work-gatheringProfessionals who are actively working a program of recovery may find at times they will have to attend work related events where heavy alcohol consumption is taking place. Refraining from attending such events may be detrimental to their career due to the fact that out of the office work gatherings are often essential to networking. While abstaining from alcohol at these events should not be frowned upon by one’s co-workers and clients, sadly that is not always the case and people might view those who do not drink as being different.

“Drinking can be a big part of workplace culture, and being viewed as an outsider for any reason can hurt you professionally,” says Lynsey Romo, a communication researcher at NC State who led a recent study on the issue, called “An Examination of How Professionals Who Abstain From Alcohol Communicatively Negotiate Their Non-Drinking Identity.”

Why one chooses not to drink is a personal decision, yet many will ask, “Why aren’t you drinking?” As one might imagine, non-drinkers learn to develop a number of ways of abstaining from drinking at work gatherings without standing out.

“In our study, we interviewed successful professionals who don’t drink,” Romo says. “We found professionals felt that being a non-drinker was a form of deviance. Because they did not want to miss out on the career opportunities that come from networking and socializing, or because attending such functions was a job requirement, non-drinkers developed a variety of strategies to attend social events without making themselves, their co-workers, or their clients feel uncomfortable.”

First, the researchers found that most non-drinkers didn’t volunteer the fact that they abstained from alcohol, for the simple reason that they did not want to draw unwanted attention. Second, if asked why they were not drinking, many would respond with ambiguous answers.

The study participants would say things like “I’m not drinking tonight” or “I’ve got an early morning.” Some of the participants would use health excuses as their reason for not drinking, such as “I’m trying to lose weight,” “I’m taking prescription drugs” or “alcohol gives me migraines.” In other cases, participants said they would buy a drink but not drink it, giving off the illusion that they were in fact drinking.

“This work highlights a challenge facing many non-drinking adults,” Romo adds. “It’s something that organizations and HR departments may want to take into consideration. Historically, HR departments have been worried about problem drinkers, but they should also turn their attention to the needs of the non-drinkers in their ranks. HR departments should make sure non-alcoholic beverages are available at happy hours or host social activities that don’t center on drinking.”

“If employers want their employees to achieve their full potential, they need to foster an environment that encourages their employees to be themselves,” Romo says.

Based on materials provided by North Carolina State University.