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How to stay sober when your work buddies are drinking

Seven tips to help you stay confidently alcohol-free when you’re socialising with work buddies who’re expecting you to get drunk along with them:

1. Plan ahead

This is really important. If you leave things to chance, chances are you’ll end up drinking.

To stay successfully sober if you’re not used to doing it, you need to have a high level of commitment and focus when you go into a social situation. One way to make sure you have this commitment locked in place is to plan for it.

Decide in advance what you’re going to drink instead of alcohol. Plan what you’re going to say when people ask you why you’re not drinking; what you’ll do if people pressure you; what you’ll do if someone puts a drink in front of you. You can even plan for how you’re going to deal with it if you start to feel awkward, shy or like the odd-one-out.

Having a plan in place gives you the confidence to sail through these challenges more easily.

2. Mentally rehearse success

We naturally have a tendency to imagine the worst. Many of us have a voice in our heads that predicts bad stuff and is less-than-kind about us.

When we go for a job interview for instance, more likely than not, we’ll be imagining going blank, not being able to answer, messing up or just performing badly. We might even worry about not being good enough.

Problem is, the more someone imagines (or mentally rehearses) all the bad stuff that might happen and how they might fail, the more they’re likely to create that very reality.

So, if you’re worrying about caving in to pressure, if you’re worrying that you’re going to be given a hard time about staying sober, if you’re worrying that you can’t do it because it will affect your standing in the group, your actions, behaviours and even the way you speak are all likely to invite exactly the outcome that you don’t want.

To overcome this and to help yourself feel confident and strong, you need to mentally rehearse what it will look like, sound like, feel like, smell like and taste like when you manage the upcoming social event successfully sober.

When you rehearse success in your mind’s eye, you start to believe in it. This gives you more confidence and you’re more likely to behave in a way that leads people to trust your decisions and leave you alone. It also helps you stay motivated and positive so that you can enjoy the event instead of dreading it.

3. Gloat in advance

Pump up your motivation by imagining how the morning after is going to play out.

It might seem like your colleagues are going to be having way more fun than you if they’re drinking and you’re not but the shoe is very definitely on the other foot the next morning.

It’s a wondrous feeling to wake up after a restful and refreshing night’s sleep with a skip in your step and a clear head. While everyone else is suffering, you can be smiling to yourself and feeling smug as you get twice the work done and deal with the challenges that no-one else can face.

This is good for your reputation as well as your self-respect!

4. Let someone know

Is there someone in the group you can trust and explain your situation to so you have an ally who’s got your back?

It can really help to talk to another person and explain that you’re not drinking. You can tell them what’s worrying you. You’re not asking them for help but, once you come clean and tell someone what you’re doing, you’d be surprised how helpful and supportive people will be.

Another advantage to telling someone what you’re doing is that it’s then harder for you to back down. It helps you stay accountable and stay on track.

If you have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol and you feel awkward about sharing that with other people at work, you don’t have to go into graphic detail if you don’t want to. You can say you’re on a health kick, a three-month fitness plan, going sugar-free (there is stacks of sugar in alcohol) – you’ll know what will work best for you in your situation. Although a healthy eating challenge or fitness plan might have a time limit, that’s easily dealt with by saying that you feel so great with your new alcohol-free lifestyle that you’re carrying on with it.

Talking to someone can make you feel stronger and more confident.

5. Talk to the bar

Is there a bar-person or manager you can talk to confidentially and who you can brief in advance to serve you alcohol-free beer/wine or tonic water subtly so it looks like you’re drinking along with everyone else?

Would you be able to tell the drink in the picture is a G & T without the G?

This one will depend on your situation and it won’t work for everyone, but it’s worth considering if it’s a possibility and you think it will work for you.

6. Plan an escape route

It's so much easier to cope with a short amount of time than it is to do a whole evening or a whole event. It can feel like a weight off your shoulders when you engineer a reason for leaving early. 

Often, once the people around you are getting into the swing of things and getting drunk, they're not paying attention to who's coming and going. It's enough that you were there. Very few people are going to care about what time you arrived and what time you left. 

It can be enough to get your face seen, to chat with plenty of people so they're all aware that you were there, and then to leave. It you have already planned a reason to leave and, even better, if you've practised rehearsing your reason out loud, you'll feel more confident about this.

I once worked with a business guru who told me that there just isn't time in his day to attend every meeting and every event that he's expected at. The trick is to prioritise the ones that it's important to be seen at, be seen there and contribute well for half an hour or so and leave when you have to so you can manage your time in the best way for you. As long as you show up, be seen, make a good contribution, it doesn't matter if you don't stay for the full event.

You can manage a drinking event with more confidence sober if you know you're only going to be there for an hour than if you think you've got to be there all night.

7. Get real

Reassure yourself that this might seem like a big deal to you, especially if you feel some shame around your relationship with alcohol, but to other people, you drinking or not drinking might not matter as much as you think it does.

People often find themselves feeling self-conscious and paranoid about being the odd-one-out, not fitting in, worrying about what others will think, only to discover that people just accept it and don’t question it.

If you’re confident about what you’re doing and you speak and behave with conviction, nobody will bat an eyelid. In fact, some people will admire you, feel inspired by what you’re doing and will talk about wishing they could do it too! You can end up starting a trend…


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