/trainers, one-on-one or in groups. Several of them train you first!)

  52. Javimami*

    Im sure someone has already said this but go try Toastmasters (TM). Many workplaces, organizations etc. will pay for the small membership fee and materials, especially because it is training.

    I know you say you dont present regularly but TM also helps with leadership skills and meeting people among other things. It also helped me with giving five minute briefings at my weekly group meetings, how to arrive prepared, etc.

    And if you dont like the first group you find (some are very competitive, serious, and others are laid back, some meet weekly and others monthly) go find another. Especially in metropolitan areas they are everywhere. I really enjoyed it and learned a lot.

  53. Rachel*

    As someone close to an alcoholic who used drinks to calm down before work, please be very careful about this. I’m definitely not saying that you are an alcoholic, or will be one, but this kind of thing can sneak up on you much easier than you might expect, and it sounds like you have to present fairly often, you don’t want self-medicating to hurt your career or life. Good luck!

  54. Jennifer*

    Taking half a Xanax is about the same as having a glass of wine, at least for me. As long as you are in control and don’t have a history of alcoholism, I say go for it.

  55. a1*

    A swig is not a shot! Do you really think she’s hoisting up some big bottle of vodka and gulping right there at work? It’s most likely a flask or something small like an airplane bottle, and a few sips/swigs. Even if it is large sips, it’s still not several shots. Sheesh

    1. Relentlessly Socratic*

      To be fair, one person’s swig is another person’s sip. If I take a good swig off the bottle (not that I do this with any regularity…) it’s definitely closer to an ounce than not an ounce. The issue, however, isn’t the volume–it’s the need to do something that could very likely get her fired more places than not independent of the level of intoxication. Also, if you’ve altered your mood with ethanol, you’re intoxicated.

  56. MissDisplaced*

    Eh! A single smallish shot of vodka (or single drink of anything) is unlikely to turn you slobby drunk. As long as you stick to the one. My only concern is that you may become somewhat comfortable / dependent on doing this to ‘calm the old nerves’ and one will lead to… more. Don’t be that person.

    Also is this a regular thing? If it’s only on occasion, like at a conference or few times per year, I don’t see as much of a problem, but if you need to give presentations often/frequently, that changes the picture and you really should find another method to calm yourself.

  57. OnTheRocks*

    In grad school, I used a shot of vodka to get myself through presentations. It worked and at that point in my life, that was good enough. My scores on presentations improved so I even had evidence that it was working.

    I was discreet but one day a classmate grabbed my pre-presentation drink because he thought it was water and needed to wet his throat real quick. Cue his coughing shock and the ensuing awkward moment as he found out it wasn’t water. It was a small team in a private room rehearsing, so it could have been worse. I never heard about it again, but it wouldn’t surprise me if someone told.

    After starting with my current company, a training on how to present helped me reach a point where I could manage my anxiety better without the vodka. If you’re in a situation/company where drinking may not always be socially acceptable, training/Toastmasters/prescriptions would be less risky. They also might be a better long-term solution if you present often. But if not, be careful that no one grabs your “water” bottle and takes a swig.

  58. Akcipitrokulo*

    Lots of good options, and agree with Alison it’s probably a bad idea. One thing did occur – and this is NOT advocating a repeat of drinking beforehand because of risks – but you mqy have felt that presentations weren’t someth8ng you could do well.

    YOU DID ONE.

    You did a good presentation… and you did it while impaired.

    You did a good presentation.

    You can do it again.

  59. ellis55*

    I don’t think there is anything wrong with alcohol specifically vs other substances, but a few things I think we’d be remiss not to say:

    1. How often, OP, do you find yourself reaching for alcohol (or just wanting to reach for alcohol) to calm your nerves or boost your confidence or settle down after being anxious?
    2. How much do you drink (how many drinks total) in a given week and how would you feel if you had to abstain from alcohol for a period of time?

    Only you can answer these questions, but I’ve been around addiction and recovery enough to know that many people who experience problem drinking end up in that situation because they really underestimated how much they were beginning to depend on alcohol to get through the ups and downs of life. Reaching for vodka to smooth nerves is not a standard workplace practice, so I think it’s worth asking yourself why it occurred to you in the first place. Tolerance is a thing, and over time you will need more of the same substance to achieve the same effect. The advantage of medically managed anxiety remedies is that your treatment team can monitor your consumption to ensure you aren’t developing a tolerance.

    Also, alcohol interacts with your brain chemistry differently than marijuana, benzos, beta blockers – it’s not recommended for people with anxiety to drink to relieve their anxiety because there can be a very potent rebound effect in which, as the alcohol wears off, your brain starts overproducing chemicals to counteract the dopamine, etc. – creating that “hangxiety” feeling you sometimes get as you sober up. Over time, the exaggerated highs and lows make your anxiety much worse and make it more difficult for your brain to self-soothe. You will also crave the alcohol more to smooth the uncomfortable feelings you get when you’re “coming down.”

    OP, only you know if any of this describes you but I don’t think you would have written if you didn’t have some concerns about what this type and level of alcohol use means. Please consider booking a consult with a therapist trained in CBT and/or DBT, which are substance-free ways to manage anxiety.

  60. VermiciousKnid*

    OP, so long as this doesn’t become your go-to coping mechanism, and you don’t overdo it, I don’t see a problem with it. If presentations are something you have to do regularly, I would suggest you look for other means of making yourself more confident, be that therapy, Toast Masters, or giving a presentation to your pets before you do it in front of people.

    That said, there are always special cases where you need a little soothing. I work in a creative field and occasionally I’ll hit a wall (writer’s block, or I become overwhelmed by my workload), so I’ll spike my afternoon Starbucks with a pony bottle or two. I’m talking 3-4 times a year. It helps me just get to it, rather than agonizing over where I should start or second-guessing every sentence I type. Just be sure you know the line between relaxed and sloppy, and never come close to that line.

  61. Mrs. Wednesday*

    When it comes to a work presentation, I start with the standard of, “I’d feel good about sharing my strategy with my boss or other authority figure, or someone I’m mentoring.”

    I’m a nervous presenter, too, and here’s how I get through and sometimes even enjoy the experience:

    -I write a script of the entire thing, start to finish, seemingly off-the-cuff remarks included.
    -I read the whole thing through, at least once, shortly before the event, and preferably a few times.
    -I have no qualms about bringing my script with me and reading from it; pausing at natural breaks to look up at the audience will also slow your pace and make you sound more natural.
    – As I begin, I take a couple of beats more than feels right in my (nervous) mind and consciously begin speaking on the out-breath.

    You can do this!

  62. k8*

    i’m not comfortable giving advice in this situation, but i have to mention that i’m currently making my way through annie grace’s “this naked mind” and she describes how she used to do something very similar to this, and why ultimately she feels that relying on alcohol in this kind of situation (liquid courage, taking the edge off, etc) is counterproductive . . . i recommend it for an alternate POV!

    1. Mrs. Wednesday*

      I had a really great time learning by doing student readings at a late-and-very-much-missed women’s writing retreat called Flight of the Mind. We all had to rehearse and do an amazing relaxing/warm-up of our voices. Because I have a respiratory-failure disability, I was really aware of how much my being nervous was connected to my not breathing enough. If the OP has a clinical anxiety issue, obviously my lay-person strategy isn’t all that helpful. But self-medicating with alcohol for a disability (as explained so well by others) is a bad idea.

      FYI – my office is pretty ok with alcohol but there’s a big difference to me between a direct report who tells me they need a couple of vodkas to do an afternoon presentation and one who has 2 glasses of wine with food at the reception before delivering remarks on stage at our evening fundraiser.

  63. Greta*

    “So I think we need to parse out exactly why Ativan is fine but alcohol isn’t in order for that to be a logically sound stance.”
    Because Atvian is only available with a prescription from a doctor, and it’s regulated and measured by a pharmacist, and the instructions for how to take it and the side effects are included with the bottle. This is not the case with alcohol.

    1. WellRed*

      Alcohol isn’t a controlled substance, though, so it doesn’t need to be prescribed or regulated.

  64. Meredith*

    I came in second at a story slam after 2.5 beers once – it was at an event in the evening, not in a professional capacity, that was a fundraiser for a local historical organization in which beer, wine, and snacks were heavily featured.

    I would not repeat that at work, though! Also, I think the context of these presentations is important. I’ve had A drink before to relax (yay, mild generalized anxiety), which can be helpful when I feel a tension headache coming on, but day drinking also means I’m fairly lazy and useless for most of the rest of the afternoon. Is this an evening presentation at a shareholder dinner? Or in the work conference room at 11:00 AM? How productive you’ll be afterward – or need to be – matters here.

  65. That Girl from Quinn's House*

    At one or two of my last recent jobs, they contracted out their worker’s comp claims management to a third party company, who did mandatory drug and alcohol tests for anyone who was injured at work, in any way. If you were sitting quietly at your desk and the overhead ductwork fell off the ceiling and bopped you on the head, you’d have to get a drug and alcohol test.

    But of course, they didn’t frame it that way in the handbook. They just said “you can be drug/alcohol tested at any time and terminated based on the result.” Since they didn’t do random testing, a lot of people just assumed they’d never be tested. I only knew about this policy because one of my employees stubbed his toe at work and I found it buried in the paperwork I had to fill out.

    I’d recommend being careful.

  66. Kaaaaaren*

    I don’t think it’s in any way “wrong” to use alcohol to take the edge off something like a presentation so that you feel “looser” and less nervous, but I would personally be very careful about doing any kind of solo drinking at work. Like Alison said, even if you crush the presentation, if someone sees you take your swigs or if your behavior is “off” in some way and people guess or even just speculate that you might have had a drink, it will come off as extremely unprofessional, even though it maybe shouldn’t. Also, there is a good chance you could misjudge how much alcohol will put you in “the zone” to present like a champ vs. make you visibly drunk, which can differ from day to day depending on how much and when you ate and a number of other factors. OP, be careful with this!

  67. I'm A Little Teapot*

    The problem I worry about is dependence. Abuse of substances, whether its alcohol or anxiety meds is a real thing and can seriously screw with your life. It’s generally going to be better long term to work on fixing the underlying problem as much as possible – which in this case may mean Toastmasters or therapy or something in that line. But if you need a drink before giving a presentation, it’s all too easy for that to turn into 2 drinks, then 3, then you need a drink to calm down afterwards, then 2…. you get the idea. Similar dependence problems can happen with prescription medications. While they can be effective tools, you still need to be cognizant of the risks.

  68. Tuckerman*

    If you were in a situation where you couldn’t drink before presenting (e.g., you had to drive to another office right after the meeting), how would that affect you? I think there’s a big difference between nice to have and need to have. But it can be hard to assess yourself honestly.

    You might be caught in a pattern where you don’t adequately rehearse, do not present as well as you’d like, then get anxious about upcoming presentations and avoid rehearsing…

    Next time, try rehearsing your full presentation out loud at least 3 times. Note any sections where you struggled and rehearse those spots extra. See if you feel better about your performance and whether it gives you more confidence to prepare/present next time.

    I went from freezing in front of groups and having to sit back down to presenting quite well just by over-preparing.

  69. Cookienay*

    Apologies if this has already been stated.
    There are non-narcotic, non habit-forming options available for performance anxiety (stage fright). This would be a discussion one would have with their physician or medical provider.

  70. Must I?*

    Omg, no. This isn’t sustainable.
    Take a few slugs and film your presentation. Then review it ruthlessly. If it truly is better, you should be able to quantify how. Then use those skills to hone your presentations.
    Go to toastmasters. They’ll be able to help you as well. But drinking on the job is a sure way to lose it.

  71. Wandering_beagle*

    I’ve gotten empty positive feedback on all of my presentations; I don’t trust my boss or peers to give honest criticism.

    Why is the feedback “empty?” Do you have actual evidence to prove your performance was not positive as they’ve said, or is it just your inner voice telling you you didn’t do well?

    Have you considered therapy? The right therapist can help you work through feelings of not being good enough.

  72. Goya de la Mancha*

    My only thought as to why drinks are not ok and pills are is that if your company has a zero tolerance policy, prescriptions are “legal” where alcohol would not be?

    1. Uldi*

      Because anti-anxiety meds are designed to have a very narrow effect on the patient; specifically, lowering anxiety. Alcohol suppresses everything, not just anxiety.

    2. we're basically gods*

      Yep, this. I have ADHD, which is treated with amphetamine salts. This is a drug that I need to function at my best; I can muddle through without the amphetamines, but I don’t do well.
      I’m calling the drug I take amphetamines because that’s what it is. It’s very carefully controlled and my doctor monitors me and my prescription. I had to take a drug test and get three different verifications of diagnosis before I could get them.
      If I showed up to work having done some meth to get myself focused, I would expect that to go over very badly.

  73. Mama Bear*

    IMO a better tactic would be to learn how to be comfortable with public speaking – take an improv class or similar to be able to handle presentations, oddball questions, and unexpected tech malfunctions without any chemical crutches.

    1. L'Artiste*

      Improv, improv, IMPROV! Improv will help you get over this. 100% look into a class. A lot of employers will cover it as professional development training and there’s many articles on the subject that explain why it’s so valuable professionally. Plus it’s heaps of fun.

      1. Happily Self Employed*

        I second this! Improv is fun games and you work up to being able to banter back and forth with people in front of your classmates–and learn not to worry about “am I going to screw up?”

    1. Oh No She Di'int*

      Perhaps. But check upthread for approximately 1.7 million different exceptions to this rule.

  74. Roscoe*

    I feel like this VERY much depends on the person. I have a high alcohol tolerance. So if I did a shot of whiskey, I know its not going to be enough to make me noticeably act different, even if I feel a bit calmer. Other people aren’t exactly like that though.

    I wish the stigma of it would go away though. As you said, if you can take a pill to have the exact same effect, then having a drink shouldn’t be frowned upon.

    But what should be and what is are often very different things. Its one of those things where I wouldn’t do it when I was too new at a job, but if I had been there a while, I think its probably fine. I had a job, and I was pretty senior there. I had a drink at lunch every Friday. No one knew, unless they were with me. And it didn’t affect my job at all.

  75. Engineer*

    I sympathize with the OP. I also do regular presentations for my job, sometimes its just a few people, sometimes I’m presenting to hundreds of people. If I’m presenting slides I didn’t write, I will trip all over myself while presenting. If I wrote my own slides, but didn’t rehearse them out-loud a few times, I will still trip all over myself.

    However, my audience and the whole company expects this. I often do not have time to rehearse the slides. For big presentations, I will take the time and rehearse my slides a few times to make sure I don’t get tongue-tied, and so I’m familiar with the content.

  76. Impartial Observer.*

    Just had to provide feedback up through appropriate channels on some inappropriate behavior I observed during a presentation to clients. The evening started later than usual, and in this case I suspect it provided the additional time sipping drinks beforehand was a large part of the reason.

    Not saying yay or nay, just be careful. Alison’s advice that things may look different to an observer is spot on.

  77. Freddybeans*

    I’m a long time reader but have never posted a comment before. The OP’s dilemma really struck home this time. I have severe anxiety when having to present in public, much more so than the OP’s I think. I have definitely resorted to a few swigs of alcohol to help me get through it, Jack Daniels in my case. And a few swigs is not a shot, at least not in my case. It definitely helped me, and nobody knew. A close friend caught me one time, and they were very surprised, to say the least. I did eventually find a doctor that would help me (not always that easy to find one), but it took a lot of trial and error to find a medication that works. Beta blockers do absolutely nothing for me. And I will never, ever be comfortable with public speaking. Over time I have been able to back of my medication a bit, but I will always have to use it. That’s just the way it is, no matter how much I wish it wasn’t. I don’t think it’s fair to call it a chemical crutch.

  78. animaniactoo*

    I would say if you do it, you should be looking at it as a temporary measure while you figure out other ways to overcome the lack of self-confidence and nerves.

    The days when this kind of thing would fly as an open secret and be excused for someone who was otherwise a good worker are gone.

  79. Sarah Simpson*

    I really do agree with everything Alison said, but if I did this at my place of work and was caught, I could and likely would be fired immediately. Our policy manual actually prohibits drinking during the workday. It makes sense, and I’ve used Xanax this way (which is fine at my workplace as I have a prescription), but please just make sure you’re not taking a chance that could cost you your job.

  80. Fieldpoppy*

    I’m a leadership coach and strategic planning consultant and I facilitate groups of people all the livelong day. I work in an industry where it’s not common to drink, but every once in a while, at a team-away thing, there is wine during a planning conversation. The group always thinks it will make the conversation more creative and better. Speaking as your facilitator, I can tell you that it does NOT. Even after a glass or two of wine, people’s judgement is impaired, they stop listening and start pontificating or repeating themselves, or not actually doing the task I asked. I strongly suspect you are appearing less fluid and on top of things in this situation than you think you are.

    As a leadership coach, I would be encouraging you to explore the inner critics that have you believing that positive feedback is “empty,” and exploring ways for you to be more comfortable and confident with your own voice and the stances you are taking. Masking your insecurities isn’t going to help anything in the long run — alcohol is just going to tangle your inner experience more.

    I do like Alison’s nuanced response, but I can tell you that if any of my clients had a situation where they had a direct report or colleague they suspected was drinking secretly before a presentation, this would become a Very Big Deal. I strongly encourage you to explore and work on the root of the anxiety, not try to skate over it. I say this with care and non judgement.

  81. nnn*

    And you can’t really tell vodka to lower your public-speaking inhibitions while preserving your “don’t make bad jokes about the CEO/flirt with the hot bookkeeper/divulge how annoying the client is/overshare about your divorce” inhibitions.

    I would propose that while you can’t tell the vodka which inhibitions to lower, you can develop knowledge and experience about how you, personally, react to alcohol, and know if there’s a risk of these things.

    For example, the way I react to alcohol is I forget to perform socially. I just sit there staring into middle distance rather than participating in the conversation. Which obviously means it wouldn’t be the right tool for me to use before a presentation, but also it isn’t going to lead me to flirt or overshare.

    1. Wintermute*

      Or you can opt for a drug which leaves most of those faculties intact while reducing anxiety, which is exactly what ananxiolytics are for.

  82. For Aiur*

    Lol lol lol

    Being sober is useless

    Just have 10 Jack Daniels everyday

    You’ll get to the C-suite doing this

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      No one said any of these things? Actually, the advice from Alison and commenters is the opposite?

  83. Wintermute*

    I take the pharmaceutical perspective here– yes they do issue anti-anxiety medication for people that anticipate themselves in stressful situations. Yes, that does pose a very serious risk because that class of drugs is phenomenally addictive. But they are also selective.

    Benzodiazapine drugs affect GABA, mostly GABA-b, receptors, alcohol affects those same receptors, but it also affects a whole host of others: NMDA, dopamine, histamine, and more. No drug in the medical pharmacon has as wide and nonselective a range of activity as ethanol– except possibly early neuroleptic antipsychotic drugs like thorazine which are also a neurochemical sledgehammer.

    The result of that is that alcohol has a LOT of effects at once, it doesn’t just affect anxiety, but social inhibitions, perceptions, emotional regulation, all kinds of stuff. You can pop a short-term benzodiazapine and control anxiety, you will feel a bit sleepy but you get tolerant to the sleep-inducing effect rapidly, you may feel slightly less inhibited because of less anxiety. But your emotions, perception, social awareness, control of voice volume, motor coordination (for the most part) and all those other faculties which are impaired by alcohol will remain mostly untouched (as long as you take a reasonable dose as prescribed by a doctor).

  84. RVA Cat*

    There’s an old joke called “The Drunk Priest” where he drinks vodka at the pulpit – and makes announcements like “there’s a Peter-pulling contest at St. Taffy’s.”

  85. All Outrage, All The Time*

    I’d avoid the booze and rehearse your presentation more. You know your problem areas – criticising your slides or talking too much – so work on that. Maybe join Toastmasters to get more confident at public speaking.

  86. StaceyIzMe*

    I think that in the context of “anxiety” and “a few swigs” that it just depends! If you’re going to self-medicate before presentations, you need a target BAC (.02?) so that you can be reasonably assured that you aren’t overdoing it. Also, RECORD the presentations. And consider Toastmasters as a possible solution to the butterflies/ jitters. Finally, don’t forget to practice those presentations! It may seem unfair, because a lot of people can just “wing it”. But for you, you need to invest the extra time in order to smooth out the wrinkles, whether real or imagined. Finally, while you’re using this very temporary solution, be rigorously and scrupulously honest with yourself about total alcohol intake, family and personal history of addiction or trauma and any other factors that may complicate the solution that you’re trying out. Maybe a glass of white wine would do the same? You could still put it in the cool flask, but it wouldn’t be so noticeable in its effects.

  87. StressedButOkay*

    Like a lot of people have mentioned, this carries far more risk than reward. You’re putting your reputation at risk if a) someone sees you or b) you miscalculate the amount of alcohol you take before speaking.

    Also, each group is different but my group has a very firm “no alcohol” policy during work hours and work events, outside of something like happy hours. If I were to do this and got caught, I would, at best, written up and, at worst, fired.

    I think your best bets are to reach out to your doctor to ask for something from them and maybe take coaching on public speaking.

  88. Tin Can Telephone*

    I’d say try a meditation app, do 4-7-8 breaths, or something like kava kava, CBD, catnip, or any number of herbal teas or tinctures to relax. Those things may help better in the long term and help you build some good de-stressing habits, whereas drinking/self-medicating can help with short-term coping but could lead to problems down the line. Anxiety and stress are complex. Coping mechanisms can be helpful for coping with difficult situations. And I firmly believe in harm reduction and not blaming or shaming anyone for their choices. It is up to you. But I hope you will think about some trying potential alternatives that may be as effective, or even more effective, than alcohol.

  89. somebody blonde*

    I think you’d be a lot better off working on your presentation skills independently and gaining confidence that way rather than using the alcohol. I took a class for presentation skills recently that helped me a lot- we all taped our presentations at the beginning, and then we had to incorporate the concepts they taught us into presentation practice that we did with partners or small groups over and over again. The tips I got from that class that are probably most applicable to your situation: get really comfortable with the space before you start the presentation- if you look at the corners of the room (both up and down) and decide that the space is ‘yours,’ you will feel much more comfortable in the space. It sounds hokey, but it works. The second thing is never say anything to “the crowd”- say every sentence to one specific person as if you’re having a conversation with just them. It’s best to finish one idea with one person, see on their face that they understand you (they usually nod!), and then move on to another person with the next idea. The last point is that it’s very likely that you talk too fast! Paying a lot of attention to each individual as you deliver an idea helps with this a lot, but the correct pace for presenting is going to feel interminably slow while you’re up there. But it will become easier when you see that the audience is much more engaged with the slower pace.

  90. Sandangel*

    I don’t really have anything to add, except that this is the second example I’ve heard of where someone drank to calm their nerves before doing something that stressed them out, though the first one is fictional. John Scalzi’s “Lock In” has a major character who could only do a specific job (letting someone use her body as a host for someone) after doing five shots of tequila beforehand.

    Granted, she was already a heavy drinker, but it let her function for a while in that role.

  91. Something Clever*

    I’d much rather see an employee take Inderal, a beta blocker frequently used by public speakers and performers, than alcohol. Alcohol can be habit forming and have long term negative health effects. I haven’t heard of this with Inderal.

    1. Fish Microwaver*

      Inderal, like all medication can have side effects, ranging from mild to severe, including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, stomach cramps, weight gain,
      decreased sex drive, impotence, or difficulty having an orgasm,
      sleep problems (insomnia),
      tired feeling. It’s up to an individual to decide which, if any, side effects they are willing to tolerate.

  92. I AM a Lawyer*

    I represent employers, and most of my clients would consider significant discipline for this conduct. Even my own employer allows us to have a drink on Friday afternoons (after we’ve finished working), but would be aghast if I were to drink before doing a presentation (even at a conference or similar). Just make sure you know your rules of your company before you make any decisions on how to proceed. Employers often make judgments about prescribed meds being fine while alcohol isn’t. Even if we don’t agree with those judgments, we want to be sure we know what they are to avoid any consequences.

  93. Anon this post*

    I love this question and have considered this exact approach for job interviews. I used to excel at job interviews and never got nervous or stumbled over my words but that’s changed in later years as I’ve gotten out of practice. Now, what happens is that I get so nervous that I can see the people around me becoming visibly uncomfortable. My voice gets wavery and I sound like I’m out of breath. Then, as I sit there watching myself do poorly, it makes it even harder to get out the answers.

    I think it would work perfectly for presentations as well.

  94. Allya*

    Appearances matter too in this case – if a prescription drug that your doctor recommended had some problematic side effects, your reputation shouldn’t take a hit if you explain that (depending on the office environment it might, but it shouldn’t). When you’re self medicating with a drug that’s perceived as recreational, it likely would. Using an “officially sanctioned” drug protects your image. We can argue about whether or not it should where self medication doesn’t, I kind of agree with Allison’s stance on this, but the reality is that it will.

  95. Perbie*

    As a doctor, i would be dubious of benzos (which are pretty much the same mechanism as alcohol, just a bit less toxic) for this purpose too. Especially if the meetings are frequent. I usually only write those for the rare jet lag and procedures. And folks on hospice.

    If you have major anxiety would focus on that, either behaviorally (ie, do more public speaking until you get used to it) and/or with a better antianxiety long term med (ie, SSRIs, or SNRIs, etc)

    1. Fish Microwaver*

      Gee, I would much rather take the occasional benzo than be on SSRI/SNRI long term. Especially for infrequent performance anxiety.

      1. Perpal*

        Well, I wouldn’t recommend a benzo AT ALL for performances. I just don’t; same with alcohol? They are sedatives, they impair memory, coordination, reflexes; they are good for for sleeping (Sorta. They can help with falling asleep but impair deep sleep, especially alcohol). They are not good for things that require coordination/activity. If the anxiety isn’t that bad or chronic then no need for the long term med.

        1. Fish Microwaver*

          And are you unconcerned with the side effects of SSRI/SNRI? THESE are heavy duty meds with serious, potentially lethal side effects and you seem to be recommending them as a “lite” alternative to benzodiazepines.

          1. Relentlessly Socratic*

            Antidepressants are frequently prescribed off-label for a variety of conditions. Unfortunately, the evidence doesn’t support all of the off-label use.

          2. Perpal*

            I… what? What is so strange about the idea that if someone have a lot of anxiety, that isn’t managed effectively with behavioral interventions, they might need a long acting anxiety med that doesn’t have the problems with tolerance and altered mental status? Everything has side effects and it’s about discussing with someone who has some idea of the benefits and making a mutual decision as to what makes the most sense.
            I think you are fixated on a different thing than I am trying to say, which is just that benzos and alcohol aren’t good management performance anxiety. There’s a lot of other options, I threw out one set of options in a sea of options, I probably shouldn’t have because of course, that’s not the right option for everyone.

  96. Bowserkitty*

    This reminds me of when I was in my last year of college while studying abroad and I spiked my milk tea with some Kahlua before my final presentation to my class because I was just so damn nervous.

    It definitely helped.

    I feel like CBT might also help though, when you have time for it. I’m glad Alison isn’t just immediately saying NO DON’T DRINK!!! and is actually exploring this question.

  97. Junior Assistant Peon*

    About 35 years ago, my dad arm-twisted his reluctant direct report into speaking at an industry conference. The presentation revealed that the guy had a hidden talent for public speaking. The person ended up building an extremely successful career on his public speaking skills.

    I would encourage anyone who’s never attempted public speaking to try some kind of low-stakes situation like Toastmasters or a small audience of project teammates. This is a skill that can take you far.

  98. Almost Academic*

    Exposure-based therapy works really well! Find a good therapist (that does exposures for social anxiety / public speaking in particular). It’s generally short duration, highly effective, and helps to directly target the nerves and anxiety you’re feeling. As effective, if not more so, than medication per clinical trials.

  99. There's probably a cat meme to describe it*

    OP: on getting honest, objective feedback – have you tried filming yourself present? Or getting a colleague in the crowd to film you? I’ve found it enlightening to observe myself from a perspective that’s not inside my head (and amazing how little extreme nerves actually show!). You’re your own harshest critic, so you’re the best person to identify the specific areas you’d like to improve on.

    1. There's probably a cat meme to describe it*

      I should add, I know the question wasn’t about getting feedback, but seeing for yourself that you’re a better presenter than you thought can be a great confidence-boosting alternative to alcohol or medication.

  100. Susana*

    Great advice – both concern for the need for alcohol and the recognition that an anti-anxiety substance isn’t better because it’s not over the counter.

    I went to a new doctor and the health form they have you fill out asked how many times a week you “use” alcohol. OK, fine, I get that they want you to be cognizant of alcohol consumption and what it might be dong to your body. But this doctor then prescribed me FIVE meds – and I had real doubts if I needed them (at least to were more expensive prescription versions of basic drugstore meds).And all I kept thinking was, if PHRMA made cabernet, would he have prescribed that?

    1. nonegiven*

      I’m always saying, does this come in generic? How is this better than the OTC version I can get at Sam’s for 5¢/each?

    2. Uldi*

      That’s not the only reason doctors need to know how much alcohol you consume. Quite a few meds for issues like chronic pain or even loss of appetite can have severe side-effects if mixed with alcohol. My dad has had issues with his appetite for years now and was prescribed a medication meant to stimulate it. He was asked how much alcohol he drinks, and promptly lied (as he admitted to the doctor and myself later). So when he took the pill as prescribed, he also went right on with his normal drinking schedule. I found him in his recliner barely able to move. Turns out this medication acts almost like a magnifier for the effects of alcohol. If he had continued drinking that night, he probably would have died.

  101. Miranda Priestly's Assistant*

    Short answer: I totally sympathize with this LW…but STILL NO.

    Long answer: People tend to compliment me on how well I hold my alcohol and how I never get drunk. The truth is, it’s not that alcohol doesn’t affect me, but rather it does it affect me to the point that I’m able to socialize/communicate like a normal person. My default is that I get so nervous I clam up, stumble over my words, overexplain myself, etc. etc. However, like Alison points out, your other inhibitions and faculties will get lowered, as well. The ones you do need in a work setting. For this reason, I only drink at non-work events. Even work socials, like holidays parties, I only stick to water/soda.

  102. stem bem*

    OP – what time of day was the presentation? I saw you posted earlier that it was from a flask, so it definitely wasn’t company-sanctioned drinking. People at your company, if they knew you were drinking, would probably be more lenient if it were afterhours (I think), but having it any time before 5pm is probably going to play really poorly if you’re found out. Did you bring the flask just for this presentation, or is it regularly there? Lots of optics in motion here depending on how often you’re doing this, when you’re bringing alcohol to work, and what time of day you’re choosing to drink.

      1. New Jack Karyn*

        Well . . . they can’t write a prescription for it, like they can for Ativan. If a doctor had a long-term patient who they were confident did not have propensity for alcoholism, they might say, “Yeah, a small drink might help.”
        But I doubt a doctor would recommend having a nip before a daytime work event.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          The only time I’ve ever seen alcohol prescribed was to post-operative patients in the hospital who had severe alcoholism because the doctors didn’t want the severe withdrawal symptoms affecting their recovery. But it was very tightly controlled doses.

  103. pcake*

    I’m a musician, and my friends are musicians. I mention this because some of the guys have a couple drinks. They say it steadies them and they perform better.

    Recordings of their shows prove otherwise. The alcohol make the players feel better, but their playing actually gets worse.

    I agree with Aphrodite, who suggested you try Toastmasters. It’s a great way to learn to get more comfortable speaking in public.

  104. When in Rome*

    I think in the OP’s situation there are plenty of concerns about how this would look if someone found out or smelled something etc.

    I do think the cultural context is a big factor. I had a professor recommend to my class to have a glass of wine before our oral presentations. Granted, this was in France, and wine was available at the university cafeteria during lunch. Bien sur, it definitely helped!

  105. Edwina*

    I really feel the problem here is that OP is seeking medication, alcohol or otherwise, when the answer lies elsewhere.

    The problems you cite can all be fixed with natural means. The single biggest thing you can do is PRACTICE. I have to give presentations all the time in my business, and I used to get tremblingly nervous. How did I overcome this? By WRITING OUT my verbal presentation, and then literally, PRACTICING it–the same way you would practice a piano piece for a recital, or a ballet piece for a dance performance. You go through all the words, you practice the words your tongue slips on. You even stand up and practice, so your movements are fluid. It’s a performance, so you practice. You notice if you feel bored while you’re talking, or if something doesn’t feel natural, or if something doesn’t feel confident, so you edit and cut and edit until it feels smooth. You go into your presentation feeling prepared and confident, not doubtful and like you don’t know what you’re going to say.

    The more you practice, the more fluid your presentation. Then you don’t need to digress or self-deprecate–because you know your script, and you know what you’re going to say. You simply stick to the script. And the more you do this, the better you get. If there’s a sudden attack of nerves? Yoga breathing.

    If anxiety is a constant problem, then speak to a doctor about how to mitigate that–meditation, yoga, or if necessary, anti-anxiety meds. But please, please, stay away from using alcohol. It’s going to end up nowhere good.

    1. Rexish*

      Yes. This. I don’t think gedding meds or drinking a shot of vodka is the answer here. For me a few blunders due to lack of confidence doesn’t sound like performance anxiety that required medical intervention. To me it sound like you could either film yourself or have few friends/colleagues to come over and listen to your presentation. I’m all for liquid courage in social situation but not at work. I also don’t want to advocate relying on medication if it’s not necessary.

      If anxiety is constant problem then go see a doctor and get the appropriate treatment.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I like this. A lot of the fears I had about public speaking where eventually narrowed down to “what if I forget something?” and “what if people laugh at me?”.

      The forgetfulness issue I trained out by finding I remember anything I’ve written out longhand. Twice if it’s difficult words. The fear is still there but it’s managed more you know?

      The laughter bit I got over when I started doing standup comedy (owing to disability I don’t do it anymore but I occasionally write material for other comics). Now I have a database of good jokes or interjections I can use if I stumble, mess up, if someone heckles me….it’s another coping skill.

      (Downside is I have to actively work at not going into full comedy routines at interviews. I know people want staff with a sense of humour but few managers want a solo act!)

    3. Uldi*

      Agreed. I’m honestly baffled as to why Alison went along with the self-medicating rather than addressing the underlying issue, which appears to be a lack of confidence. Everything the LW listed as a problem area can be corrected with training and practice.

  106. Caroline Bowman*

    Hmm

    I am certainly not anti-alcohol per se, but that is a very slippery slope. There is a medication called enderol (might be called something different in the US) that you take as needed, that reduces the physical side effects of anxiety and is routinely used before public speaking and similar. Things like needing the bathroom repeatedly, sweating, wobbly voice, racing thoughts, garbled speech are all greatly helped. It lasts about 2 hours maximum and has no impact on your actual feelings, so you still feel what you feel and are fully compos mentis throughout. It’s also non-addictive, meant for occasional use.

    This might be better. It’s not expensive and a bottle of 10 could last a year. Please speak to your doctor, don’t self-medicate with anything, not booze, not weed.

  107. Zoe Washburne*

    I wonder how much of this is him thinking the presentation went well because the vodka calmed his nerves, or him thinking the presentation went well because of vodka.

    I’m always amazed at how good I am at playing the piano or speaking Portuguese when drunk. And I don’t know how to play the piano or speak Portuguese.

    Alcohol gives you confidence, and sometimes its the wrong type of confidence.

  108. Foxgloves*

    Honestly? I think you just need public speaking training. An ex of mine used to take a swig of whiskey before work on days when he knew he was going straight into a difficult meeting, and I couldn’t get over how bad an idea that sounded (and told him as much). So it works for presentations- what if you then think you need that extra boost for meetings with your boss? Or clients? Then it becomes and incredibly slippery slope- particularly as you’re saying these aren’t even high stakes presentations/ something you are required to be excellent at- it’s just something you want to improve for yourself. A much, much better way to do this long term is to undertake public speaking training. Do this, and do some mindfulness or meditation to help control racing thoughts/ anxiety symptoms before presentations, and I’m SURE your nerves will go soon and you’ll be presenting better than ever.

  109. Tante Shvester*

    It is a mistake to use alcohol as a coping device. It is not an appropriate use of alcohol, and could be a gateway to abuse. There are non-narcotic medications, such as the beta blocker blood pressure medication metoprolol, that are used for stage fright. This may be a good reason to consult your doctor.

  110. Keymaster of Gozer*

    The problem with relying on a drink of alcohol to get you through a presentation is that it’s not a sustainable solution. Once in an exceptional situation? I personally wouldn’t worry and a doctor is unlikely to prescribe anything for a situation that hardly ever arises.

    The issues come when you have to do something more often. Then you need to look at either solving the underlying stress (I’m unafraid of public speaking now after doing standup comedy but that’s rather an extreme method) or a better mechanism for toning down the anxiety, be it medications or mindfulness or whatever works better and will be more sustainable.

    You’re not a bad person for doing this though! First time I had to give a speech in front of a lecture hall I definitely necked a shot of scotch first.

  111. JSPA*

    CBT, if you need more mental distance to take stock of what’s bothering you about your slides (for next time) while NOT apologizing or reacting in real time.

    Toastmasters, if being in front of people triggers hyper-self-criticality.

    Time to practice in a space as large (and overly -lit?) as the presentation room, if your perceived problems with your slides are of the “font unreadable / chart too complex” variety.

    Feel a need to apologize because these are last quarter’s figures, and this quarter’s came out today? Don’t! “These are the figures for quarter X.” That’s a fact, not a failing.

    Not knowing what details are distracting you in real time makes it hard to know what’ll make you feel more in command, so we can’t help you get granular about the cause and the fix… but you almost certainly can either diagnose it, or find someone to help.

    As for the positive feedback, it could be right on. (Or not.) If you’re the sort to remember that your graduation / prom / wedding was so unfortunate because of the pimple on your nose, and that one person from your family who kept coughing and you forgot to bring them cough drops… your presentations (including, even, the apologies) could be way better than they seem to you?

  112. SMH*

    ”But some people get prescription pharmaceuticals for exactly this type of thing, and I’m not a big fan of the idea that only officially sanctioned drugs are effective. So I think we need to parse out exactly why Ativan is fine but alcohol isn’t in order for that to be a logically sound stance.”

    First of all, Ativan is an anti anxiety medication. Underline medication. Underline officially sanctioned drugs. Underline OFFICIALLY. I really don’t understand Alison’s response to this question and think it’s really irresponsible.

    You won’t get fired for being caught taking an ativan before a presentation. Do you think you’d be fired for caught taking a couple swigs of vodka before a presentation? There’s your answer.

    1. tinybutfierce*

      Seconding this. Of course most anything has the potential for misuse/abuse, but there’s a whole world of difference between a prescribed, professionally-monitored medication and self-medicating with the drug that’s related to 88,000 deaths every year in the U.S. as of 2018.

  113. Nonnnnnnnnny*

    Hi there–as someone who comes from an alcoholic family, and who has diagnosed anxiety, it’s so, so easy to justify self-soothing and self-medicating with substances. Not a teetotaler, so not someone who’s just “ALCOHOL BAD”!

    One thing to keep in mind as you work through this is that you don’t have to be literally chemically dependent on alcohol to abuse it, right? Yes, alcohol is a substance and so are prescribed drugs, and we have all kinds of weird ways of legitimizing some drugs and criminalizing others in really messed up ways.

    You have to set that aside and look at what you’re doing objectively, which is swigging liquor in a professional context to cope with a routine part of professional life. A lot of therapists would probably be alarmed when they heard that.

    (Something about anti-anxiety prescriptions is they’re more like a continuous regimen. Like you don’t pop a Lexapro when you think you’re about to have a bad moment–you’re on it continuously as a general support. So feeling dependent in the moment on something that numbs you to cope with routine aspects of your job is what sounds maybe more of a problem here.)

  114. WineNot*

    I definitely think we need more information here, as many people have pointed out.

    1. Where are these “swigs” taking place? If it is at your desk or in the bathroom in private, I think that is so far from OK. If it is during a lunch out with a co-worker before the presentation, that is completely different.
    2. Does OP have a history of alcohol/drug dependency? Or a family history?
    3. If her boss/team were to find out about this, would they be upset?

    I’d love an update on this one someday.

    1. OP*

      A lot of people have asked those questions, thanks for giving me a succinct format. I’ve really appreciated reading the comments, it’s just hard to respond when there’s so many.

      1. Hard to describe, but a (mostly) unused part of the building. Less risky and obvious than the bathroom, but not in public like many people were thinking.
      2. Addictive personality, family history. I am terrified of becoming an alcoholic though, and monitor that kind of thing closely. Presentations are something that I have to do every few months, otherwise I’d never think of doing this. It’s also one of the few activities in my job where anxiety is an active hindrance.
      3. If my boss or grandboss found out, I think it’s very likely I’d be fired. There are maybe 1 or 2 people on my team who might “snitch” but I don’t think they would.

      After thinking about it some more…I think the enhanced danger of the situation might have been what helped more than the alcohol. I had to perform, or people might know I was drunk. I’ve done things in the past like only applying to one college, not applying for unemployment when laid off, etc. Basically so that the only paths are complete failure or complete success. Therapy is probably a good idea.

      1. Uldi*

        Can I suggest public speaking training (Toastmasters, for example), and practicing your presentations are home. Yes, it’ll feel awkward at first, but that soon fades as you start to see results.

  115. JustaTech*

    My husband did an industry conference several years ago where all the speakers were offered liquor in the green room for before/after/during their presentation. According to him, some people took a little sip before, more people took a larger glass after, and one memorable presenter took a glass of whiskey up on stage and in the middle of the presentation downed the whole glass, choked, and nearly threw up on stage. (The other presenters were told about this with the warning “don’t do that”.)

    So clearly there are some conferences in some industries where a quick nip before a major presentation (before hundreds of people) would be totally acceptable. Acceptable, not necessarily a good idea, at least not for everyone. The closest I’ve seen at my industry conferences is people presenting posters during happy hour will have a drink while they stand next to their poster.

  116. Uldi*

    I’m a bit confused that so many are going straight to drugs (whether alcohol or anti-anxiety meds) instead of training. The LW literally lays out the exact areas they have problems with and every single one can be completely addressed with proper training.

    If it does turn out to be something that needs medication to address then relying on alcohol is literally self-medicating, and that never ends well.

    LW, do you have anxiety like this in other areas of your life? If so, talk to your doctor. If not, explain the issue to your boss (and leave out the alcohol if possible) and request training. If that doesn’t work, you can always enroll in a public speaking class yourself.

    1. Willis*

      She also clarifies in the comments that it’s not an issue with public speaking generally, but with public speaking when she’s not confident in the material or doesn’t feel adequately prepared. So I really agree with you that there’s some clear areas to start with. Maybe it just is a matter of getting more accustomed to the material (if it’s the same slides in multiple presentations) or taking her time when she builds the slides (if it’s always a new presentation).

      1. Uldi*

        Yeah, then the answer is practice practice practice. From that, it sounds like they’ll be using the alcohol as a crutch, and that will lead to abuse.

        Still rather shocked that so many commenters are all, “Sure, alcohol is totally like prescription anti-anxiety meds and you should totally use either one as a crutch.”

  117. Barney Stinson*

    There could be disciplinary action brought against you if you’re drinking at work. I wouldn’t do it.

  118. Jessica Ganschen*

    Definitely seconding everyone else’s suggestions for Toastmasters, an anxiety med prescription, and/or therapy.

  119. Courageous cat*

    There is an awful lot of medical advice and advice OP didn’t ask for in this thread, and lots of missing the idea that alcohol is a drug just like an anti-anxiety medication is a drug. I think Alison’s answer is the best one – that there isn’t really a very right answer, other than to consider the optics (the comments certainly have proven that optics matter here).

  120. annie*

    UUMMM….
    This is a very bad idea. This type of ‘little’ thing is how alcoholism often starts. Before you know it, you can’t give a presentation without the vodka. It works so well for the presentation, you try it for a date. It works well, so you try it for a job interview. Work gets stressful and it helped with the presentations, so you try it in a normal workday. You wake up one day and realize where you’ve ended up – unable to get through a day without alcohol – and it’s hard to get out. My advice – please don’t.

    1. annie*

      Also – I wonder how Alison would have answered this if it was a few puffs on a joint instead of a few swigs of vodka. Alcohol is so normalized and celebrated in culture and I really saw that rise to the forefront in her answer.

      1. Andraste's Knicker Weasels*

        I believe Alison has mentioned being pro legalization, so her answer might not be what you’re hinting at.

  121. Geek*

    “I’ve gotten empty positive feedback on all of my presentations”

    The feedback you’ve received tells you that in your boss’s opinion your presentations are effective and not hindering your work. If this were my career, I’d look at a risk analysis of drinking/not-drinking with possible benefits and drawback from both. How much *more* positive feedback will you receive when drinking vs are there any potential downsides to everybody in your company knowing that you drink before talking?

    Ask for a comparison. “Hey, boss. I’m curious as to what you thought of my last presentation? I knocked back a couple shots of vodka before I started, and I think it went much better.”

    If any part of you tells you that is not a good, listen to it. If it’s fine to drink before your presentation, it’s fine to let your boss know that’s your plan.

    I would suggest looking into mindfulness as an alternative practice. Or search on Amy Cuddy power poses. (That will open up a rabbit hole from when her idea seemed like the best thing since sliced bread to being quack science and back again to there being some merit. Read both sides. Form your own opinion.)

    One last comment: a trending hypothesis is that alcohol does not really lower our inhibitions as much as it is an agent of myopia. While inebriated, short-term considerations loom larger than long-term ones. Lots of papers and studies about this.

  122. Louisa*

    No no no drinking before a presentation. I taught public speaking, wrote a book on it and have coached a gibillion people and this is not a good idea. Drinking is the wrong kind of relaxed. If you want to be relaxed, practice the hell out of your presentation or take a workshop to learn how good presentations are organized and delivered. Or better yet both.

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